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While Washington Sniffs the Generals’ Panties, Afghan Peace Talks Begin to Show Progress

With General John Allen now floating in some sort of purgatory where he has been tainted by figures in the Petraeus scandal, the “orderly” transition planned for Allen to step up to commanding NATO and General John Dunford to move up to replace Allen in Afghanistan is stalled at least in part. And while Washington has come to such a complete halt over this scandal that Howard Kurtz may well have taken an interest in a penis or two that may have voted Republican, leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken advantage of the distraction in Washington to take concrete steps toward the kind of political reconciliation that will be essential once US forces have been (at least mostly) withdrawn from the area.

From the AP story carried by the Washington Post:

Pakistan freed several Taliban prisoners at the request of the Afghan government Wednesday, a move meant to facilitate the process of striking a peace deal with the militant group in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.

The release of the prisoners — described as mid- and low-level fighters — is the most encouraging sign yet that Pakistan may be willing to help jumpstart peace talks that have mostly gone nowhere, hobbled by distrust among the major players involved, including the United States.

/snip/

Wednesday’s release of the Taliban militants came in response to a personal request by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of an Afghan government council for peace talks with the Taliban, said a Pakistani government official and an intelligence official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the release.

We get more from Reuters:

Afghan officials have suspected that Pakistan has been holding Afghan Taliban members in jail to retain some control over peace efforts and have a say in any settlement.

Those in detention include former Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Allahdat Tayab, an ex-deputy minister, Afghan High Peace Council officials say.

“We have asked Pakistan to release them because they were the policy makers of the Taliban and close aides to Mullah Omar,” Habibullah Fawzi, a senior member of the Afghan peace team, told Reuters.

Their release could encourage a number of Taliban commanders and fighters to join peace efforts, he said. Afghan embassy officials in Islamabad said the names of about 10 Afghan Taliban militants had been floated.

We learn from Dawn that the talks will continue today:

Talks between the peace delegation led by Mr Rabbani and Pakistani officials would continue on Wednesday when the two sides are expected to come up with a joint statement on the progress made by them.

A Pakistani official, who had been briefed on the talks, told Dawn that “significant progress has already been made”.

The release of Taliban detainees in Pakistan has been a longstanding Afghan demand for catalysing the slow moving process.

A keen follower of the negotiations, who didn’t want to be named, said the release of prisoners was a positive step, which would provide the right environment for reconciliation.

Who could have guessed that getting all of Washington distracted by a tawdry sex scandal could have set just the right conditions for significant peace talks to break out? There are even hints from Khaama that this breakout of peace talks might even expand to include the Haqqani network.

The old adage that “fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity” seems to have been turned on its side here. Even though it may have been under his desk, David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell appear to have been fucking for peace, since their affair has disengaged the US war machine long enough that those who must make peace once we are gone have decided to start the process ahead of schedule.

As Failure Language Creeps into Afghanistan Discussion, McCain, Young Call for Accelerated Withdrawal

Now that most joint operations involving US and Afghan forces have been put on hold, there are major developments in both media discussions of the war and in opinions among prominent Republicans in Washington on how the US should move forward from this point. The change in media language is that there are more overt references to the war being a failure. Perhaps reflecting a realization of this point, both Bill Young (R-FL), who chairs the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have called for an accelerated exit from Afghanistan.

In The Guardian, we hear once again from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, whose earlier report on the failures of the Afghanistan war strategy was largely ignored. Davis’ message has not changed, but with the rapid rise of green on blue deaths and the suspension of most joint US-Afghan operations put into place so fast that NATO allies were caught off guard, Davis’ message now seems more likely to be understood (emphasis added):

Lieutenant colonel Daniel Davis – who caused a political stir in Washington in February by accusing the Pentagon of “lying” about the situation in Afghanistan because his experience during a year-long deployment “bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground” – said that calling off of joint operations will be damaging because it will reinforce a perception among Afghans that the US is rushing to leave.

Davis said “insider attacks” have eroded trust among Nato troops of their Afghan colleagues. But, he added, confidence between the two militaries has been on the wane for some time because of overly optimistic claims by the US about the state of the war with the Taliban and Barack Obama’s setting of a 2014 date for an end to American combat operations.

“In my personal opinion, we (Isaf) have been responsible for a portion of the destruction of trust between the Afghan forces and Isaf troopers because so often our leaders say things like “everything’s on track”, “we’re on the right azimuth.”

“But when those messages are heard by the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces, and even the Taliban, they see with their own eyes that nothing could be further from the truth. When they hear us saying these things and actually appear to believe them, they either don’t trust us or they don’t put any value in our ability to assess,” Davis said.

When you’re using the language of success to describe abject failure, you have no credibility in the eyes of those on the ground who know the truth.

But it’s not just Davis who is spreading the message of failure. Consider this from Time, where Ben Anderson discusses his new book “No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan” (emphasis added again):

What is the book’s bottom line?

Despite the incredible hard work, bravery and suffering of our troops, despite the massive Afghan civilian casualties, despite the hundreds of billions spent, we have not achieved our goals in Afghanistan.

Essentially, we’re supposed to be clearing an area of insurgents and then persuading locals to chose us and our Afghan allies over the Taliban. Most areas where we are based have not been cleared of the Taliban and even if they had been, we’re fighting to introduce a largely unwelcome government.

The Afghan army cannot provide security on its own, the Afghan government is spectacularly corrupt and the police are feared and hated, for good reason.

So even if the military part of the strategy goes perfectly to plan (and it never does) the locals don’t want what we are offering.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been told countless times that locals prefer the Taliban to foreign forces and the Afghan government, particularly the police. I should point out that I’ve spent most of time in Afghanistan in Helmand and Kandahar, where the war has always been fiercest.

Writing at Foreign Policy, analyst Arif Rafiq adds to the language of failure (emphasis added): Read more

Leaky Leon Does More Damage

Even in his official photos Panetta can’t keep his lips closed.

Marcy pointed out even before it aired that Defense Secretary (and former CIA Director) Leon Panetta’s televised confirmation that Dr. Shakeel Afridi worked for the CIA in the effort to find and kill Osama bin Laden was a breech of security. Since then, both Marcy and I have documented the damage resulting from this disclosure, which includes Afridi being jailed instead of quietly slipping out of Pakistan and a UN doctor being shot while hundreds of thousands of Pakistani children have been denied vaccines. In further damage from Panetta’s improper disclosure, Pakistan is now in the process of expelling the aid group Save the Children over concerns that they may have a CIA tie through a link with Afridi.

But that is not the only time Panetta has disclosed secret information that he should have kept quiet. In this post where I was discussing what looked like signs of increasing cooperation between the US and Pakistan, I included video from an AP interview of Panetta. The segment I chose to post turns out to be very significant. Here is my description of the video clip and its significance:

The absence of drone strikes continued and then on August 13 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was interviewed by Lolita Baldor and Robert Burns of AP. As seen in the video excerpt above, Panetta said that he expected Pakistan to launch military operations soon against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As Bill Roggio noted at Long War Journal, this was a shocking development. After opening with “This is absolutely stunning”, Roggio went on to list his reasoning for why the announcement didn’t make much sense.

Panetta’s claim that Pakistan was about to launch military action in the FATA stunned those who watch the area closely. By publicly announcing such an unexpected action before it started, Panetta put Pakistan into an untenable position. Today’s Express Tribune details the damage arising from Panetta’s disclosure:

Pakistan has quietly conveyed to the United States to not make any public statement on its planned operation against militants in the restive North Waziristan Agency bordering Afghanistan.

The advice stems from the fact that any remarks by American officials may complicate the Pakistani authorities’ plan to create the ‘necessary environment’ for the Waziristan offensive, a senior government official said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official told The Express Tribune that the military does not want to be seen as aligned with the US on the issue of launching a fresh operation in the rugged tribal belt because of growing anti-American sentiments in the country.

Pakistan protested directly to the US about Panetta’s leak:

Islamabad voiced concerns when US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed last month that the Pakistani military was planning to start an operation against militants in North Waziristan.

/snip/

“It was inappropriate for Panetta to make that statement. There was no need for that … it really complicated the situation,” a military official commented.

Why does Leaky Leon still hold a security clearance? The Haqqani network, operating now with virtual impunity from Pakistan’s FATA, is seen as one of the largest barriers to a stable Afghanistan. By delaying Pakistan’s action against them, Panetta has made himself directly responsible for additional harm to NATO troops and innocent Afghan civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Afghanistan War: Now With Even More Suckitude

Just because I happened to read one post and point out a small error before going on a beach walk, Marcy had a hard time believing I really did go on vacation last week. While I was gone, one of the topics I usually track carefully went completely out of control. The rate of green on blue attacks in Afghanistan spiked dramatically, with today’s nonfatal attack bringing the total to five attacks in the past week:

An Afghan policeman opened fire on NATO forces and Afghan soldiers Monday morning in the fifth apparent attack in a week by Afghan security forces on their international partners. The U.S.-led military coalition says none of its service members were killed.

/snip/

At least seven American service members have been killed in the past week by either their Afghan counterparts or attackers wearing their uniforms.

Notably, NATO is unable to deviate from its current script of claiming the attacks are all “isolated incidents” and that we should consider just how large the Afghan forces are becoming due to our superior recruiting and training:

Coalition officials say a few rogue policemen and soldiers should not taint the overall integrity of the Afghan security forces and that the attacks have not impeded plans to hand over security to Afghan forces, which will be 352,000 strong in a few months.

But the same AP article doesn’t seem to buy the NATO spin:

A recent rash of “green-on-blue” attacks, in which Afghan security forces or attackers wearing their uniforms turn their guns on the coalition troops training them, has raised worries about a deterioration of trust between the two sides as well as the quality of the Afghan police and soldiers who will take over full security responsibility for fighting the Taliban when most international troops leave by the end of 2014. It also raises renewed worry that insurgents may be infiltrating the Afghan army and police despite heightened screening.

When AP wire stories begin to describe the problems with Afghan force training in terms of “deterioration of trust” and express concerns about the “quality of Afghan police and soldiers” while also pointing out infiltration by insurgents, it is clear that the Obama administration and NATO are losing their propaganda campaign in which they continue to insist that everything is just fine in Afghanistan and that progress toward the hand-off of security responsibility in 2014 is on schedule.

But the spike in green on blue attacks isn’t the only bad news in Afghanistan. In addition to attacking NATO forces, infiltrators in the Afghan police force are killing fellow policemen and defecting in large groups. Also, local officials in Afghanistan continue to be targeted in attacks.

Slightly Better News

On another front, more evidence is accumulating on improved relations and information sharing between the US intelligence community and Pakistan’s ISI. Read more

Did Pakistan Provide Intelligence Against Haqqani Network?

As I mentioned on Tuesday, the head of Pakistan’s spy agency is in the US for meetings with the CIA and other US intelligence interests. Those meetings started yesterday and appear to be slated to go through tomorrow. I had predicted that if the meetings, and particularly the discussions regarding the Haqqani network, don’t go well, we will see a poorly targeted drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal area within the first day or two after the meetings conclude. Developments today, however, point in the opposite direction, with it looking as though perhaps the ISI has decided to share intelligence on the Haqqani network.

There is word today out of Kabul that a pre-dawn raid has disrupted plans for a major attack by the Haqqani network. Wire services are attributing the raid to Afghan security forces, but as I have pointed out more than once, there is a definite push by the US to over-state the capabilities of Afghan forces so that the best possible spin can be kept on US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. It seems likely that the US had a large role in the raid but is pushing the story that Afghan forces pulled it off on their own.

Here is the Reuters story on the raid:

Afghan security forces killed five insurgents and wounded one during a pre-dawn raid in Kabul on Thursday, with authorities saying they had thwarted a mass attack and captured intelligence pointing to the militant Haqqani network.

Soldiers from Afghanistan’s spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), launched the raid just after midnight, entering a single-story house compound on the fringes of Kabul which the insurgents were using as a base.

“They planned mass attacks in different parts of Kabul disguised in burqas,” the NDS said in a statement, referring to the head-to-toe covering worn by many Afghan women and sometimes used by insurgents to evade detection.

With that raid occurring in the very early hours of this morning, statements coming out of the meeting later this morning between the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and Pakistan’s army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, take on added significance. From the Express Tribune:

The US commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that “significant progress” was being made in improving cooperation with Pakistan, after his first visit since Islamabad ended a blockade on Nato supplies.

The talks between General John Allen and General Ashfaq Kayani focused on improving security along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and cooperation between Afghan, Pakistani and Nato troops, said a statement released by both sides.

“I look forward to these visits and am pleased with the upward spiral in our relationship they represent,” Allen said.

“We are making significant progress toward building a partnership that is enduring, strategic, carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of the region.”

A bit later in the article we have this:

US officials have called repeatedly on Pakistan to move against the Haqqani network whose leaders are based on Pakistan’s side of the border.

Did the ISI provide information that allowed the Haqqani network team in Kabul to be found? That would certainly explain the optimism that Allen is voicing after today’s meeting.   However, obtaining intelligence on a forward operating team is nothing compared to the real goal the US wants, which is actionable intelligence on the leaders of the Haqqani network. It still seems very unlikely the ISI would hand over information on the Haqqani leaders, so perhaps their “compromise” position will be rein in the network and prevent them from carrying out attacks in Afghanistan until after the US departs. Such a position by the ISI might even achieve their goal of reducing drone strikes in the tribal regions by the US if it becomes clear that Haqqani network forays into Afghanistan have been reduced dramatically.

More Evidence US Views Drone Strikes as Political Retaliation Tool

On the same day that the US and Pakistan formally signed the agreement reopening the NATO supply routes through Pakistan, a piece profiling the US-Pakistan relationship in the New York Times provides further evidence supporting the idea that the US sometimes uses drone strikes as a tool for political retaliation. The retaliatory strikes previously have been stepped up to almost one per day when a particular point is being emphasized.

The entire Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt piece in today’s Times is worth reading, but I want to focus on the evidence they provide for drone strikes as retaliation. The piece focuses on the Haqqani network and how the perceived ties between them and Pakistan’s ISI complicate the US-Pakistan relationship. At one point in the article, the discussion moves to contingencies the US has considered about what the US would do if the Haqqani network manages to inflict a significant blow against US forces in Afghanistan:

But a new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, one senior official said.

/snip/

American officials recently considered what that could mean. Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.

/snip/

The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.

Gosh, “a flurry of intensified drone attacks” sounds very familiar. That is exactly what happened last May when Zardari’s visit to the NATO summit in Chicago did not produce the agreement for reopening the supply routes. Retaliatory strikes started almost immediately, with at least four strikes coming within a span of six days.

With the understanding that the US views drone strikes as a retaliation tool, we can watch this week’s visit to Washington by new ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam. Islam will visit with David Petraeus and others Wednesday through Friday of this week. Drones are expected to be on the agenda for the meetings:

Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was appointed in March, “will visit USA from 1st to 3rd August. This will be a service-to-service bilateral visit,” the statement said.

“He will meet his counterpart General David Petraeus, director CIA.”

The short statement gave no other details, but a senior Pakistani security official earlier told AFP that the pair would discuss counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing.

Islam would also demand an end to US drone attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and again ask for the means for Pakistan to carry out the attacks instead, the security official said.

The US has made it clear multiple times that it will not give up on carrying out drone strikes and that it does not trust ISI enough to bring them closely into the loop when choosing targets or timing for strikes. It seems very likely to me that the US will carry out a strike within the first day or two after the meeting ends, just to send the message to the ISI that the meeting has changed nothing in how the US will operate. If the strike is as reckless as the one that killed a group of 40 who turned out to be mostly civilians on the day after the release of Raymond Davis, then the US could be accused of letting the need for political retaliation move it all the way to blind rage. Another hint in the Times piece tells us that Haqqani leader “Sirajuddin Haqqani surrounds himself with civilians — often women and children — at his base in the town of Miram Shah”. Will the US decide to allow some “collateral damage” to women and children in an attempt to take out Sirajuddin Haqqani as Islam returns to Pakistan from his meeting with Petraeus?

Suicide Bomber in Khost Targets Biometric Screening Checkpoint?

The HIIDE biometric data unit in use in Afghanistan. (ISAFMedia photo)

A suicide bombing in Khost, Afghanistan has caused multiple casualties today. Accounts of the bombing by Reuters and the New York Times have substantial differences in pertinent details, but the Reuters account stands out because it suggests that the attack was against NATO forces using biometric scanners to screen Afghan citizens at a checkpoint:

A suicide bomber struck a security checkpoint in Afghanistan’s city of Khost on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people and wounding 30, police said, the latest attack to raise questions about stability in the volatile eastern region bordering Pakistan.

/snip/

A witness said that NATO and Afghan troops were using biometric data to screen residents of the provincial capital when the bomber struck.

The photo above is from ISAFMedia’s Flicker feed and demonstrates the equipment used by NATO in collecting biometric data. The caption provided by ISAFMedia reads:

 A soldier from 2nd Platoon, A Company, 1-503rd Infantry Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team enters a member of a private Afghan security company into the Biometrics Automated Toolset (BAT) Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE) System near the village of Heyderk Hel, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, Feb.18, 2010. The BAT HIIDE System assists soldiers in community mapping. U.S. Army photo by Sgt Russell Gilchrest. (Released)

The handset used for collection of the biometric data is quite powerful:

With a high-capacity storage of up to 22,000 full biometric portfolios (two iris templates, ten fingerprints, a facial image, and biographic data), L-1’s HIIDE Series 4, or Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, is receiving praise for its functionality and appeal to Afghanis wishing to have proper identification that would distinguish them from suspected terrorist in question.

The product description on L-1’s Web site reads:

The HIIDE is the world’s first hand-held tri-biometric system that allows users to enroll and match via any of the three primary biometrics: iris, finger and face. The intuitive user interface makes it easy to enter biographic data to create a comprehensive database on the enrolled subject. The HIIDE provides complete functionality while connected to a host PC or when operating in the field un-tethered.

The featured biometric technology is presently being used in a ring of security checkpoints around Kandahar City in Afghanistan, where Canadian operated bases are also being equipped with it. The enrollment procedure is voluntary and takes approximately six minutes to complete. All the biometric information is sent securely to the database of ISAF, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

From the description by Reuters, it appears that the bomber attacked a screening point in Khost that was using the biometric scanner to screen civilians in the area. The biometric screening program is touted by NATO as a key tool in re-integration of former insurgents: Read more

US Drone Strike in Pakistan Reeks of Political Retaliation Yet Again

Map of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. Note Orakzai and North Waziristan are as close as 50 milies in some spots. (Wikimedia Commons)

Today, US drones killed four more people in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This strike comes at a critical time in US-Pakistan relations, as many believed that the US and Pakistan would announce an agreement reopening NATO supply routes through Pakistan at last weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago. Instead of reaching agreement, however, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari was essentially shunned at the meeting. Today’s strike adds to that insult, as Pakistan has been objecting strenuously to US drone strikes as an imposition on Pakistan’s sovereignty. Despite US claims that Pakistan does nothing to stop insurgents in the FATA, Pakistani jets also killed 12 people today in Orakzai Agency, which is near North Waziristan and also within the FATA.

Drone strikes in Pakistan by the US have occasionally been interrupted by various diplomatic issues. For example, there was a lull of over a month at the height of negotiations over the release of Raymond Davis.  One of the most notorious US drone strikes was on March 17, 2011, the day after Raymond Davis was released. This signature strike killed over 40, and despite US claims (was that you, John Brennan?), that those killed “weren’t gathering for a bake sale” it was later determined that the majority of those killed were indeed civilians at a jirga to discuss local mineral rights. Because it was so poorly targeted, this strike always stood out in my mind as the product of an attitude where high-level US personnel demanded a target, no matter how poorly developed, simply to have something to hit since drone strikes had been on hold over the Davis negotiations and there was a need to teach Pakistan a lesson.

Not too long after that strike, another strike seemed to be timed as a response to negotiations gone bad. On April 13, 2011, there was a drone strike in South Waziristan that occurred while Pakistan’s ISI chief was in transit back to Pakistan after discussions with the US over drones was cut short.

With those strikes as background, today’s strike may well be another example of the US deciding to send in a strike to make a political point. The Guardian seems to see the strike in the same way, and notes how the strikes may affect negotiations:

The attack came as Washington runs out of patience with Islamabad’s refusal to reopen supply routes for Nato troops in Afghanistan. Read more

Rorhrabacher’s Attempt to Defund Pakistan Falls 335-84

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) worked himself into quite a bit of anger yesterday defending his amendment to the NDAA which was intended to cut off funding for Pakistan. He gave a remarkable performance, railing against practices by the Pakistani government which he avidly endorses when carried out by the US.

He railed against Pakistan providing haven for Osama bin Laden even though Rohrabacher actually took up arms and fought alongside the mujahideen, which included bin Laden, back in the mid-80’s when they were fighting the Soviets. He blasted Pakistan for supporting terrorists like the Haqqani network at the same time that he is agitating for the delisting of the MeK as a terrorist group. He decried the arrest and detention without charges of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who carried out the polio vaccine ruse on behalf of the CIA at the bin Laden compound, and yet he has for years been at the forefront of advocating in favor of the prison at Guantanamo, where many remain held indefinitely without charge.

Here is how Rohrabacher described his amendment in a press release:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has introduced H.R. 5734, the “Pakistan Terrorism Accountability Act of 2012.” The legislation would require the Department of Defense to list all Americans killed by terrorist groups operating with impunity inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and supported by elements of the Pakistani government. For each person killed, $50 million would be subtracted from U.S. foreign assistance to Pakistan, a requested $2.2 billion, and given to the victim’s family.

“For too long America has funded the Pakistani government, giving it free money, while elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military operate radical Islamic groups that are actively murdering Americans,” said Rohrabacher. “Americans will not accept this.” 

“Pakistan has for decades leveraged radical terrorist groups to carry out attacks in India and Afghanistan,” continued Rohrabacher. “Pakistan helped to create the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence service hid Osama Bin Laden from the U.S. for years. Today, one of the most dangerous and sophisticated groups killing American troops in Afghanistan is the Haqqani Network, which is closely operated by the Pakistani government.” 

I suppose it’s too much to hope for that someone who operates on the fringes of American politics might realize that the Pakistani government is not a monolith that always acts with all of its participants working together for the same outcome. Rather than supporting those within Pakistan who will advance US interests, Rohrabacher wants to punish all of Pakistan because of those who work against US interests.

Rohrabacher’s attempt at lead pipe diplomacy has failed miserably, going down by a vote of 335 to 84.  Here is how Pakistan Today described the outcome:

Dashing Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s drastic designs, the US Congress on Thursday turned down the bill proposing curbs on American aid to Pakistan.

/snip/

The House of representative rejected the bill as 335 votes were cast against the bill while 84 in favour. Pakistan ambassador to US, Sherry Rehman played an active role against the bill.

At least he did a better job pronouncing Balochistan

As NATO Summit Approaches, Taliban Strength Accumulates

Violence in Afghanistan continues its steady increase.

NATO found it necessary yesterday to trot out a high-ranking spokesman to try to tamp down the suggestion from Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers over the weekend that the Taliban has increased in strength. Unfortunately for NATO, however, there are more reasons to believe that the Taliban is in a strong position than just statements emanating from Washington power players. The Taliban themselves seem also to sense their stronger position, as evidenced by their abandoning the “secret” negotiations that the US had entered into with them over the winter. The caution exhibited by Hamid Karzai as he prepares to accept the handoff of security control for more of Afghanistan also reflects a strengthening of the Taliban’s position.

It seems only fitting that since CNN was where Feinstein and Rogers made their claim that the Taliban is stronger that NATO would choose CNN for their push-back on the idea:

A top coalition official on Wednesday disputed lawmakers’ assertions that the Taliban are increasing their strength in Afghanistan.

“I’m afraid for the Taliban the evidence is rather different,” said British army Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, in a briefing with reporters from Kabul.

The Taliban’s ability to deliver attacks in Afghanistan was reduced by almost 10% in 2011, said Bradshaw, adding that the NATO-led force is seeing a similar trend early this year.

“We get reporting, reliable reporting of Taliban commanders, feeling under pressure with lack of weapons and equipment, with lack of finance,” he said.

Bradshaw is of course gaming the figures. The independent group Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, or ANSO, reported that for 2011 (pdf), attacks by Armed Opposition Groups (AOG, described as the Taliban, Haqqani Network and Hezb-i-Hekmatyar) continued its upward trend in 2011, as seen in the figure above, rather than going down as Bradshaw would have us believe.

Reuters reports on the concerns surrounding the next step in handing over security control in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan faces tougher security challenges in the next phase of a transition from foreign to Afghan forces as insurgents step up their attacks, Afghan officials said on Thursday.

President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce on Sunday the transfer of 230 districts and the centers of all provincial capitals to Afghan control in the third phase of a handover before most NATO troops pull out by the end of 2014.

/snip/

There are, however, few signs of improving security in Afghanistan. Read more