Northern Alliance

Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan—It’s all so familiar. The chafing of seven pounds of steel and wood of a Kalashnikov against Khoda Qul’s bony right hip. The blanched desert that unfurls through the gunsight. And the enemy: Taliban forces advancing across a country so parched its desiccated alluvium has sun-baked into pottery. Fourteen years ago, Khoda Qul picked up a gun and joined a band of sandaled irregulars that, eventually, in 2001, helped drive the Taliban out of Shahraq, his village of oblique mud-slapped homes in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province.

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The recent chief-of-station (COS) cover-shredding brouhaha between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate marks an ironic and possibly important shift in the historic affection that Langley has had for Pakistan’s premiere intelligence service.

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Rescue the North

Naubad, Afghanistan—In a wheat field in northern Afghanistan this spring, beneath the Cretaceous convulsions of the Hindu Kush mountains, a village elder named Ajab Khan shared with me the unsentimental math of his region’s farmers. An acre of wheat, Khan said, yields $400. An acre of opium poppies yields $20,000. The people of his village, Naubad, had grown exclusively poppies until 2004, when the government of Hamid Karzai asked them to stop.

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From the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Executive Director Robert Satloff comes this analysis:  The Gaza Flotilla Incident: Impact on Three Key Arab Actors By Robert Satloff June 22, 2010   The Gaza flotilla episode pitted Israel versus Turkey, with Arabs as bystanders and observers. Yet reverberations of the incident have had a keen impact across Arab capitals. Egypt: Policy Adrift The country most negatively affected has been Egypt.

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The Battle for Tora Bora

Four days before the fall of Kabul in November 2001, Osama bin Laden was still in town. The Al Qaeda leader’s movements before and after September 11 are difficult to trace precisely, but, just prior to the attacks, we know that he appeared in Kandahar and urged his followers to evacuate to safer locations in anticipation of U.S. retaliation. Then, on November 8, he was in Kabul, despite the fact that U.S. forces and their Afghan allies were closing in on the city.

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No matter what you think of it, the kind of troop increase that President Obama announced tonight is going to be expensive. With an estimated $1 billion dollar price tag for each additional thousand troops deployed, the new strategy will drive costs well above the $130 billion originally budgeted by the administration for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2010, likely requiring a supplemental spending bill to pass sometime early next year.

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Karzai's Fall

The president beamed, the guests applauded. As Hamid Karzai was sworn in for his second term in office amid a throng of 800 international and domestic dignitaries on November 18, one could almost forget that his presidency is under a cloud, his international support hanging by a thread, and his domestic standing lower than ever. It was a stark difference from his first inauguration, in December 2004. Then, the U.S.

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Taliban v. "Camels"

Also noteworthy from that Newsweek oral history is this view, from a former Taliban deputy minister, of the trouble Arab "camels" brought to his cause: Two days before the September 11 attacks on America, we were all celebrating the death of [Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah] Masood, [who was assassinated by Qaeda agents posing as television reporters]. His forces were already on the verge of defeat, so his death all but assured us of total victory in Afghanistan. But the September 11 attacks turned our cheer into deep concern.

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The Dostum Chronicles

Shiberghan, Afghanistan (one day before the election)—There was no mistaking the general’s “castle.” Its pastel-colored two-storey walls and lapis cupolas shocking amidst the drabness of the surrounding neighborhood. Somewhere inside the compound was General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the most notorious of Afghanistan’s warlords. In almost three decades as a militia leader, Dostum has earned a reputation for ruthless brutality towards enemies, as well as an opportunist’s disregard for alliances, which have shifted without notice.

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Early last spring, outside a guesthouse in Kabul where I was staying, an injured Afghan man limped up to the locked gate. He wore a blazer with suede elbow patches and leaned on crutches. Because a suicide bomber had attacked the building not long before, a guard blocked the entrance of the unannounced supplicant. The fact that the man refused to give his name didn't help his case.

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