The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Obama's Afghanistan decision reportedly expected between Nov. 7 and 11

New feature notice: The AfPak Channel Daily Brief is launching a new occasional feature called "Wonk Watch." We will sometimes link to valuable new research reports from think tanks, NGOs, and other sources that may be of interest to the AfPak Channel's expert audience. If you would like us to consider featuring your research, please email it to tiedemann@newamerica.net.

Today's Wonk Watch: The International Crisis Group recently released a report entitled "Pakistan: countering militancy in the FATA," arguing that without accompanying comprehensive political reform in the FATA, the Pakistani military's operations in Waziristan will fail (ICG).

Nice and slow

U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday that he will "not rush the solemn decision" of whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, and anonymous sources told ABC News that Obama will announce his choice for a strategy in Afghanistan sometime between November 7, the day of Afghanistan's presidential runoff election, and November 11, the day the president is scheduled to leave for a visit to Japan (Reuters, ABC News, New York Times, Al Jazeera). Obama was recently accused of "dithering" about Afghanistan by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Chiming in again yesterday about the war in Afghanistan, Sen. John Kerry told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plan for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan "reaches too far, too fast," though he said that under "the right circumstances," he would support the president sending more troops to the country (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, AP, Los Angeles Times). However, the senator cautioned against a full-scale troop pullout from the country, warning that it would trigger civil war (AP, Bloomberg). Kerry's prepared remarks are available here (CFR).

Germans, who have since World War II decidedly rejected the use of military power for anything but self-defense, are facing a rising insurgency in northern Afghanistan and increasing domestic opposition to German troops staying and fighting in the country (New York Times). Germany has held out so far against Gen. McChrystal's calls for NATO countries to contribute more troops to the Afghan theater.

The political balance

Afghan presidential candidates Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah are facing off ahead of the November 7 runoff over whether the head of Afghanistan's election commission, whom Abdullah accused of favoring Karzai, will be fired before the second round (BBC, Reuters, Times of London). Abdullah has given Afghan authorities until Saturday to sack the poll chief, but has not specified what will happen if his ultimatum is not met; speculation that Abdullah may refuse to participate in the second round is growing. Forty election officials were recently fired in a northern Afghan province for violating electoral law (Pajhwok).

After a report prepared for a meeting of EU foreign ministers found that the situation in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and that political reform and clean government are almost nonexistent in some parts of the country, the bloc's 27 foreign ministers announced earlier today that the EU is overhauling Europe's civilian aid strategy to Afghanistan (Financial Times, AFP, AP). The EU, which has already spent some one billion dollars a year in aid to Afghanistan and whose member states have spent about $13 billion there since 2001, is backing a new strategy that holds Afghan officials more accountable for their use of European aid money and focuses on improving education, the rule of law, and human rights (AP).

Karen DeYoung has profiled the first U.S. official to resign specifically in protest of the war in Afghanistan (Washington Post). Matthew Hoh, a first-tour Foreign Service Officer with experience with the Pentagon, Marines, and State Department, quit his post in mid-September, accepted an offer from U.S. special representative to the region Richard Holbrooke, and quit that position a week later, saying that his resignation "is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

And three Drug Enforcement Administration agents were among those killed yesterday in one of the U.S.'s deadliest days in the war in Afghanistan, as a U.S. military helicopter crashed after returning from a firefight with the Taliban in western Afghanistan (AP). Though the Taliban claimed they shot down a helicopter in Badghis, U.S. military officials insisted that neither of yesterday's two helicopter crashes was the result of hostile fire.

Dancing boys

CNN's Atia Abawi reports on an "age-old underground tradition" in Afghanistan known as "bacha bazi" (literally meaning "boy play") in which young boys are pressed into service for powerful older men as sex slaves and dancers (CNN). Though Islamic scholars have denounced the practice as immoral, the abuse continues in Afghanistan, but remains on a back burner in the country where "everyone is coping with some level of injustice" and "just trying to survive."

Sticks and stones

A Pakistani Army officer and his mother narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by suspected militants this morning in Islamabad, the second such attempt in a less than week and an indication that extremists continue to target Pakistan's security apparatus (AFP, BBC, CNN, AP). The current Pakistani military offensive in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, which began on October 17, has "pleased" the U.S. but has left large parts of Pakistan "under siege," reports Jane Perlez, and many Pakistanis place the blame for Pakistan's instability squarely on the United States (New York Times).

The Waziristan operations have resulted on losses in both sides, as 11 Pakistani soldiers and more than 40 suspected militants were reportedly killed in the last 24 hours, and some 155,000 refugees have fled the area (AP, AP, The News, AFP, Reuters, New York Times, Al Jazeera). The Swat Valley, the site of an anti-Taliban offensive earlier this year, is now hosting lashkars, or tribal militias, that provide a layer of grassroots security to the northwestern Pakistani region where the Pakistani Army has yet to provide full police and military forces (Los Angeles Times). And a key aide to the leader of the Taliban in Swat was reportedly captured yesterday (Dawn).

Pakistani security forces have released 11 Iranians who were once reported to be members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, after holding the men in Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province following a period of heightened tension between the neighbors after more than 40 people were killed on the Iranian side of the border in a recent suicide attack which Iran blamed on Pakistan (Al Jazeera, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Telegraph). State-run television in Iran claimed that the men were border guards hunting smugglers who accidentally drifted into Pakistan, and authorities now say the men were not Revolutionary Guards but only "security officers" (AP).

Here kitty kitty

The first leopard sighting of the season at Margalla Hills, the foothills of the Himalayas north of Islamabad, was reported last night (The News). It's a bit early for the leopards to come down from the mountains for the winter, but officials say this timing has become more normal in recent years.

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MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images