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JFP 10/8: Obama - Afghan Taliban Not a Threat, Can Participate in Afghanistan
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 8 October 2009 - 7:53pm
Just Foreign Policy News
October 8, 2009
Team Obama: Afghan Taliban Not a Threat to U.S.
At long last, the Obama Administration is acknowledging that the Afghan Taliban don't threaten the United States - the first step to rejecting General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops. Opposition inside the Administration to sending more troops is apparently being driven by Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin - someone who actually knows something about Afghanistan.
BBC World Have Your Say: How many troops are needed in Afghanistan?
Just Foreign Policy joins with Die Linke to make the case against military escalation, talks with the Taliban, and for a timetable for military withdrawal.
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1) President Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's political future and is unlikely to favor a large influx of new American troops being demanded by his ground commander, the Times of London reports. Obama's developing strategy on the Taleban will "not tolerate their return to power," an official said. But the US would only fight to keep the Taleban from retaking control of the central government.
2) President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the US, the New York Times reports. The shift would mean, among other things, that President Obama would not have to approve General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more U.S. troops.
3) American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions, the Times of London reports. Many feel that they are risking their lives for a futile mission, the chaplains told The Times.
4) The Pakistani Army expressed public anger at the terms of a large US aid package, saying it interfered with Pakistan's national security, the New York Times reports. The legislation passed by Congress last week gives Pakistan $1.5 billion over the next year for the Zardari government to build roads, schools and other infrastructure. The section of the legislation that has outraged the army says the secretary of state must report to Congress every six months on whether the government is exercising "effective civilian control over the military." The legislation also says Pakistan must show progress in ending support for terrorist groups, and dismantle groups operating out of Quetta and Muridke. The generals were specifically infuriated by mention of Quetta, which the Obama administration says is a base for Taliban who fight American forces in Afghanistan, and of Muridke, which is a well known base for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group formed two decades ago by the Pakistani government to fight India. The US and India say Lashkar was behind the attacks in India's financial capital, Mumbai, last November.
5) The Pentagon said a giant "bunker buster" bomb will be ready within months, adding a powerful weapon to the US arsenal amid tensions over Iran's nuclear program, AFP reports. The "massive ordnance penetrator" is designed to knock out fortified sites buried deep underground, like those used by Iran and North Korea to protect its nuclear work.
6) The de facto leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has resisted calls by regional ministers and diplomats to restore president Manuel Zelaya, the BBC reports. Delegations from a dozen countries made the demand after arriving in Honduras. Zelaya insisted that he should be restored to the presidency by October 15, or the November 29 election should be postponed.
7) Obama administration officials said they want Congress to wait before enacting further sanctions on Iran, NIAC reports. It appears that Congress will allow President Obama time to work towards a diplomatic solution to the tension over Iran's nuclear program, but only for a limited time, NIAC says. If concrete evidence that Iran is holding to promises made in Geneva, mainly sending uranium to Russia and allowing IAEA inspectors to visit the Qom facility, is not available by the end of October, it is likely that Congress will pass legislation instituting sweeping sanctions against Iran.
8) Iran plans to nearly halve the amount of gasoline that motorists can buy at a heavily subsidized price, Reuters reports. Under the plan, to be considered by parliament next week, the quota of subsidized fuel would be cut nearly in half. Officials have previously said Iran plans to eliminate subsidies by 2011.
9) The Pentagon is creating a military task force to oversee a planned overhaul of the troubled detention operations in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. Gen. McChrystal has warned that the detention facilities were radicalizing less dangerous prisoners.
1) Barack Obama: Taleban can be involved in Afghanistan future
Tim Reid, Times of London, October 9, 2009
President Obama is prepared to accept some Taleban involvement in Afghanistan's political future and is unlikely to favour a large influx of new American troops being demanded by his ground commander, a senior official said last night.
Mr Obama appears to have been swayed in recent days by arguments from some advisers, led by Vice-President Joe Biden, that the Taleban do not pose a direct threat to the US and that there should be greater focus on tackling al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.
Mr Obama's developing strategy on the Taleban will "not tolerate their return to power", the senior official said. However, the US would only fight to keep the Taleban from retaking control of the central government - something the official said it is now far from capable of - and from giving renewed sanctuary to al-Qaeda.
Bowing to the reality that the fundamentalist movement is too ingrained in national culture, the Administration is prepared, as it has been for some time, to accept some Taleban role in parts of Afghanistan, the official said.
That could mean paving the way for insurgents willing to renounce violence to participate in a central government, and even ceding some regions of the country to the Taleban.
Mr Obama, the official said, is now inclined to send only as many more troops to Afghanistan as are needed to keep al-Qaeda at bay.
After two days of meetings in the White House Situation Room with his war Cabinet, Mr Obama, according to the official, kept returning to one central question: who is our adversary?
The answer was, repeatedly, al-Qaeda, with advisers arguing that the terror network was distinct from the Taleban and that the US military was fighting the Taleban even though it posed no direct threat to America.
In a sign of how politically astute the insurgents have become in deciphering the debate raging inside the White House, the Taleban issued a statement on their website yesterday declaring that they had "no agenda to harm other countries".
2) Afghan War Debate Now Leans To Focus On Al Qaeda
Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, October 8, 2009
Washington - President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.
As Mr. Obama met with advisers for three hours to discuss Pakistan, the White House said he had not decided whether to approve a proposed troop buildup in Afghanistan. But the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.
The White House appears to be trying to prepare the ground to counter that by focusing attention on recent successes against Qaeda cells in Pakistan. The approach described by administration officials on Wednesday amounted to an alternative to the analysis presented by General McChrystal. If, as the White House has asserted in recent weeks, it has improved the ability of the United States to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda, then the war in Afghanistan is less central to American security.
In reviewing General McChrystal's request, the White House is rethinking what was, just six months ago, a strategy that viewed Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single integrated problem. Now the discussions in the White House Situation Room, according to several administration officials and outsiders who have spoken with them, are focusing on related but separate strategies for fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda," one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. "We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability."
The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. "When the two are aligned, it's mainly on the tactical front," the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.
The officials argued that while Al Qaeda was a foreign body, the Taliban could not be wholly removed from Afghanistan because they were too ingrained in the country. Moreover, the forces often described as Taliban are actually an amalgamation of militants that includes local warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network or others driven by local grievances rather than jihadist ideology.
3) American troops in Afghanistan losing heart, say army chaplains
Martin Fletcher, Times of London, October 8, 2009
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taleban.
Many feel that they are risking their lives - and that colleagues have died - for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, the chaplains told The Times in their makeshift chapel on this fortress-like base in a dusty, brown valley southwest of Kabul.
"The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families," said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division's 2-87 Infantry Battalion.
"They feel they are risking their lives for progress that's hard to discern," said Captain Sam Rico, of the Division's 4-25 Field Artillery Battalion. "They are tired, strained, confused and just want to get through." The chaplains said that they were speaking out because the men could not.
The base is not, it has to be said, obviously downcast, and many troops do not share the chaplains' assessment. The soldiers are, by nature and training, upbeat, driven by a strong sense of duty, and they do their jobs as best they can. Re-enlistment rates are surprisingly good for the 2-87, though poor for the 4-25. Several men approached by The Times, however, readily admitted that their morale had slumped.
"We're lost - that's how I feel. I'm not exactly sure why we're here," said Specialist Raquime Mercer, 20, whose closest friend was shot dead by a renegade Afghan policeman last Friday. "I need a clear-cut purpose if I'm going to get hurt out here or if I'm going to die."
Sergeant Christopher Hughes, 37, from Detroit, has lost six colleagues and survived two roadside bombs. Asked if the mission was worthwhile, he replied: "If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don't."
The only soldiers who thought it was going well "work in an office, not on the ground".
4) Aid Package From U.S. Jolts Army In Pakistan
Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan, New York Times, October 8, 2009
Islamabad, Pakistan - In an unusual move, the Pakistani Army expressed public anger Wednesday at the terms of a large American aid package, saying it interfered with Pakistan's national security, a posture that set the military at loggerheads with the American-backed civilian government.
The criticism made in a statement after the monthly meeting of the nation's top generals embarrassed the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and came as the Obama administration is seeking to persuade the Pakistani Army to broaden its campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
The chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was so offended by stipulations in the American legislation that he complained to the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, when the two men met in Islamabad on Tuesday, according to a senior Pakistani military officer.
The legislation passed by Congress last week gives Pakistan $1.5 billion over the next year for the Zardari government to build roads, schools and other infrastructure, a gesture intended to shore up the weak civilian government and turn around the widespread antipathy toward the United States among Pakistanis.
Instead, the aid package has served to widen the distrust between the military and the civilian government, even though the new aid comes in addition to America's aid to the Pakistani military, which had totaled more than $10 billion since 2001.
The section of the legislation that has outraged the army says the secretary of state must report to Congress every six months on whether the government is exercising "effective civilian control over the military."
The secretary must assess the extent to which the civilian government has oversight over the military chain of command, promotion of generals and the military budgets, provisions that even Pakistani politicians have taken strong exception to as meddling in Pakistan's business.
The legislation also says Pakistan must show progress in ending support for terrorist groups, and dismantle groups operating out of Quetta and Muridke.
The generals were specifically infuriated by mention of Quetta, which the Obama administration says is a base for Taliban who fight American forces in Afghanistan, and of Muridke, which is a well known base for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group formed two decades ago by the Pakistani government to fight India.
The United States and India say Lashkar was behind the attacks in India's financial capital, Mumbai, last November. "This is a direct indictment," a senior military official said in reference to Muridke. The Americans, he said, were threatening the Pakistanis, saying that if the Pakistani military did not behave according to American wishes, then the Americans would penalize them.
5) US 'Bunker Buster' Bomb To Be Ready Soon: Pentagon
AFP, October 8, 2009
Washington - The Pentagon said a giant "bunker buster" bomb will be ready within months, adding a powerful weapon to the US arsenal amid tensions over Iran's nuclear program.
The 30,000-pound massive ordnance penetrator (MOP) is designed to knock out fortified sites buried deep underground, like those used by Iran and North Korea to protect its nuclear work.
"It is under development right now and should be deployable in the coming months," press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
The Defense Department had said in August it wanted to speed up production plans for the super bomb, asking Congress to shift funds to the project.
Congress approved the request and the Pentagon announced Friday it awarded McDonnell Douglas Corporation a 51.9-million-dollar contract to enable B-2 aircraft to carry the enormous MOP.
The bomb, which holds 5,300 pounds of explosives, is designed "to defeat hardened facilities used by hostile states to protect weapons of mass destruction," Morrell said.
But he declined to comment whether the weapon's development was in response to Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"I don't think anybody can divine potential targets or anything of that nature. This is just a capability that we think is necessary given the world we live in these days," he said.
6) Interim Honduras head stands firm
BBC, Thursday, 8 October 2009
The interim leader of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has resisted calls by regional ministers and diplomats to restore ousted president Manuel Zelaya. Delegations from a dozen countries across the Americas made the demand after arriving in Honduras to try to mediate between the two sides. But in a meeting shown on Honduran television, Mr Micheletti said Mr Zelaya's removal from power was lawful.
Mr Zelaya is insisting he be restored to the presidency by 15 October.
The meeting, which came after initial talks with representatives of both sides behind closed doors, was broadcast live. Diplomats were seen trying to persuade Mr Micheletti that the only way out was for him to give up the presidential chair and let his predecessor return.
Mr Micheletti was unconvinced, to the detectable exasperation of his guests, BBC Central America correspondent Stephen Gibbs says.
For his part, Mr Zelaya insisted that he should be restored to the presidency by 15 October, or the election should be postponed. "If the president is not reinstated by 15 October, the electoral calendar should proceed according to the law, allowing three months of campaigning to allow equal competition and people's participation," a statement from Mr Zelaya said.
The foreign ministers and ambassadors are attempting to use the deadline of November's forthcoming elections to make the interim government change its mind. If those elections are held without Mr Zelaya in power, they say, then Honduras will probably find itself with another government which is shunned by the outside world.
7) Administration Asks Congress To Delay Sanctions
Matt Sugrue, NIAC, Wednesday, 07 October 2009
Washington DC - Obama administration officials said in a hearing yesterday that they want Congress to wait before enacting further sanctions on Iran. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held the hearing to discuss the potential effectiveness of sanctions for preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Issues relating to the need to address human rights abuses in Iran and the possibility for blowback from the Iranian people due to the imposition of sanctions were also discussed.
Responding to a question posed by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg said that the Obama administration has "not asked [Congress] for additional measures" against Iran, and that the White House would like Congress to allow for flexibility in dealing with the Iranian government. Corker responded that he agreed that "we don't need to be telling you guys what to do, yet." Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also said that he believed Steinberg did not want sanctions to pass through Congress.
A significant problem for Steinberg was that Congressional patience with Iran has nearly expired. Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) said that while he supported presidential efforts at negotiation it was important that "the Iranian government understand that our patience has run out. That this has gone on too long." This sentiment was echoed at various times by the other committee members. Deputy Secretary Steinberg was repeatedly pushed about the necessity of clear deadlines for when negotiations will be called off and sanctions imposed.
Committee members said they doubted that the Iranian government would adhere to the agreements made in Geneva. An oft repeated sentiment was that the Iranian government cannot be trusted. In his testimony, Senator Robert P. Casey pointed out that in 2006 Iran had agreed to send uranium to Russia for enrichment, but did not follow through on its promise. It appears that Congress will allow President Obama time to work towards a diplomatic solution to the tension over Iran's nuclear program, but only for a limited time. If concrete evidence that Iran is holding to promises made in Geneva, mainly sending uranium to Russia and allowing IAEA inspectors to visit the Qom facility, is not available by the end of October, it is likely that Congress will pass legislation instituting sweeping sanctions against Iran.
8) Iran plans to cut subsidised gasoline quota
* Iran launched fuel rationing in 2007 to curb consumption
* West may target gasoline imports in any new sanctions
Hashem Kalantari, Reuters, Thu Oct 8, 2009
Tehran - Iran plans to nearly halve the amount of gasoline that motorists can buy at a heavily subsidised price, state television reported on Thursday, in what could be a politically controversial proposal.
It quoted Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as saying that under the plan, to be considered by parliament next week, the quota of subsidised gasoline would be reduced to 55 litres per month from 100 litres now.
The proposal comes as the United States and its European allies explore ways of targeting fuel imports into Iran if it continues to press on with its nuclear programme.
Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude oil exporter, lacks refining capacity to meet its domestic fuel needs and has to import up to 40 percent of its gasoline requirements, which it then sells at a subsidised price.
If approved by parliament, the government would only be allowed to sell four million litres gasoline per day under the rationing scheme, in which motorists can buy subsidised fuel if they have electronic "smart" cards, television reported.
The proposal to cut the subsidised gasoline quota is part of a wider government plan to reduce energy subsidies and compensate those in need with direct payments. Officials have previously said Iran plans to eliminate subsidies by 2011.
In comments carried by business daily Abrar-e Eqtesadi, Mirkazemi warned firms that sell gasoline not to halt deliveries to Iran in response to Western sanctions moves, saying they would be dropped from its list of suppliers.
9) U.S. Moves To Overhaul Jails That Breed Insurgents In Afghanistan
Eric Schmitt, New York Times, October 8, 2009
Washington - To combat Al Qaeda's growing influence and presence in Afghanistan's prisons, the Pentagon is creating a military task force to oversee a planned overhaul of the troubled detention operations there.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, called for the creation of the task force in late August in a strategic assessment of the war that warned that the prisons in Afghanistan, including an American-operated detention center at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, were breeding grounds for Qaeda fighters. "There are more insurgents per square foot in correction facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan," General McChrystal said in the report.
The prisons mix hardened Islamic militants with petty thieves and other common criminals, often radicalizing and indoctrinating the less dangerous prisoners, General McChrystal said.
The Pentagon is closing the decrepit Bagram prison and replacing it in November with a new 40-acre complex. The military for the first time is notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of militants who were being held in secret at camps in Iraq and Afghanistan run by United States Special Operations forces.
A senior Pentagon official said Wednesday that the new task force would also advise the Afghan government on how to improve its detention and judicial systems, and that it would be an important part of General McChrystal's strategy to help reintegrate former Taliban members into Afghan society. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because many of the task force's specific duties were still being worked out, said: "You want people to come out saying: 'Yeah, the Americans detained me, but it wasn't all so bad. We can reconcile with them.' "
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