Obama nails it on drones
May 23rd, 2013
07:23 PM ET

Obama nails it on drones

By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN

Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech Thursday did not deliver any radical policy changes or huge revelations, but it was well done nonetheless. It explained his reasoning behind the use of certain techniques of warfare including drone strikes and Guantanamo detentions, even as he also promised to minimize the use of these methods in the future and try to move towards a world in which the 2001 authorization for war against al Qaeda and affiliates would no longer be needed.  It was an intelligent blend of the tone of his more idealistic speeches, such as the Cairo address of June 2009, with his more muscular messages like the December 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

But one section of his speech is worth particular focus – the use of armed unmanned combat vehicles or drones. Even though President Obama did not specify exactly how drone strikes would change in the future, and did not provide a great deal of new information about them, the modest amount of detail he did provide was welcome. That is because U.S. drone strikes are badly misunderstood around the world, a point underscored by a New York Times op-ed today contained the following statements:

“...the C.I.A. has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.”

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Topics: Afghanistan • Barack Obama • CIA • Pakistan • Terrorism
May 22nd, 2013
09:36 AM ET

History repeating itself in Afghan conflict?

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with William Dalrymple, author of the new book ‘Return of A King:  The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42,’ about what history can teach us about the current conflict in Afghanistan.

What do you think retreat is going to look like, based on history?

Well, the British retreat from Kabul really couldn't have gone worse. There’s every reason to hope this one would go a bit better, not least because you've got air transport. In 1841, there was a huge uprising against the British. It began in the south, in Helmand. It spread north. And, very soon, the British were surrounded in the same cities in the sense in which American troops are surrounded today, in Kandahar and Jalalabad and many in Kabul, a small area of Kabul, a fortress against a largely hostile, rural hinterland.

The British lost their supplies very early in this.  They had stupidly kept both their ammunition and their food in outlying forts…The retreat from Kabul that followed began on January 6, 1842, and is one of the great imperial disasters – 18,500 men, women and children, of whom only about 5,000 were British. The rest were Sepoys from North India, from Bihar, from Uttar Pradesh.  They marched out into the snow.  They had no idea how to cope in winter warfare. They weren’t equipped or clad or trained for it. And six days later, one man made it through to Jalalabad.  Everyone else was either killed, enslaved or taken hostage.

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Topics: Afghanistan
Why we should be optimistic about Afghanistan
April 25th, 2013
01:35 PM ET

Why we should be optimistic about Afghanistan

By Erlan Idrissov, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Erlan Idrissov is minister of foreign affairs in Kazakhstan. The views expressed are his own.

The view that chaos and violence inevitably await Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 is misguided.  Indeed, this sort of prognosis is a potentially dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fact is that there is actually cause for some optimism that with the right level of assistance from its friends and neighbors, and through the creation of a peaceful environment in its immediate neighborhood, Afghanistan can overcome its historical isolation and take its rightful place in the heart of Asia.

This week, Almaty – Kazakhstan’s second city – will host foreign ministers participating in the Istanbul Process in support of Afghanistan. The meeting, building on a process launched in November 2011, will provide important opportunities to increase the level of regional cooperation and coordination ahead of the transfer of security control in Afghanistan from international to Afghan security forces in 2014.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Central Asia
Don’t let Pakistan marginalize Afghan government
April 4th, 2013
12:45 PM ET

Don’t let Pakistan marginalize Afghan government

By Sher Jan Ahmadzai and Thomas Gouttierre, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sher Jan Ahmadzai is a research associate, and Thomas Gouttierre is director, of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The views expressed are their own.

The Afghan peace process and talks with the Taliban were high on the agenda during Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Amman last month. But the key question is whether the Afghan government is gradually being cut out of its own country’s development.

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship – and the flow of billions dollars of aid money to Islamabad – already leaves many Afghans suspicious. This is not surprising considering al Qaeda and Taliban leaders including Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have been found in Pakistani cities and tribal areas. Such assistance has left many Afghans with the feeling that the U.S. is closer to Pakistan than its real ally in the war against terrorists, namely Afghanistan.

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Topics: Afghanistan
Why U.S. can’t deliver women’s rights to Afghanistan
April 2nd, 2013
01:42 PM ET

Why U.S. can’t deliver women’s rights to Afghanistan

By Malou Innocent, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute and can be followed @malouinnocent. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

During his recent unannounced visit to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with prominent female entrepreneurs and the captain of the women’s soccer team to discuss the hard-won progress of Afghan women and their uncertain future. Like his predecessor, Secretary Kerry has admirably pledged to prioritize women’s rights in his foreign policy agenda. But the underpinnings of this pledge – the entrenchment of women’s rights across Afghanistan – are beyond the ability of the United States to uphold. It is time to stop making promises we cannot keep.

If the past 12 years in Afghanistan (and Iraq) has taught us anything, it’s that we are not very good at spreading Western-style, Jeffersonian democracy – and all the attendant rights – to foreign cultures. In the end, our military and diplomacy cannot transform deep-rooted societal norms. The future of Afghan women deserves U.S. support, but not a false promise tied to the open-ended presence of U.S. troops.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Women
5 lessons of the Iraq war
March 16th, 2013
06:46 PM ET

5 lessons of the Iraq war

By Fareed Zakaria

The American public has lost interest in the Iraq war. A topic that was at the center of the national political debate is now barely mentioned in passing. The country has decided to move on, rather than debate whether the war was worth it - though for the vast majority of Americans, the answer to that question would be a decided, “no”.

Yet, it was the most significant military conflict that the United States has been in since the Vietnam War, and so it is worth asking – ten years after it began - what lessons might be learned from the war, aftermath, and occupation. Here is my list:

Bring enough troops. The Bush administration chose to go to war with Iraq in a manner that would make it relatively easy politically. It drew up plans for a small invading army and insisted that the costs would be minimal – silencing those within and without the Pentagon who suggested otherwise. In the first phase of the war, toppling Saddam’s army, the plan worked fine. But as the mission turned from invasion to occupation, the military’s “light footprint” proved to be a deadly problem. Iraq moved quickly towards chaos and civil war, under the eyes of American troops who could do little to prevent it. The lesson of the Balkans’ conflicts in the 1990s had been to have a much larger force, by some calculations four times larger than the United States had in Iraq. But that lesson was not learned in 2003. The next time, if it’s worth going to war, it’s worth staffing it properly.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Arab Spring • Conflict • Iraq
February 21st, 2013
10:21 AM ET

Don’t forget about Central Asia

By Jeffrey Mankoff, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director and fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Russia and Eurasia Program. The views expressed are his own.

The Obama Administration has faced some tough criticism for supposedly cutting and running from Afghanistan. Less attention has been paid to the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on neighboring Central Asia, which has enjoyed substantial strategic and financial gains from U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of foreign attention and assistance risks exacerbating the two biggest dangers to Central Asia’s stability: rivalries among the region’s states and the breakdown of governance within them. Rising instability in Central Asia in turn is a threat to U.S. interests because of its potential to undermine Afghanistan’s postwar transition (providing an outlet for Afghan drugs as well as a potential refuge for extremists) and to foster regional conflict.

The good news is that with its own dependence on access to Afghanistan through Central Asia set to decline, the United States has an opportunity to play a more constructive role in both promoting regional cooperation and encouraging reform, reducing the potential for Central Asia to become a source of broader instability in the years ahead.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Central Asia
January 15th, 2013
02:34 PM ET

What we're reading

By Fareed Zakaria

China’s one-child policy may have left those born under it less trusting and less trustworthy, suggests a new study reported on in the New York Times.

“In a game involving trust, test subjects were paired with anonymous partners,” the NYT said. “Player One was given 100 renminbi (about $16) and invited to pass it along to Player Two. The money would then be tripled, and Player Two could pass some of it back.”

“Players born after the one-child policy was instituted were less likely to pass money along than the older participants,” it said of the research, which appeared in Science.

Also on China, Beijing has this past week been suffering from pollution levels that are literally off the charts, James Fallows notes in The Atlantic. The U.S. embassy in the city has for some time been releasing its own readings of air pollution on a dedicated Twitter account. For several hours at the weekend, the level of PM 2.5 small-particulate pollution topped 800, putting it “beyond scale” (levels in the low 300s are considered hazardous, Fallows says).

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Topics: Afghanistan • China
U.S. needs significant military presence in Afghanistan
January 11th, 2013
10:09 AM ET

U.S. needs significant military presence in Afghanistan

By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The views expressed are the author’s own.

President Barack Obama will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai today at the White House to assess the progress of the war and discuss America’s future role in Afghanistan. The two leaders are expected to talk about a wide range of issues, particularly concerning security transition to the Afghan lead, reconciliation with the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s presidential elections slated for April 2014. At the top of the meeting agenda, however, will be a discussion over the nature, scope and obligations of a residual U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan after the foreign combat mission there ends next year. Three key issues are likely to be contentious in the talks: legal immunity for U.S. soldiers, transfer of detention facilities to the Afghan government, and Kabul’s request for advanced military equipment.

The immunity issue, which derailed negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq in late 2011, will be the most sensitive one. A postwar U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is inconceivable unless American soldiers are granted protection from local prosecution. Nonetheless, while Karzai might use the question of immunity as leverage to extract concessions from the White House, the issue is unlikely to be a deal breaker this time. Kabul will be more flexible than Baghdad in negotiating a SOFA with Washington because, unlike oil-rich Iraq, Afghanistan’s economy is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid. Moreover, the Afghan government requires U.S. and NATO help to fund, train, and equip its 350,000 security personnel for many years beyond 2014.

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Obama should be honest with Karzai on Afghanistan
January 10th, 2013
03:18 PM ET

Obama should be honest with Karzai on Afghanistan

By Malou Innocent, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. The views expressed are the author’s own.

It is fitting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington this week after months of wrangling over the fiscal cliff. Americans descry their country’s massive debt and oppose an 11-year war funded largely through deficit spending. Karzai’s trip provides the American people with a subtle reminder of President Barack Obama’s proclamation that it’s time to do “nation building at home.” In keeping with that pledge, the president should scale-back expectations of America’s long-term civil-military assistance to Afghanistan when he meets with Karzai on Friday.

Some in Washington charge that opposition to an indefinite presence or ongoing assistance amounts to abandonment, defeatism, and throwing up our hands and just walking away. Not so. It stems from a judgment of whether the benefits will offset the costs. Over the last four years, U.S. officials committed increasing levels of military and economic means without offering any hope of achieving a stable, political end. Whether the effort was “clear, hold, build” or “government-in-a-box,” part of the problem was that Kabul’s interests and Washington’s were always gravely misaligned, be it on drone strikes, night raids, detention policy, regional relations, expatriate behavior, anti-corruption measures, or foreign immunity. Those outstanding differences persist amid deeper questions over how the coalition plans to reach a broader political settlement and stem the country’s slide toward civil war during its planned transition and the country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

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Topics: Afghanistan
December 24th, 2012
07:52 AM ET

Afghanistan in 2013: A unified nation at stake?

This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By Juan Cole, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. He maintains the popular blog, Informed Comment.

What does 2013 have in store for Afghanistan? As NATO and U.S. forces begin leaving in the thousands, and as their combat mission ends this coming year, can the green Afghanistan National Army take up the slack? With violence now higher than in 2009 when the Obama administration’s troop escalation was decided on, can any progress be made on political reconciliation? Will President Hamid Karzai resign and hold early elections for his successor, as he has suggested? Is there any hope for a more robust economy and a semblance of good governance, as financial scandals continue to rock Kabul? How will regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, India and Russia position themselves as Afghanistan moves out of the North Atlantic sphere of influence?

The Obama administration will certainly withdraw some of the 68,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan throughout 2013, though the timetable and the number to be pulled out have still not been decided. Gen. John Allen, outgoing commander of U.S. forces and of the International Security Assistance Forces in country reportedly wants to delay any further withdrawals until fall of next year. (Some 34,000 troops came out in 2012). Allen’s hand was presumably weakened in November, however, when he was reportedly investigated over inappropriate communications with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, as part of the fallout of an FBI investigation of CIA director, David Petraeus. He will be succeeded in 2013 by another Marine, Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, who spent 22 months in the Iraq War.

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Long road ahead for Afghan women
December 19th, 2012
01:45 PM ET

Long road ahead for Afghan women

By Heather Barr, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Heather Barr is Human Rights Watch’s Afghanistan researcher. Follow her @HeatherBarr1. The views expressed are her own.

In Afghanistan, this year’s observance of International Human Rights Day, December 10, began with the murder of a rights advocate.

An unknown gunman shot and killed Najia Sediqi, acting head of the Afghan government’s Department of Women's Affairs in the eastern province of Laghman, as she traveled to work that morning. Sediqi’s murder is appalling, but not surprising.

Sediqi had held her post only a few months following the murder of her predecessor, Hanifa Safi. Safi was killed on July 13, when an improvised explosive device attached to her car was remotely detonated. Safi’s husband and daughter and six other civilians were wounded. No one has claimed responsibility for Safi's murder, nor for Sediqi’s. There have been no arrests in either case.
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Topics: Afghanistan • Women
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