The State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman has decided to go to New Delhi on his whirlwind trip around the region to gather support for reconciliation talks with the Taliban, only days after Pakistan said he was not welcome there.
Grossman is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today as part of a multi-nation tour that is aimed at gaining broad buy-in for the administration's plan to start a reconciliation process with the Taliban. He left Jan. 15 on a trip that includes Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Afghanistan, and Qatar, where he reportedly will be finalizing the arrangements for the opening of a Taliban representative office in Doha.
The State Department admitted on Tuesday that Grossman wanted to visit Pakistan but that Islamabad asked him not to come, as they are finishing their overall review of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship following the Nov. 26 NATO killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border. NATO supply routes through Pakistan have been blocked ever since and the Obama administration, though it has privately offered condolences, refuses to publicly apologize for the incident.
So, to fill in time in his schedule, Grossman added a stop in New Delhi, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland revealed at Wednesday's press briefing. He'll be there on Friday, just before going to Kabul, and the stop was just added to his agenda. No word on who he'll be meeting there.
"Is that a message to Pakistan because they rejected him?" The Cable asked Nuland.
"In no way," Nuland responded. "We made clear that we would welcome a stop by Ambassador Grossman in Islamabad on this trip. You know that the Pakistanis are looking hard internally at our relationship. They asked us to give them time to do that, so he will not be going there on this trip."
Still, it's hard not to notice that Grossman is filling the time left open by his Pakistan rejection with a visit to that country's bitter rival. Nuland said India is a crucial player in the way forward in Afghanistan.
"We believe that India has a role to play in supporting a democratic, prosperous future for Afghanistan," she said. "They're very much a player in the New Silk Road initiative. These are all part and parcel of the same ‘fight, talk, build' strategy. India does, as you know, support police training and other things in Afghanistan. So it's important that we keep those lines of communication open."
This will be Grossman's second visit to India since joining the administration. He last visited India as well as Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October.
Mansoor Ijaz, the main figure in the "Memogate" scandal that is rocking the highest levels of the Pakistani political establishment, told his U.S. go-between Gen. Jim Jones in a private e-mail that there were three people who "prepared" the now-infamous memo, not just former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani.
Ijaz is set to travel to Islamabad next week to testify before the Supreme Court of Pakistan's inquiry commission on the memo, which he delivered through Jones to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen last May. Ijaz has repeatedly claimed the memo was authored solely by Haqqani on behalf of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The memo offered to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership and reorient Pakistani foreign policy in exchange for U.S. government help to prevent a purported impending military coup in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Haqqani resigned over the scandal and is now living under virtual house arrest on Gilani's compound, but he has always denied being the author of the memo. Now, in the previously unreported May 9 e-mail from Ijaz to Jones that accompanied the memo, obtained by The Cable, Ijaz told Jones the document was prepared by three people, not just Haqqani.
"In further reference to our telephone discussions on Pakistan and its relations with the United States, I am attaching herewith a document that has been prepared by senior active and former Pakistan government officials, some of whom served at the highest levels of the military-intelligence directorates in recent years, and as senior political officers of the civilian government," Ijaz wrote to Jones only 8 days after bin Laden was found hiding in the military town of Abbotabad.
Last month, Ijaz handed over the e-mail to the Supreme Court's Registrar Faqir Hussain in advance of Ijaz's testimony next week. Ijaz told Jones in the e-mail that the memo "has the support of the President of Pakistan," but Ijaz didn't mention in the e-mail that Haqqani was involved in the memo or the scheme in any way.
"I personally know two of the three men," Ijaz wrote to Jones, referring to the three men who allegedly prepared the document. "I believe they are men of honor and integrity, although they have been away from the games played in Islamabad for some time."
"Thanks for standing up with me on this," wrote Ijaz. "I don't know if it will work, but we have to try."
Jones replied May 11 "Message delivered," referring to the fact he had passed the memo on to Mullen.
In an Oct. 10 Financial Times op-ed where he revealed the existence of the memo, Ijaz wrote that the scheme was devised by "a senior Pakistani diplomat" whom Ijaz later alleged was Haqqani, but Ijaz didn't mention the existence of the other two other officials in that article.
In an interview on Thursday with The Cable, Ijaz confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail he sent to Jones but said its contents did not contradict his various other statements. Ijaz said that the Jones e-mail was meant as a general overview but didn't reflect the details of the involvement of the other two men, whom he identified as Jehangir Karamat, who served as Army chief of staff and U.S. ambassador under former military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former National Security Advisor for Gilani, who was fired in 2009 over an unrelated dispute.
"There was only one author of the memo and that was Haqqani, but the way Haqqani presented it to me was that there was a team of people back in Pakistan involved and the two names he gave me were Karamat and Durrani," Ijaz told The Cable.
Ijaz said his current understanding is that Karamat and Durrani were involved in some unclear way in the scheme to overhaul Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership but were not involved in the actual drafting or delivery of the memo, as far as he knows.
"My impression at the time I wrote the email to Jones was that they had been probably a part of the thinking process about the ideas in the memorandum. They were probably involved at least in thinking through how you execute these things," Ijaz told The Cable. "They certainly did not have anything to do with the actual drafting of the memorandum or the delivery of the message. Then again, maybe they did, I don't know. Who the hell knows? What I put down in the e-mail was what Haqqani told me."
In his written statement to the Supreme Court, Ijaz claims that Karamat and Durrani were names given to him by Haqqani "as people that would be involved in forming the new national security team," but he did not identify them as being involved in the preparation of the document.
"[Haqqani] said there was a like-minded group of people in Islamabad that would be brought on board by ‘the boss'; -- a reference I understood to mean President Asif Ali Zardari -- as the new national security team once tensions had dissipated. He mentioned two names I recognized (Jehangir Karamat and Mahmud Durrani) but added that they would be approached once this was all over -- a point I took to mean they were unaware of this operation in advance," Ijaz wrote in his statement.
The military-civilian rift over the memo reached even higher levels of confrontation this week as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday sacked Defense Secretary Khalid Naeem Lodhi for "gross misconduct and illegal action." Lodhi gave the Supreme Court statements pertaining to Memogate from Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership without going through the civilian government first.
The firing of Lodhi followed a warning by Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that Gilani's earlier statements, calling the actions of Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate spy agency Ahmed Shuja Pasha related to Memogate "unconstitutional," could have "grievous consequences." Gilani had criticized the two for submitting statements to the court without going through the civilian leadership first. The stakes could not be higher in Pakistan, where the civilian government is fighting for survival and the military is seeking to assert its dominance over politics.
The newly revealed e-mail also seems to corroborate Jones's secret affidavit to the court in which Jones swore that Ijaz "gave me no reason to believe that he was acting at the direction of Ambassador Haqqani, with his participation, or that Ambassador Haqqani had knowledge of the call or the contents of the message."
Later in the affidavit, Jones hedged by writing, "I do not recall whether Mr. Ijaz claimed that Ambassador Haqqani had anything to do with the creation of the memo. I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."
In his own affidavit to the court, Ijaz directly disputed Jones' account of events. Jones says that Ijaz called him on the phone a few days before the delivery of the memo. Ijaz refutes that call ever took place. Ijaz also swears that he did tell Jones about Haqqani's involvement during their May 9 phone call, only because Jones was extremely skeptical of the authenticity of the memo.
"I made clear to him near the end of the call that Pakistan's ambassador to the US was the originator of the message," Ijaz wrote in his affidavit. "Gen. Jones continued to express reservations but when I told him this was not for him or I to decide, that if what the ambassador was saying about the potential for a military takeover was true, that we simply had a responsibility to make sure the private message Haqqani wanted conveyed got through to its destined recipient. He responded by saying he would do it if the message was in writing."
In his affidavit, Ijaz again claims that Haqqani was the sole author of the memo. "The content of the Memorandum originated entirely from Haqqani, was conceived by Haqqani and was edited by Haqqani," Ijaz wrote.
Ijaz has always said that his back-channel dealings were in furtherance of his desire to expose the inappropriate influence of Pakistan's military and intelligence sectors on domestic politics. That said, since the scandal broke he has been harshly critical of the civilian government led by Zardari. The entire scandal rests largely on Ijaz's credibility and his account of events as compared to Haqqani's.
Ijaz met with Pasha Oct. 22 in London and handed over evidence he says implicates Haqqani, including Blackberry Messenger communications that Ijaz says prove Haqqani's involvement in the conspiracy. In a twist of irony, when Ijaz gets to Pakistan next week, his security will be reportedly be provided by Kayani, the military leader he originally conspired to overthrow.
In his e-mail to Jones, Ijaz also claimed that he was working with Sen. Tom Daschle and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to deliver the document. Ijaz told The Cable today that he reached out to Daschle in an effort to reach Mabus as a conduit to Mullen -- but it never panned out.
"Daschle's condition [before becoming involved] was that the memo had to have Zardari's signature and be written on his letterhead. That sort of defeats the purpose [of the back channel], so that option was out," said Ijaz. "They were never involved directly in this. I never had any direct contact with Daschle or Mabus."
A bipartisan group of foreign-policy experts is calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do all she can to ensure the fair treatment and safety of former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, who fears for his life in Pakistan due to fallout from the Memogate scandal.
Haqqani, who resigned and returned to Pakistan last November, told the New York Times this weekend that he was under virtual house arrest in the guest quarters of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's compound in Islamabad because he fears he could be murdered if he leaves the grounds. His lawyer said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "might pick him up and torture him" to elicit a confession of treason.
Last week, three U.S. senators issued a statement calling for fair treatment of Haqqani and criticizing the Pakistani government's decision to confiscate his passport, despite the fact that he has not been formally charged with any crime. Today, 16 leading regional experts sent a letter to Clinton, obtained by The Cable, asking her to pressure the Pakistani government to make sure Haqqani's rights aren't violated.
"While we, as individuals, may not have always agreed with Ambassador Haqqani's views, we regarded him as an effective presenter of Pakistani positions in the Washington context. In keeping with its traditional support for human rights and its deep interest in a firmly democratic Pakistan, the U.S. government should do all it can to ensure Haqqani receives due process without any threat of physical harm," said the letter, which was organized by Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation and Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution.
"We commend the State Department for its statement on Friday calling for fair and transparent treatment of Ambassador Haqqani in accordance with Pakistani law and international legal standards. We would urge the U.S. government to continue to weigh in with key Pakistani leaders and to make appropriate public statements to ensure that Husain Haqqani is not physically harmed and that due process of law is followed."
The experts noted that Haqqani's lawyer, Asma Jehangir, recently quit, citing her lack of confidence in the judicial commission established by the Pakistani Supreme Court to investigate the case. They also said that Haqqani's case follows an "ominous trend" of pro-democracy figures in Pakistan being silenced by Islamist forces.
"The case against Haqqani follows an ominous trend in Pakistan. The assassinations of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, and journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad this past year have created a culture of intimidation and fear that is stifling efforts to promote a more tolerant and democratic society," the experts wrote. "Significant segments of the Pakistani media have already judged Haqqani to be guilty of treason, which could inspire religious extremists to take the law into their own hands as they did with Taseer and Bhatti."
Riedel led the Obama administration's 2009 Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review, which focused heavily on engaging Pakistan. But since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Riedel has been calling for a wholesale course change in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Have you seen this man, accused al Qaeda financier Yasin al-Suri? If so, information leading to his location, suspected to be inside Iran, will get you up to $10 million from the U.S. government.
Suri, also known as Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, is one of six al Qaeda officials linked to Iran that the U.S. Treasury Department designated for sanctions back in July. According to two U.S. officials who briefed reporters today, he stands at the center of the link between the Iranian government and al Qaeda. That's why the State and Treasury Departments are putting out this bounty as part of their Rewards for Justice program.
"From his sanctuary inside Iran, he has moved terrorist recruits through Iran to al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also arranged for the release of al Qaeda operatives from Iranian prisons and their transfer to Pakistan. And he has funneled significant amounts of money through Iran to AQ leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Robert A. Hartung, assistant director for threat investigations and analysis at State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. "Locating al-Suri and shutting down his operations would eliminate a significant financial resource for al Qaeda."
The announcement highlights the U.S. government's strategy of exposing the links between the Iranian government and al Qaeda.
"We have reliable information indicating that there is an agreement between the Iranian government and this al Qaeda network [led by Suri]," said Eytan Fisch, Treasury's assistant director of terrorism and financial intelligence. This is the first reward put forth for a terrorist financier, he added.
But Fisch couldn't say whether the sanctions levied against Iran-linked al Qaeda operatives in July have yielded any results. The sanctions only apply to funds held in the United States, and Treasury won't say if they have found any such funds.
"We don't generally comment on whether funds are frozen and if so, how much," said Fisch,
"That kind of makes it impossible to tell whether it has actually been effective," noted AP reporter Matt Lee.
It's also unclear what the U.S. government would do if and when Suri's location becomes known. If he is living inside Iran with the assistance of the Iranian government, would the U.S. government go in and get him?
"Once we receive information, that's provided to other government agencies to handle that information and decide how to act," said Hartung. "I can't answer questions about what they will do with that information."
Several reporters at the briefing noted that the $10 million reward is much higher than the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" that Fisch said Suri has alleged to have moved to al Qaeda. Wouldn't it be a financially smart decision for al Qaeda to turn him in itself, and pocket the profit?
"In general terms, anyone is available to receive a reward," said Hartung. He said there is some review of award recipients, but didn't give any details.
"So Mullah Omar, if he turns this guy in, isn't going to get the reward?" asked Lee.
"Correct," replied State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "And vice-versa."
If any Cable readers have a tip on Suri's location, you can tell the U.S. government by going to www.rewardsforjustice.net, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling the RFJ tip line in Afghanistan at 0800 108 600. The program has paid more than $100 million to more than 70 people since it began in 1984, Hartung said.
Other aliases used by Suri include: Yassen al-Suri, Izz al-Din Abd al-Farid Khalil, and Zayn al-Abadin. The only other two alleged terrorists who have warranted a $10 million award are Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Abu Du'a, the alleged head of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has submitted a confidential affidavit, obtained by The Cable, in which he swears that he has no reason to believe that former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani had any role in the scandal known as "memogate."
Jones was the go-between in the transmission of a secret memo from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. The memo, purportedly from the Pakistani civilian leadership, asked for U.S. government help to avoid a pending military coup in Pakistan and pledged, in return, to reorient Pakistan's foreign and national security policy to be more in line with U.S. interests.
Ijaz has claimed over and over that the memo and the scheme it contained was derived and driven by Haqqani, who has since resigned over the scandal and is now in Islamabad without permission to leave the country. Ijaz also claims that that Haqqani discussed the scheme with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who faces increasing domestic political pressure from opponents and is in Dubai due to what is being described as a recent "mini-stroke."
Haqqani has always claimed that he had no role in the writing or delivery of the memo. Earlier this week, Jones broke his silence on the issue by signing a confidential affidavit about his role in "memogate," which he sent to Haqqani's lawyers as part of their planned libel suit against Ijaz. In the affidavit, Jones states that Ijaz never mentioned to him that the memo came from Haqqani.
"A few days before May 9, 2011, I received a phone call from Mr. Mansoor ljaz. I have known Mr. ljaz in a personal capacity since 2006. During the call Mr. Ijaz mentioned that he had a message from the ‘highest authority' in the Pakistan government which he asked me to relay to then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen," Jones wrote in the confidential affidavit.
"At no time during the call do I remember Mr. Ijaz mentioning Ambassador Haqqani, and he gave me no reason to believe that he was acting at the direction of Ambassador Haqqani, with his participation, or that Ambassador Haqqani had knowledge of the call or the contents of the message."
Jones told Ijaz he would only forward the message to Mullen if it was in writing. On May 9, Ijaz sent the unsigned memo to Jones's personal e-mail account and Jones passed it on to Mullen. Mullen has acknowledged that he received the memo but claims he gave it no credence and took no action on it whatsoever.
"It was my assumption that the memo was written by Mr. Ijaz, since the memo essentially put into writing the language he had used in our telephone conversation earlier," Jones wrote in his affidavit. "I do not recall whether Mr. Ijaz claimed that Ambassador Haqqani had anything to do with the creation of the memo. I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."
The Jones affidavit will be used by Haqqani's legal team to bolster Haqqani's claims that Ijaz was the author's memo, not him. Ijaz's main evidence of Haqqani's involvement is a series of Blackberry Messenger communications that Ijaz claims he had with Haqqani to discuss the memo during its formation. Ijaz has said his Blackberry is being examined by Pakistani forensic experts as part of the ongoing investigation.
Ijaz's activity throughout the scandal has raised several questions about his motives. For example, he publicly disclosed the existence of the memo in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times, purportedly to defend Mullen from attacks and slanders in Pakistan. Then, on Oct. 22, he met in London with Pakistan's Gen. Shuja Pasha, the leader of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which Ijaz's memo promised would be replaced with new, U.S.-friendly national security leaders in Pakistan.
Last week, Ijaz claimed in a Newsweek article that Haqqani and Zardari knew of the raid to kill bin Laden in advance and may have given the U.S. military tacit permission to violate Pakistani airspace. Haqqani has initiated legal action against Ijaz over those claims and the Jones affidavit is part of that litigation.
In the most interesting part of the affidavit, Jones states his personal opinion that the memo probably did not come from the Pakistani government at all.
"Upon my reading of the memo that I was asked to forward to Admiral Mullen, it struck me as highly unusual that the ‘highest authority' in the Pakistan government would use Mr. ljaz, a private citizen and part-time journalist living in Europe, as a conduit for this communication," Jones wrote. "My personal opinion was that the memo was probably not credible."
Asked for comment on Friday by The Cable, Jones declined to elaborate.
Ijaz responded to Jones' affidavit with a lengthy comment to The Cable. Here are some excerpts, after the jump:
NATO forces deliberately attacked two Pakistani Army outposts and ignored established rules of cooperation in the Nov. 26 assault that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, a senior Pakistani defense official said today.
The attack sparked the latest rift in the sinking U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The Pakistani government shut down NATO's supply lines into Afghanistan in response to the attack, refused to attend the Bonn conference on Afghanistan reconstruction this month, and indicated it would undertake a full review of its security cooperation with NATO and the United States. The U.S. government and the Obama administration expressed private "condolences" for the attack, which is currently under investigation by NATO, but has refused to explicitly apologize.
A senior defense official at the Pakistani embassy in Washington invited a group of national security reporters on Thursday morning to give an extensive briefing on the events of Nov. 26 -- from the Pakistani point of view.
The official placed the blame squarely on NATO forces and said it was completely impossible that the killings were accidental.
"I have a story to tell and this is the story of those brave people who left us in the middle of a cold, November night on a barren mountain top," the official said, before going into intricate details of what he called the "Mohmand Incident," named after the region where the attack took place.
The attack started at about midnight, the official said, with a helicopter assault on the Pakistani outpost named "Volcano," a small bunker on a mountain ridge near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistani soldiers at the neighboring "Boulder" outpost responded by firing at the helicopters, after which helicopters and fixed-wing NATO aircraft strafed both outposts, destroying them, the official said.
The Pakistani conclusion that this was a "deliberate" attack is based on the belief that these areas had been cleared of terrorist activity, that there was no indication of insurgent activity at the time, and that there was no way to mistake the Pakistani outposts as terrorist encampments, the official argued.
"This was in plain view on a barren ridge, not a place terrorists would be inclined to use as a hideout," the official said.
Moreover, NATO and Pakistani officials had put in place an intricate system of operational information sharing that was completely violated, according to the official, which reinforced the Pakistani conclusion that the attack was intentional.
The official refused to speculate as to why NATO would deliberately attack and kill two dozen Pakistani soldiers, only saying that this was the official conclusion of the Pakistani military leadership.
The Pakistani official also claimed that the NATO official in charge at the nearby Pakistani-NATO coordination center had apologized for giving the Pakistani Army incomplete and incorrect information regarding where NATO forces were attacking. In fact, the official claimed that the apology came in the middle of the attack, but that the NATO airplanes kept attacking.
According to the official, NATO officials notified the Pakistani side of the operation just before it began, but gave Pakistan incorrect coordinates that indicated it was actually taking place nine miles to the north of the actual attack site. The Pakistanis asked NATO to delay the operation amid the confusion, the official said, but the NATO official in charge refused, only to apologize later as the attack was taking place.
About an hour into the attack, at approximately 1 a.m., NATO then told the Pakistani side the attack had stopped, the official said, but the Pakistanis later discovered it continued until about 2:15 a.m.
"This was at least one hour and 10 minutes beyond when our friends in NATO told us that the helicopters had pulled back," the official said. "The actual magnitude of this tragedy we knew only when day broke."
Well-established operating procedures should have dictated that the attack stop as soon as communications with the Pakistani forces in the area were established, but that didn't happen, the official said.
"We are supposed to share information about impending operations regardless of size.... And in case we are fired upon, the responsibility to take action is on the country from where the fire is originating," the official said. "It's not for the U.S. military to engage. NATO is supposed to pass on the information regarding the point of origin [of the fire]."
The official also rejected the idea that the NATO helicopters were responding to fire coming from the Pakistani side or chasing insurgents as part of some sort of hot pursuit.
"There was no prior firefight," the official said.
NATO is expected to release the results of its own investigation into the assault next week, and the Pakistani claims today could be an attempt to pre-empt that announcement by establishing its own narrative beforehand.
Either way, the fallout from the incident has already had a detrimental effect on Pakistani military and popular opinion toward cooperation with NATO and U.S. military forces.
"There is a sense of outrage," the official said. "It's there on the street, amongst the leadership -- political as well as military -- and among the rank and file of the military. The sheer magnitude of this thing is unbelievable."
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left Pakistan suddenly on Tuesday, complaining of heart pains, and is now in Dubai. His planned testimony before a joint session of Pakistan's parliament on the Memogate scandal is now postponed indefinitely.
On Dec. 4, Zardari announced that he would address Pakistan's parliament about the Memogate issue, in which his former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani stands accused of orchestrating a scheme to take power away from Pakistan's senior military and intelligence leadership and asking for U.S. help in preventing a military coup. Haqqani has denied that he wrote the memo at the heart of the scheme, which also asked for U.S. support for the Zardari government and promised to realign Pakistani foreign policy to match U.S. interests.
The memo was passed from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to former National Security Advisor Jim Jones, to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on May 10, only nine days after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad.
Ijaz has repeatedly accused Haqqani of being behind the memo, and Ijaz claims that Haqqani was working with Zardari's implicit support.
Early on Tuesday morning, Zardari's spokesman revealed that the president had traveled to Dubai to see his children and undergo medical tests linked to a previously diagnosed "cardiovascular condition."
A former U.S. government official told The Cable today that when President Barack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding NATO's killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was "incoherent." The Pakistani president had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal. "The noose was getting tighter -- it was only a matter of time," the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.
The former U.S. official said that parts of the U.S. government were informed that Zardari had a "minor heart attack" on Monday night and flew to Dubai via air ambulance today. He may have angioplasty on Wednesday and may also resign on account of "ill health."
"If true, this is the ‘in-house change option' that has been talked about," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Nawaz said that under this scenario, Zardari would step aside and be replaced by his own party, preserving the veneer of civilian rule but ultimately acceding to the military's wishes to get rid of Zardari.
In Islamabad, some papers have reported that before Zardari left Pakistan, the Pakistani Army insisted that Zardari be examined by their own physicians, and that the Army doctors determined that Zardari was fine and did not need to leave the country for medical reasons. Zardari's spokesman has denied that he met with the Army doctors.
One Pakistani source told The Cable that Zardari was informed on Monday that none of the opposition party members nor any of the service chiefs would attend his remarks to the parliament as a protest against his continued tenure. This source also said that over a dozen of Zardari's ambassadors in foreign countries were in the process of being recalled in what might be a precursor to Zardari stepping down as president, taking many of his cronies with him.
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that before leaving, Zardari met separately with Gilani, Chairman of the Senate Farooq H Naik, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
This past weekend, the Memogate scandal worsened for Zardari when Ijaz alleged in a Newsweek opinion piece that Zardari and Haqqani had prior knowledge of the U.S. raid to kill bin Laden, and may have given permission for the United States to violate Pakistan's airspace to conduct the raid.
On May 2, the day after bin Laden was killed, Wajid Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, said in an interview with CNN that Pakistan, "did know that this was going to happen because we have been keeping -- we were monitoring him and America was monitoring him. But Americans got to where he was first."
In a statement given to the Associated Press of Pakistan Monday, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that information on the actual operation to kill bin Laden was not given to anyone in Pakistan.
"As we've said repeatedly, given the sensitivity of the operation, to protect our operators we did not inform the Pakistani government, or any other government, in advance," she said.
Zardari lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai from 2004 through 2007 after being released from prison, where he had been held for eight years on corruption charges. His three children live there, but his 23-year son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), is in Pakistan now.
UPDATE: A Pakistani source close to Zardari e-mailed into The Cable to say that Zardari is simply ill and is not stepping down. Rumors of Zardari stepping down might be part of a behind the scenes power play but Zardari confidante Senate Chairman Farooq Naek will be acting president while Zardari is out of the country and Gilani remains loyal to Zardari, flanked by Zardari's son Bilawal. "The rumors of a silent coup are sometimes a way of trying to effect a silent coup. It won't happen," the source said.
Congressional Democrats on the budget-cutting "supercommittee" want to count $1 trillion that the United States will not spend fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years as "savings," even though there was never a plan to extend the wars that long in the first place.
House Assistant Democratic leader and supercommittee member James Clyburn (D-SC) mentioned this plan on Fox News Sunday, describing it as part of the supercommittee's efforts to agree on $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over 10 years before its Nov. 23 deadline. Republicans have supported this idea in the past but as of yet, not within the context of the supercommittee's deliberations.
"We believe and the CBO believes that there is around $917 billion to be saved over the next 10 years from the overseas contingency account. And we ought to count that," Clyburn said.
The problem with Clyburn's idea is that the money he is referring to -- emergency spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was never budgeted to remain at current levels over the next ten years. The money can only be counted as "savings" when compared to CBO projections from last March, which were based on a mathematical formula -- not the actual future costs of the wars.
However, it never has been anybody's plan to maintain current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years, so the "savings" are completely illusory.
The White House used this gimmick in September, when it released its $4.4 trillion plan to cut the deficit. The gimmick was also used by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in the plan he released last July to avert a debt-ceiling crisis. Paul Ryan's budget last April also included this savings in its deficit reduction calculation, which was supported by 235 House Republicans and 40 Senate Republicans.
Clyburn also said the supercommittee Democrats are interested in spending the war "savings."
"We ought to use that savings to plow it back in to fix Social Security, that will allow it to be sovereign for another 75 years, to plow it into job creation programs that would get people back to work, and paying taxes, and off of food stamps and off of unemployment," he said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- which have cost more than $1 trillion since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service -- were completely funded by off-budget borrowing and classified as "emergency spending," meaning that eliminating those costs does not actually return any money to the Treasury.
"Isn't that a classic Washington budget gimmick, to count savings on money that wasn't going to be spent anyway?" asked Fox host Chris Wallace.
Clyburn responded that these savings were more realistic than counting future economic growth as revenue, which is part of the Republican approach inside the supercommittee.
"It sounds to me like you guys have a lot of work to do in 10 days," Wallace said.
It's been almost one year since the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has had a permanent leader ... and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is not happy about it.
SIGAR Arnie Fields resigned in January following over a year of bipartisan congressional criticism of his stewardship of the oversight office, which is responsible for finding waste, fraud, and abuse in the tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent to build Afghanistan. On Aug. 4, acting Special Inspector General Herbert Richardson, Fields's replacement, stepped down after only six months on the job, leaving that troubled office without a leader for the second time this year.
Now, three months later, there are no signs the White House is ready to name a new SIGAR. McCaskiill, who has been leading the drive to improve the office along with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Susan Collins (R-ME), told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday that the vacancy is troubling and unacceptable.
"I am pushing as hard as I can to get a replacement named," McCaskill said. "Obviously I was very involved in getting General Fields out. I thought the interim [Richardson] was doing much better. I think it's unfortunate that he's gone and we need to get someone else in there."
McCaskill said that she asked the White House for an update on the status of a replacement late last month, and was led to believe a nomination was in the works. But none has materialized. So what's the reason for the inaction?
"I haven't gotten a good answer yet [from the White House]," McCaskill said.
A senior GOP senate aide told The Cable that senate staffs were informed a selection had been made but then that person turned down the job and now the administration is back to square one in looking for a candidate.
McCaskill added that while the auditing at SIGAR continues, the ongoing confusion atop the organization speaks to the need for a new, permanent special inspector general for all overseas contingency operations -- a proposal known as the Office of the Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations (SIGOCO), which was recommended by the Wartime Contracting Commission.
McCaskill said there is a need for a top oversight official who is "capable of going and looking wherever the U.S. military is operative."
The SIGOCO idea was first devised by Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen, who has been embroiled in a fight with the State Department over that agency's blocking of SIGIR inspectors from assessing the State's multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program.
"SIGIR is perfectly free ... to audit the reconstruction activities in Iraq. They are not free to audit the base element of the State Department. That is within the jurisdiction of three other entities," Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told the Wartime Contracting Commission in a hearing last month.
Today, Newsweek reported that Bowen believes the Iraqi Army is not fully prepared to take over security in Iraq as U.S. forces withdraw this year.
"As we pull out of Iraq, the Iraqis will have a difficult time replacing the U.S. role in intelligence, logistics, and air defense," Bowen said. "Whether they can sustain themselves if called upon for significant field operations is a big question mark."
Top Obama administration officials have divided up responsibilities for applying pressure and offering an outstretched hand to the Pakistani government, in a new diplomatic strategy that some officials have dubbed "coercive diplomacy."
"The Obama administration is totally fed up and have decided to up the ante," said one official familiar with the new approach, explaining that inside the administration, "pressing for Pakistani behavior change is the new mantra."
Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 27 times since 2008, clearly assumed the role of "bad cop" when he testified on Sept. 22 that the U.S. government believes the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, with the help of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was responsible for the recent bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Mullen upped the ante further, saying the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI, a charge anonymous U.S. officials walked back on Tuesday.
Also heading up the "bad cop" team is new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who seemed to threaten increased U.S. military incursions into Pakistan on Sept. 16. An official familiar with the strategy said that even more threatening statements by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who declared on Sept. 25 that there would be broad bipartisan support for U.S. military attack on Pakistan, were coordinated with the administration as part of their new campaign to apply pressure on Pakistan. The State Department is also considering whether to add the entire Haqqani network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, but no decision has yet been made.
The administration may also be using the media as part of its new campaign to exert new pressure on Pakistan. On Monday, a story appeared in the New York Times with an excruciatingly detailed account of a 2007 ambush of American officials by Pakistani militants.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a parallel "good cop" effort with the Pakistani government. She has sought ways out of the current diplomatic crisis by increasing her personal engagement with her Pakistani counterparts, as evidenced by her three-and-a-half hour meeting with new Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Sept. 18 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
According to one official inside the meeting, Clinton told Khar, "We want this relationship to work. Give us something to work with."
"The secretary's message was that, given the efforts of the Haqqani Network on the 13th of September [the day of the assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul], that this was an issue that we had to deal with and that this is a threat to both Pakistan and the United States," a senior State Department official said about the meeting. "That part of the conversation concluded that joint efforts need to be made to end this threat from the Haqqanis, and that Pakistan and the United States ought to be working together on this and not separately."
Other U.S. officials inside that meeting included Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and his deputy Dan Feldman. Afghan reconciliation was also a main topic of the meeting.
In her meeting with Khar, Clinton tried to find specific ways to address the threat of Pakistan-based extremists operating with impunity in Afghanistan.
"It is possible for the United States and Pakistan to work together to identify those interests that we have in common and then figure out how to act on them together," the State Department official said. "And I'd say that that if that could be the overriding philosophy or kind of headline that came out of this meeting, that'd be a very good thing for both sides."
After initially making some harsh statements against the U.S. Khar has now settled on a message that mixes her desire to defend Pakistani pride with the need to project the Pakistani civilian government's willingness to find a way out of the crisis.
Khar said this morning on NPR that the U.S. and Pakistan "need each other" and "are fighting against the same people" but "Pakistan's dignity must not be compromised."
Clinton's strategy is also reflective of the feeling of some inside the administration that the late Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's drive to transform the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from a "transactional" one to a "strategic" relationship is now a lost cause.
"The strategic relationship is over, we're back to transactional with Pakistan," one U.S. official recently told The Cable. "We can call it ‘long-term transactional' if we want, but that's the way it is now."
Amid all the tough talk, on-the-ground intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan continues. CIA Director David Petraeus and ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha met in Washington on Sept. 20 and put into force a new intelligence sharing agreement, an official briefed on the agreement said. Pasha also reportedly met with top White House officials at the residence of Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
Inside Pakistan, there is speculation that the United States may be bluffing about its threat to increase military strikes inside Pakistan. The Pakistani government is also grappling with a fervent anti-U.S. media and a realization that its control over the ISI, much less the Haqqani network, is ultimately limited. But U.S. aid to Pakistan will never be effective leverage in convincing Pakistani to change its basic approach to dealing with groups like the Haqqani network, the official said.
"Pakistan is unwilling to align its strategic vision with America's worldview," the official said. "Meanwhile, the mood toward Pakistan in Washington is the worst it's ever been."
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman's presidential campaigns both issued statements late Thursday responding to The Cable's interview with a senior foreign policy advisor for Rick Perry, in which the advisor clarified Perry's stance on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.
"[Perry] would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he's recommending," the advisor said. "He has a clear sense of the mission and wanting to win it, but not just by throwing the kitchen sink at it."
In an e-mail titled, "Rick's reversal on Afghanistan," the Romney campaign pointed to Perry's comments on Afghanistan at Monday's debate, where he said, "I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan -- I don't think so at this particular point in time."
The Romney e-mail also referred to Perry's interview with Time magazine, published today, which quoted Perry as saying, "I think we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well."
Romney has some experience with clarifying debate comments on Afghanistan. In the first GOP debate, he said, "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can -- as soon as our generals think it's okay.... One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation's war of independence." Some Republicans interpreted Romney's statement as a call for a quick exit.
In the second GOP debate Aug. 11, Romney said he always supported a slower withdrawal of troops than what Obama has announced, but he incorrectly stated that U.S. military leaders "recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012."
In this week's GOP debate, Perry began his answer on Afghanistan by saying he agreed with Huntsman, who just moments before had called for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces. His advisor's subsequent comments to The Cable also provoked a response from the Huntsman campaign, who accused him of changing his tune.
"Governor Perry's attempt to walk back his support for Governor Huntsman's position on Afghanistan shows a fundamental lack of leadership and understanding of foreign policy," Huntsman senior foreign policy advisor Randy Schriver said in his statement.
Huntsman, for one, is not backing off his calls for a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"We need to send a clear message to the world that we understand the asymmetrical threat we face and will respond with counter terror forces, intelligence gathering, and a limited number of troops to train Afghan forces," Schriver said. "This does not require 100,000 boots on the ground in Afghanistan. We need to bring those troops home."
Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry kicked up a firestorm inside the GOP when he seemed to endorse Jon Huntsman's call for a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan during this week's debate, but his real views on Afghanistan don't match those of Huntsman, the GOP hawks, or President Barack Obama, a senior Perry foreign policy advisor told The Cable.
"In the dynamic of a debate when you follow someone, you kind of play off of them, and what Gov. Perry wanted to do was to express a similar sentiment to Gov. Huntsman that he very much wants to bring the troops home, we all do, but he wasn't saying ‘I want to bring the troops home now,'" the advisor said.
Perry's stance on Afghanistan seems to be searching for a middle ground. Like the Obama administration, he wants to shift emphasis to handing over responsibility to the Afghan security forces as a means of bringing U.S. troops home. But also thinks Obama's announcement of a timetable for withdrawal was unwise -- and he's unsure whether the United States really needs 100,000 troops fighting there still.
"If increasingly the Afghans can do this kind of work, then of course we want to bring our people home. It's good for us, it's good for them. But Gov. Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he's not confident in the 100,000 troops number. He'd like to know if it's possible at 40,000," the advisor said, explaining that the rationale for the specific number of U.S. troops on the ground has never been clearly explained by the administration.
"He would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he's recommending."
Perry's stance on Afghanistan isn't likely to fully satisfy those calling for a more rapid withdrawal, or those calling for the 30,000 U.S. "surge" troops to remain in the country past summer 2012, when Obama has said he plans to remove them.
"What [Perry] doesn't have is confidence that [the Afghan campaign] is being done in a way that's focused on achieving the mission, which would be keeping Afghanistan free of terrorists and not destabilizing the region," the advisor said.
So how many troops does Perry believe should be withdrawn and at what pace?
"We're not in a position to answer that question, we're not in those briefings," the senior advisor said.
Perry also believes the United States should focus greater attention on how it uses foreign aid. He wants to "shine a really bright light on that whole culture of foreign aid and revisit how it is deployed as part of our larger foreign policy," the advisor said.
The advisor touted the fact that Perry is a former member of the military, and signaled that the presidential candidate is prepared to stick to his middle-of-the-road stance in Afghanistan.
"He has a clear sense of the mission and wanting to win it, but not just by throwing the kitchen sink at it," the advisor said.
The internal GOP battle over U.S. policy in Afghanistan took another turn last night when Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Jon Huntsman's call for a speedy withdrawal -- and hawkish GOP senators are not happy with Perry over the remarks.
"I agree with Gov. Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home as soon, and obviously as safely, as we can," Perry said. "And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time."
As the Perry policy team grows, some of the foreign policy advisors suggested to him by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are taking full-time positions on the campaign. The Cable has learned that Rumseld book researcher Victoria Coates, also known as the Red State blogger "Academic Elephant," has taken on the role of foreign policy director for the campaign.
Still, Perry's foreign policy identity doesn't always follow the GOP hawk's playbook, and that is irking some senior GOP senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
"I'm disappointed that some people in our party are not embracing the concept that the outcome in Afghanistan will determine our national security fate for decades to come," Graham told The Cable, when asked about Perry's remarks. "I would like to hear [Perry] talk about what does it matter to us as a nation whether Afghanistan is a success or a failure."
"We have 300 million people with targets on their backs here at home. The 100,000 are fighting these guys over there so we don't have to fight them over here," Graham said. "We are going to hand over responsibility to the Afghan government. But the 100,000 troops are needed to stabilize the country."
"Romney's been great, he says ‘listen to the generals,'" Graham said. "The transition plan has been accelerated [by Obama] in a very unwise way."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he didn't want to criticize any presidential candidates' statements, but did say that the isolationist trend in the GOP is growing.
"I've voiced many time concerns about the trends toward isolationism and that's always been present in our party, but there's no doubt the economic situation has caused them to gain more adherence," McCain told The Cable.
In a sign of how internally conflicted the GOP is on Afghanistan, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) appeared undecided on whether he supported President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2012.
"For some time, we've said publicly we're very concerned about the way we're distorting the Afghan economy right now," he told The Cable, referring to the influx of foreign aid.
But does he support Obama's policy?
"I think the initial steps that have been taken -- I'm not talking about the whole 30,000 -- I don't have any problem with the initial steps," Corker said.
But what about the withdrawal of the entirety of the 30,000 surge troops? Corker said that policy probably will get changed anyway.
"Well, each step along the way, I'm sure the president is going to massage what he's doing.... For what it's worth, we're spending a lot of time in our office on that. I'm taking a trip there in the near future and you're asking me this question six weeks earlier than you should."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Friday morning that the waterboarding of terror suspects did not amount to torture because the same techniques had been used on U.S. soldiers during training.
"The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true," Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. "Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us."
"Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that we used were all previously used on Americans," Cheney went on. "All of them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the military. So there wasn't any technique that we used on any al Qaeda individual that hadn't been used on our own troops first, just to give you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing' the people we captured."
Of course, there are some differences between the waterboarding of troops as part of their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training and the waterboarding of suspected al Qaeda prisoners. For example, the troops in training are not subjected to the practice 183 times, as KSM was. Also, the soldiers presumably know their training will end, and they won't be allowed to actually drown or left to rot in some dark, anonymous prison.
Some in Cheney's party, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), believe that waterboarding is torture. Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism consultant for the U.S. government and a former SERE instructor, has argued repeatedly that waterboarding is torture and called for prohibiting its use on prisoners.
"Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten[ed] with its use again and again," he said.
Cheney said the George W. Bush administration had received approval for the "enhanced interrogation program" from all nine congressional leaders who had been briefed on its details: this included the leaders of both intelligence committees, the leaders of both parties, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
When asked if they thought the program should be continued, they all said, "Absolutely," Cheney said. And when asked if the Bush administration should seek additional congressional approval for the program, the nine Congressional leaders unanimously told him, "Absolutely not," according to Cheney's account.
Cheney also said the Bush administration's interrogation policies were partially responsible for recent successes in the fight against al Qaeda, includig the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"I'd make the case we've been successful in part because of the intelligence we have, because of what we've learned from men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, back when he was subjected [to enhanced interrogation]," he said.
In the one-hour discussion at AEI with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, Cheney also talked about huddling with his wife and daughter at Camp David on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Camp David was the "secure, undisclosed location" that the Secret Service rushed Cheney to just after the attacks. Other top administration officials met him there over the follow days.
When asked if he ever broke down and cried in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as had President George W. Bush and other top officials, Cheney said, "Not really," and then grinned sheepishly as the crowd giggled.
"You understand that people will find that peculiar," Hayes noted.
"It wasn't that it wasn't a deeply moving event," Cheney responded. "The training just sort of kicked in, in terms of what we had to do that morning and into the next day."
In a small, windowless office with barren walls in the Pentagon's E-ring, four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright sits behind an empty desk. He's spent the month of August on "terminal leave," tying up the loose ends of his 40-year military career, in which he rose to become the second-highest-ranking uniformed military man in the nation, before losing his chance at one final promotion.
"Hoss," as he's known to his friends, was always a controversial figure within the military aristocracy: a Marine with a penchant for technology, an iconoclast who made his reputation bucking the conventional wisdom, an insider who was always trying to force the Defense Department to think outside the box. He was often impolitic and caught up in controversy, but his determination to drive the discussion on things like missile defense, cyberwarfare, and military strategy made him stand out as the general who talked straight and wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers.
It was these very qualities that made him "Obama's favorite general," according to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars. When asked whether that was true, Cartwright said he believed it was -- once upon a time. He also acknowledged that Obama promised to promote him to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but then reneged on that pledge after a whisper campaign against Cartwright, reportedly coming from within the Pentagon, made his appointment politically difficult for the White House.
But looking back he has no regrets.
"I wouldn't change anything. I wouldn't do it any different," Cartwright told The Cable, in the first interview he's given since stepping down. His retirement became official this week.
The break between Cartwright and his two bosses, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, came after the contentious debate in late 2009 over the surge of troops in Afghanistan. Cartwright worked with Vice President Joseph Biden on a plan that placed a greater emphasis on counterterrorism than counterinsurgency, and included a smaller footprint with fewer additional troops. They presented that plan to Obama without the prior approval of Gates and Mullen.
Gates has publicly denied that this episode cost Cartwright the chairman's job and said in June that "Hoss Cartwright is one of the finest officers I've ever worked with."
But Cartwright acknowledged in his interview with The Cable that his insistence on giving options for alternative policies in Afghanistan, alternatives Gates and Mullen didn't like, caused a falling-out that along with the whisper campaign in which critics accused him of insubordination and leaked details of an inspector general's investigation into a possible relationship he had with a female aide (he was later cleared of any wrongdoing), scuttled his chances to take the chairman's seat.
"Yeah, they did make it personal," Cartwright said, though careful not to name Gates or Mullen in particular as being behind the effort to smear him. "But at the end of the day, that's their choice. I can live with this skin very easily."
"At the end of the day, the measure of merit was not necessarily whether the relationships were strong," he said. "The measure of merit was: All the things that I needed to do as vice chairman, all the things that Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates needed to do, none of that stuff ever suffered as a result of this.… The department never suffered. The war fighter never suffered."
Regardless, the Biden-Cartwright plan, known as "counterterrorism plus," eventually lost out to a plan much closer to the counterinsurgency heavy approach that Gates and Mullen were advocating. Cartwright said he never thought he was breaking the chain of command or committing insubordination by dealing directly with Biden or Obama.
"Well, you know, in someone's eyes, maybe I broke the chain of command. But from the standpoint of the law, no. And so I'm very comfortable with where I was," he said. "My job is not to come up with a strategy and say, 'This is the answer.' My job is to give the president and the administration a broad enough range of choices that are credible choices and let them find in it the broader strategy as they look across all the other elements of power that they have."
Within those choices for how to proceed in Afghanistan, Cartwright was in favor of a "counterterrorism plus" approach that would have required fewer surge troops.
"Actually, I was arguing more about balance," he said. "In other words, I believe that if you weren't going to put enough force in to control the entire country, then the tied-down force had to have its flanks protected. And therefore you had to have a mobile force that was more counterterror-type force than you did."
Many in the war-fighting community believe that Cartwright just didn't get it because he never led troops in battle. He rose through the ranks as a Marine aviator and then spent most of the last decade as the head of U.S. Strategic Command or as a top Pentagon official. For the soldier on the field in Afghanistan, Cartwright's idea for fewer troops just placed the troops in battle in greater danger. For many in the military, the choice was to go big or go home.
But Cartwright says he just didn't see it that way -- and when the president asked him for his own opinion, he was bound to give it to him. And he still stands by the advice he gave. Cartwright's view is the emphasis should be on finding ways to wind down the war more quickly and leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Afghans.
"At the end of the day, from a grand strategy standpoint, this is a very cost-imposing strategy on us and, not having a clear idea of how long we're going to stay other than until the cash runs out, is important to understand," he said. "You can't kill your way or buy your way to success in those activities. It's got to be diplomatic. And Afghans have to be convinced that it's time for them to do their own thing."
At his retirement ceremony on Aug. 3, which Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attended, Cartwright quoted Teddy Roosevelt's famous speech, "In the Arena," which begins, "It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."
This week, he said the pushback he received was the unavoidable consequence of doing his duty.
"If getting criticized was my worry, if that was the merit of the job, then I wouldn't be there anyway. You do what you think is right," he said. "At the end of the day, you do your own self-reflection. You look in the mirror and you say: Is the integrity where it belongs? Is anything you provided in the way of advice so far off the base as to be reprehensible? I never came to the conclusion in either case that either the integrity had suffered or that the advice was bad advice."
As he sits in his uniform at his empty office, Cartwright thinks about what he wants to do next. He said he might enter a think tank or academia while he decides how to contribute to military policy from the civilian side of the discussion. He leaves the Pentagon with a sense of accomplishment and without remorse.
"My advice wasn't always taken, but it always at least informed the debate, which was my measure of merit," said Cartwright. "That people were so strongly against it at times, well shoot … these are big decisions."
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told Foreign Policy today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."
Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Rhodes also weighed in on several other aspects of the Libya saga:
Cable has learned that Herbert
Richardson, the acting special
for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) is stepping down after only six months on the job, leaving that troubled office without a leader for the second time this year.
Richardson has been running the SIGAR office since the January firing of Arnie Fields, who was finally removed from his position after more than a year of complaints by senior senators including Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Susan Collins (R-ME). Fields was criticized for running an oversight office that failed to produce results in the effort to find waste, fraud, and abuse in the tens of billions of dollars in contracts for Afghanistan reconstruction.
Richardson was never nominated to be permanent SIGAR and was leading the office as acting chief. But he will return to the private sector this month, according to four sources with direct knowledge of his decision. The SIGAR office declined requests for comment and said that Richardson was unavailable, in meetings all day. There's no word yet on who will take over as SIGAR.
On Capitol Hill, concerned lawmakers and staffers were actually hopeful that Richardson was improving the performance of the SIGAR office. Today, those congressional offices are back to voicing their usual disappointment and skepticism.
"He stopped some of the suck that was going on there, but it was only six months," one GOP senate aide told The Cable. "At this point they are supposed to be firing on all cylinders. And now that he's leaving, who knows."
"He came in with such fanfare and their team said there would be a ‘culture change' with his arrival," said a House Democratic staffer. "So much for culture change if it was dependent upon leadership."
Coincidentally, SIGAR officials were on the Hill this morning to brief staffers on their quarterly report. Richardson was expected to attend but did not show up. One staffer who attended the briefing said that SIGAR officials failed to mention that Richardson is leaving and the briefing itself left a lot to be desired.
"It was a weak briefing because they have a weak product," this House staffer said. "They just aren't producing convictions at a pace comparable to the results being produced by their counterparts at [the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction] SIGIR in terms of Iraq."
SIGIR, which was established first and is led by the well respected Stuart Bowen, has a shrinking mission as the U.S. presence in Iraq winds down. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) are calling for SIGIR and SIGAR to be combined into something called the office of the Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations (SIGOCO), an idea that SIGAR has lobbied hard against.
"Rather than a piecemeal and reactive approach to the oversight of billions of dollars in these situations, we need a dedicated shop run by a proven investigator who can report to the National Security Council, and the Defense and State departments, without being cowed by political pressure," Honda told The Cable. "A permanent Office for Contingency Operations, whose mandate would transcend political timetables, would send the message that transparency, efficiency and efficacy are institutional priorities, and waste and corruption will not be tolerated."
One Senate staffer noted that the law that established SIGAR actually gives the president the authority to combine that office with its Iraq counterpart, placing them both under the control of Bowen.
"Everyone is looking for cuts of agencies that are not performing or duplicative," this staffer said. "We could shut down SIGAR, give some of that money to the DOD Inspector General's office, some for debt reduction, and call it a day."
The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001; that endowment will reach $71 billion by the end of 2011, according to the AP.
UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon, Richardson put out a statement confirming our report. "After more than 37 years of public service, I've decided to accept an opportunity in the private sector, at a time when I'm convinced SIGAR has changed course, is producing results, and is being led effectively by the new leadership team that I've put in place," he said.
First it was Congress's Libya debate that was postponed due to the ongoing fight over the debt ceiling and the budget. Now, oversight of the war in Afghanistan is falling victim to the chaos in Congress as well.
The Senate Armed Services Committee cancelled a scheduled Tuesday hearing on Afghanistan that was supposed to feature testimony from two prominent and outgoing officials: Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Cartwright. A separate panel was to be comprised of Ambassador James Dobbins, Gen. Wesley Clark, and Gen. John Keane.
"It was canceled due to other Senate business. We expect it to be rescheduled after the Senate's August recess," SASC spokeswoman Tara Andringa told The Cable.
Another Hill aide confirmed that "other Senate business" referred to "debt ceiling related craziness."
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is still planning on going ahead with confirmation hearings for two ambassadors currently serving under recess appointments: Frank Ricciardone, Jr., to be Ambassador to Turkey and Norm Eisen, to be Ambassador to the Czech Republic.
And Wednesday the fireworks will fly when SFRC holds confirmation on two of the more controversial State Department nominees: Robert Ford, the recess appointed ambassador to Syria, and Wendy Sherman, the nominee for undersecretary of State for political affairs.
The NSC is getting a new Pakistan director following the departure of Shamila Chaudhary, who left this last week after over a decade in government to join the private sector. She will be replaced by career Foreign Service officer Dawn Schrepel, who most recently worked for former Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg as his special assistant on South and Central Asia issues.
Chaudhary gave up one job to take two new ones, starting today as an analyst for the Eurasia Group as well as senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation. She worked for years as a self-described backbencher at the State Department, before catching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's attention after the two debated the wisdom of engaging non-governmental centers of power in Pakistan. Soon afterwards, Clinton promoted her to State Department's policy planning staff. She had joined the NSC in April 2010.
"We are thrilled that Shamila is joining our South Asia team at New America," New America President Steve Coll said in a release. "She has worked all of the hard issues on the inside of government and yet retains a fresh, creative, energized and inter-disciplinary perspective. "
"I am delighted to welcome Shamila to the firm," said Eurasia Group Head of Research David Gordon in another release. "Her analytical strength and depth of regional expertise will be a true asset to our Asia coverage."
By choosing Schrepel as Chaudhary's replacement, the NSC can maintain its links to the State Department on Pakistan issues, especially with the office of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman. Chaudhary was a key interlocutor between the NSC and SRAP.
Grossman will be in Pakistan Tuesday for a meeting with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts.
Schrepel has a solid reputation and, although she is not seen as a Pakistan expert per se, she was posted in Karachi for a year. She reports to Jeff Eggers, the active duty Navy SEAL who was recently was named senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan following the retirement of Bush administration holdover John Tien.
Eggers now leads a team of six directors at the NSC -- three on Pakistan, three on Afghanistan. On Pakistan, there's Schrepel, Phil Reiner from OSD Policy, and Tamanna Salikuddin. The Afghanistan directors are Abigail Friedman, Stan Byers, and Jeff Hayes.
All of them still report up to Gen. Doug Lute, the deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, who is still in place despite months of reports that he was on the way out. The Washington Post's Al Kamen reported last week that Lute told his staff he is staying "indefinitely." We're told that the White House has had trouble finding a suitable replacement for Lute, who still represents a valuable link to the military. Meanwhile, Lute seems content to keep up with the daily grind of Af-Pak policy despite the fact that he has never been a core member of the Obama clique.
Meanwhile, there's still no permanent replacement for departed India Senior Director Anish Goel. His job is being done for the time being by Acting Senior Director Michael Newbill, who accompanied Clinton on her recent trip to India. Newbill reports to Special Advisor Dennis Ross, and India remains on an entirely different bureaucratic branch from Af-Pak in the NSC, as it does at the State Department.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) newest plan to cut the deficit includes $1 trillion in "savings" from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the numbers just don't add up.
Reid's plan, unveiled in a press conference today, claims to save $2.7 trillion over 10 years, including $1.2 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, $400 million in "interest savings," and over $1 trillion from "winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The $1 trillion in defense "savings" that Reid is claiming his plan provides is based against a projection the Congressional Budget Office put out last March that said war costs would top $1.67 trillion over the next ten years. However, that projection was never meant to accurately forecast the costs of the wars over the next decade. The report just took this year's costs for Iraq and Afghanistan ($159 billion) and added inflation for every year in the future.
The CBO made its projection based on simple math and it never had any connection to policy realities, as the Congressional Research Service explained in a new report today.
"The CBO baseline reflects CBO's March 2011 estimate of FY2011 overseas funding with increases at the rate of inflation in subsequent years," said the new report, which was crafted for congressional offices but obtained by The Cable. "It is important to note that the administration projection is not really a policy-based estimate -- CBO takes the most recent number and that becomes their baseline."
In other words, the CBO number, which puts the cost of the wars at $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, was the projection if the U.S. kept the current number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020. However, nobody ever thought that was the plan. The CBO was required to do the math that way, as they do with all such projections.
The reality is that it is impossible to estimate the costs of the wars, because fundamental questions about U.S. policy toward both countries remain unanswered. For example, will the Afghanistan drawdown be complete by 2014, and what will be the pace of the drawdown? Will all U.S. troops be out of Iraq by the end of the year?
The CBO also put out numbers for war costs that assumed a gradual drawdown of troops. In fact, they put out two numbers, based on two different possible policy options. If U.S. policymakers decided to drawdown to 45,000 troops in both countries by 2015, the CBO projected that the cost of the wars would be $624 billion over 10 years. A steeper drawdown to 30,000 troops by 2013 would make the projection $422 billion over the next decade.
Reid appears to be counting the difference between the CBO's $1.7 trillion projection and its estimates of the cost of the wars after a steep drawdown as "savings." But that's problematic, because the base figure is simply a very high projection that has no connection to policy. Either way, the actual future drawdown plan is unknown.
A fact sheet issued by Reid's office only said, "Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will save $1 trillion. Paul Ryan's budget also included this savings in its deficit reduction calculation, which was supported by 235 House Republicans and 40 Senate Republicans."
It's ironic that Reid defends his $1 trillion figure by pointing to the Ryan budget, because that document took its projections of future war costs from the Obama administration's February budget. In that report, OMB budgeted an annual sum of $50 billion for the both wars. But that estimate was also made without knowing future U.S. policies toward Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's doubtful that the wars will cost $50 billion each year until 2020.
Gordon Adams, who led OMB's national security division during President Bill Clinton's administration, wrote that the $50 billion estimate was "what budget folks (like me) call a ‘plug' -- we know something will go there, but we don't know what it is."
By comparing fake numbers to each other, politicians can appear to be saving money, he claimed, without having to make actual defense cuts. Meanwhile, there's no real impact on the deficit.
"It abuses the budget process because the savings are mythological, not real, so they enforce no discipline on the Defense Department," Adams wrote. "And they are a fraud on the public, who will think a budget deal has cut the defense budget, when it has done no such thing."
In an interview today, Adams told The Cable that the whole episode is just another example of our leaders focusing on optics rather than getting down to the hard work of actually fixing our fiscal situation.
"Because it's too hard to really tackle the defense budget, first Ryan and now Reid have reached for these pseudo savings," he said. "The bottom line here is these are not budget savings. It doesn't make any sense."
Ambassador Ryan Crocker was sworn in today as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. One of his first tasks in his new job will be to repair the dysfunctional relationship between U.S. diplomats in Kabul and Afghanistan-based USAID officials, which has hampered U.S. development assistance in the country.
The Kabul embassy -- which Crocker as interim charge d'affaires was tasked with reopening in January 2002 after the fall of the Taliban -- has an office to manage all development projects in Afghanistan called the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs (CDDEA). The office was meant to oversee USAID's efforts in the country, but according to a recent report by the State Department Inspector General's office, the relationship has suffered from bureaucratic and communications issues between aid workers and diplomats.
The report found that the problems between the embassy and USAID in Kabul stem in part from the State Department's idea that chiefs of mission should be in charge of all development issues in their country, as envisioned by the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) that State released earlier this year.
"CDDEA's oversight of USAID in Kabul has highlighted differences in bureaucratic culture that exist between the Department and USAID at missions throughout the world," the report stated. "Although the QDDR envisions chiefs of mission as the ‘chief executive officer' of a multi-agency organization, this remains a work in progress and unresolved questions remain about their roles, authorities, and oversight responsibilities for assistance programs largely implemented by other agencies."
The report went on to say that bureaucratic differences "exacerbate feelings of professional misunderstanding" between CDDEA and USAID, and that officials in Washington need to step in to impose a resolution to these problems.
The IG said that Crocker should work with the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Marc Grossman, Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, and the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance to explain to USAID exactly how they should work with the embassy.
USAID personnel in Kabul chafe at the embassy's demands for lots of briefings and explanations of their financial management. They also feel like second-class citizens because the embassy doesn't provide them with the best housing and office space, the report said.
On the other hand, the embassy folks don't believe the USAID personnel are on board with the "whole of government" approach, the report states. They think USAID withholds information from them and sometimes creates political messes they are then forced to clean up.
The USAID mission has responsibility for a large portion what will reportedly be over $71 billion of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan by the end of 2011, making it a significant player in the largest U.S. development mission in the world.
It's been a rough few weeks for the USAID mission in Afghanistan. A report last week by the Government Accountability Office found that USAID is failing to properly oversee aid dollars.
"Direct assistance to the Afghan government involves considerable risk given the extent of corruption, the weak institutional capacity of the Afghan government to manage finances, the volatile and high-threat security environment, and that the U.S. funds may be obligated months or years after they are awarded," the report said. "Although risk assessment is a key component of internal controls, current USAID policy does not require preaward risk assessments of all Afghan government recipients of U.S. direct assistance funds."
When the late Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Richard Holbrooke created the SRAP office at the State Department, he took a big chunk of the authority and staff from the Bureau of South and Central Asia (SCA). But now that he's gone and the Afghanistan war is maybe, possibly, starting to wind down, the two bureaus should move toward a reunion, the State Department's Inspector General said in a new report released today.
"Communications between SCA and S/SRAP have not been as effective as they could be," the report stated. "With a likely transition of the [Afghanistan and Pakistan] desks and other S/SRAP responsibilities back to SCA in the next several years, SCA needs to begin to be more broadly engaged in or aware of S/SRAP programs and activities that it may inherit at that time."
When Holbrooke entered the Obama administration, he hired 28 staffers -- none of them from SCA --and then told SCA that the bureau no longer had any control over Afghanistan or Pakistan and its current Af-Pak staffers now worked for him. The Nelson Report's Chris Nelson described a February 2009 meeting, which he dubbed the "Grand Confrontation," in which Holbrooke beat down attempts by then-SCA Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher to hold on to his Af-Pak personnel.
"At a summit in Boucher's office with the assembled DAS's [deputy assistant secretaries], et al, Boucher said something to the effect, ‘As you know, you work for me, and you will continue to report TO me, is that clear?'" Nelson reported. "Holbrooke, not looking at Boucher, responded directly to the stunned staffers with, ‘What part of 'you will report directly to ME did you NOT understand?', and there the meeting ended."
Boucher left later that year to become deputy secretary general of the OSCE and was replaced by Robert Blake.
With the looming figure of Holbrooke gone, SRAP's activities, now guided by Marc Grossman, have been pared down. The office has been directed to focus on Afghan reconciliation, which apparently isn't going well. The report often mentions that the key official in charge of coordinating between SRAP and SCA is a Deputy SRAP who is dual-hatted as a DAS in SCA; that's Frank Ruggiero.
The coordination between SRAP and SCA has actually gotten worse since Holbrooke's death, according to the Inspector General. For example, SRAP and SCA hold their weekly meetings at the same time, so nobody can attend both, and SRAP involvement in SCA work has trailed off.
"The flow of communication between SCA and S/SRAP is inadequate, as is SCA's awareness of S/SRAP programs and activities in such areas as strategic communications and regional economic issues," the report said.
But the report treats the eventual incorporation of SRAP back into SCA as inevitable, and advises both sides to start preparing for it.
"When the transition takes place, SCA's awareness of S/SRAP programs and activities will be essential for continuity. To meet its responsibilities, SCA - particularly the bureau's DASes and office directors - will need to be aware of and participate in appropriate S/SRAP meetings and events."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday morning that the civilian surge in Afghanistan has peaked, a message that complements President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday night that the United States will withdraw its "surge" troops from the country by next summer..
"We have now reached the height of the civilian surge," Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Looking ahead, as the transition proceeds, we will shift our efforts from short-term stabilization projects to longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth and integrating Afghanistan into South Central Asia's economy."
The State Department and USAID have more than tripled the number of diplomats, development professionals, and other experts in Afghanistan since 2009, resulting in economic growth, less opium production, and greater educational opportunities for Afghans, she said.
"The aim of our civilian surge was to give Afghans a stake in their country's future and provide credible alternatives to extremism and insurgency -- it was not, nor was it ever designed, to solve all of Afghanistan's development challenges. Measured against these goals, and considering the obstacles we face, we are and should be encouraged by how much has been accomplished," Clinton said.
The focus going forward will be on diplomacy and supporting a reconciliation process that separates the insurgents from the terrorists, she added. Clinton promised that the United States would continue to push for the human rights and values that it has been espousing throughout the conflict.
"Any potential for peace will be subverted if women are marginalized or silenced. And the United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade," she said. "But we believe that a political solution that meets these conditions is possible."
She did not give details about how the structure or size of the civilian surge would change as U.S. forces begin to withdraw.
As part of the drive for a political solution, the "core group" of the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will meet for the third time next week, Clinton announced. The lead U.S. official in this effort is Special Representative Marc Grossman.
Clinton called on Pakistan to be an active player in the reconciliation process, and to improve its bilateral relationship with Afghanistan. Clinton also made the fiscal argument for civilian power, noting that "an entire year of civilian assistance in Afghanistan costs Americans the same amount as just 10 days of military operations."
Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) opened the hearing with a full throated endorsement of Obama's plan to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and the remainder of the 33,000 surge troops by next summer.
"Because of the gains made in Afghanistan and in the intervening months, I believe it was from a position of strength that the president was able to lay out the next phase of our Afghan strategy," he said, echoing Obama's remarks nearly verbatim.
Kerry called the drawdown plan "significant" and portrayed it as a way to reap the benefits of the surge.
"If you really stop and think about it, we have met our major goals in Afghanistan as articulated by the president," he said. "We have come to the point where this mission can transition."
Kerry also warned Clinton that Congress was growing more and more disillusioned with the U.S. investment in Pakistan, even as Pakistan has increasingly become the center of gravity in the battle against al Qaeda.
"In many ways, the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to the main event next door," Kerry said. "Every senator is asking questions about this relationship and the appropriations people are particularly troubled as they try to figure out what's real in this relationship."
Kerry's GOP counterpart, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), called for more details from the administration and a realistic definition of success in Afghanistan.
"Troop withdrawals are warranted at this stage, but... our president should put forward a plan that focuses on more narrow goals for Afghanistan based on vital national interests and a more sober analysis of what can be achieved," Lugar said.
One of the most prominent, remaining Obama administration justifications for continuing the war in Afghanistan is the need to squash the threat of attacks on the U.S. But top administration officials don't believe there has been a terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan since at least 2004.
"The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies," President Obama said in his Wednesday evening speech to the nation, where he promised to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and all 33,000 surge troops by next summer.
In a conference call with reporters earlier Wednesday, a "senior administration official" said no terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been present for 7 or 8 years, well before the Obama administration surged troops there in 2009.
"On the threat side, we haven't seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years. There has been clearly fighting and threats inside of Afghanistan, but the assessment of anywhere between 50, 75 or so al Qaeda types that are embedded in Haqqani units, basically, tactical fighting units inside of Afghanistan, they are focused inside Afghanistan with no indication at all that there is any effort within Afghanistan to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to carry out attacks outside of Afghan borders," the official said. "The threat has come from Pakistan over the past half-dozen years or so, and longer."
Later in the same conference call, the "senior administration official" repeated the administration's view that there's no terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan and used that assumption to argue there will be no danger in removing the surge troops.
"And so, in taking a look at the drawdown of U.S. troops, the 10,000 this year and then the 33,000 by next summer, it is certainly the view of the people who have been prosecuting this effort from the administration that this is not going to increase the threat," the official said. "Again, we don't see a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan in terms of the terrorist threat and it's not going to affect at all the threat in Pakistan either."
Of course, if the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, that could all change. Obama's GOP critics were quick to criticize the president for talking extensively about wrapping up the war and apparently going against the advice of ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus.
"When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus's advice and to get those security forces built up where they can pick up the slack as we draw down," said GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.
"I think we have undercut a strategy that was working." Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN. "I think the 10,000 troops leaving this year is going to make this fighting season more difficult. Having all of the surge forces leave by next summer is going to compromise next summer's fighting season."
For those on both the left and right who wanted Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan even more quickly, the acknowledgement that no terrorist threat exists there only reinforces their argument for a speedy exit.
"Our troops have done everything we've asked them to. They've routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections," said GOP candidate Jon Huntsman. "Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight."
"It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out - and we will continue to press for a better outcome," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Meanwhile, former officials and experts complained that Obama's speech seemed to acknowledge that the U.S. will never be able to prevent the Taliban from playing a role in Afghanistan's future, but failed to spell out a diplomatic solution that addresses how to incorporate the Taliban into the Afghan government.
"I would have liked to have heard much more from him about a diplomatic strategy," Vali Nasr, a former top advisor to the late Richard Holbrooke, said on MSNBC immediately following the speech. "If you cannot end the war militarily, the only other way the war is going to go away is through some kind of deal in which the protagonists agree to a peace settlement. And we haven't done much of that. It hasn't been part of the debate about sending the troops in and it hasn't been a part of the debate of pulling troops out."
"Ultimately wars are fought on battlefields, but they have to finish around the table, and the administration hasn't really outlined how it is going to get there," Nasr said.
Good evening. Nearly ten years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security - one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.
In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there. By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda's leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda, and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I've made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda; reverse the Taliban's momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.
Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
What a difference 18 months can make. When President Obama decided to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and 33,000 troops by next September, he apparently took the advice of Vice President Joseph Biden and rejected the advice of ISAF Commander -- soon-to-be CIA director -- Gen. David Petraeus.
In December, 2009, when Obama made the decision to surge 33,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first place, the move was widely seen as a victory for the military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon, joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over the lighter footprint advocated by Biden. Biden and Petraeus have often been seen to be on opposite sides of the debate over how to fight in Afghanistan, although the vice president has always been supportive of Obama's policy decisions once they were made.
But when Obama announces his decision in a speech from the White House tonight, he will cement a shift in power and influence over the Afghanistan decision making process, away from the general who is in charge of the war, according to the New York Times:
Mr. Obama's decision is a victory for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has long argued for curtailing the American military engagement in Afghanistan. But it is a setback for his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who helped write the Army's field book on counterinsurgency policy, and who is returning to Washington to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Two administration officials said General Petraeus did not endorse the decision, though both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is retiring, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reluctantly accepted it. General Petraeus had recommended limiting initial withdrawals and leaving in place as many combat forces for as long as possible, to hold on to fragile gains made in recent combat.
Petraeus will leave Afghanistan to head the CIA in September and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has often called for a "modest" reduction of troops, retires next week. Administration officials have been quick to say that Petraeus presented Obama with a "range of options," but Obama's decision to withdraw troops faster than what Petraeus and Gates would prefer is a stark departure from his decision-making process last time around.
Conservative pundits are already seizing on the Times' reporting to criticize Obama's decision. "This is an amazing decision to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," wrote the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka. "Those in the field believe that lower numbers will result in higher U.S. casualties, reduce the chance of success in stabilizing Afghanistan, and concede territory to the enemy."
The Obama administration would like you to know it doesn't have much respect for al Qaeda's new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and thinks he's an "armchair general" with a "soft" image.
Al Qaeda released a statement today announcing that Zawahri, the Egyptian-born jihadist who was Osama bin Laden's longtime deputy, "has assumed the responsibility of the leadership of the group." A senior administration official quickly sent out talking points to reporters belittling the terrorist leader, saying he has no charisma, poor skills, and can't hold a candle to his dead predecessor.
"The number two, Zawahiri is not charismatic," Obama's top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a post-Osama mission press conference. "He has not been -- was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan... and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization. And I think you're going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more."
The senior administration official sent out these additional talking points this morning about Zawahiri, each more insulting than the last.
- He hasn't demonstrated strong leadership or organizational skills during his time in al Qaeda or previously while in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
- His ascension to the top leadership spot will likely generate criticism if not alienation and dissention with al Qaeda.
- Unlike many of al Qaeda's top members, Zawahiri has not had actual combat experience, instead opting to be an armchair general with a "soft" image.
- No matter who is in charge, he will have a difficult time leading al Qaeda while focusing on his own survival as the group continues to hemorrhage key members responsible for planning and training operatives for terrorist attacks.
And here's the kicker:
- The bottom line is that Zawahiri has nowhere near the credentials that Osama bin Laden had.
SINGAPORE - Political reconciliation talks with the Taliban could begin as early as this winter, but only if the U.S. keeps up the military pressure and convinces the Taliban they are losing the war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday
"There is a generally accepted view that nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close with some kind of a political settlement, but the reality is, in my view, that the prospect of a political settlement does not become real until the Taliban and the others... begin to conclude that they cannot win militarily," Gates said following his remarks here at the 10th annual IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue.
After 15 months of ejecting the Taliban from their home territories in the regions of Helmand and Kandahar, the momentum is on the side of the Afghan government and the NATO coalition, but if there's a military pullback, the prospects for negotiations decrease, he said.
"If we can sustain those successes, if we can further expand the security bubble, we have enough evidence that the Taliban are under pressure and that their capabilities are being degraded, that perhaps this winter the possibility of some kind of political talks or reconciliation might be substantive enough to offer some hope of progress," said Gates.
The Obama administration is devising a strategy for the way forward in Afghanistan referred to internally as "Plan 2014" that may call for U.S. troop reductions beginning this year. But Gates, who leaves office July 1, is warning against such a pullback.
"My own view is that the political opportunities will flow from military pressure. And only as long as the military pressure is kept on and there are further gains, will the prospects for a political solution improve," he said.
Gates reiterated the U.S. position that any reconciliation with the Taliban must include their agreement to sever ties with al Qaeda, agree to adhere to the Afghan constitution, and lay down their arms. But he acknowledged that the Taliban are here to stay.
"The Taliban are probably a part of the political fabric of afg at this point and can... potentially have a political role in the future of that country," said Gates.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Cable in a Saturday interview that he totally agreed with Gates's assessment and would continue to press for heavy military pressure to continue.
"It's very simple. What motivation would the Taliban have to talk if they think they're winning. It clearly is a situation where if they think that they losing... then they will be willing to have serious talks," McCain said.
But McCain admitted that whatever progress has been made militarily in Afghanistan, problems remain with the effort in Pakistan, the relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and corruption in the Afghan government
"If they had good government, they probably wouldn't have the insurgency in the first place," McCain said.
The State Department should press Pakistan to stop the flow of dangerous chemicals that are used to make the roadside bombs that are killing U.S. and allied troops in Pakistan and Afghanistan, 20 U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"We are writing to request that you encourage Pakistani officials to stem the flow of ammonium nitrate into Afghanistan where it is used in improvised explosive devices to kill U.S. troops," states the May 23 letter, led by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Carl Levin (D-MI). "IEDs have also increasingly become a problem in Pakistan and we urge you to stress this common threat in your meetings with Pakistan's civilian and military leaders."
The State Department hasn't announced whether Clinton will visit Pakistan this month, as was scheduled before the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but an administration official told The Cable that the trip is on. The dates are being held from the public due to security concerns.
Clinton was supposed to lead the third round of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which is meant to advance the bilateral relationship. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman traveled to Islamabad last week to help set up the talks, but he was also there to press Pakistan to announce goodwill gestures following the discovery of bin Laden in Abbottabad. Clinton's trip will also likely be a mix of both missions.
Specifically, the senators want Pakistan to pass legislation regulating bomb-making chemicals, step up customs enforcement on the Afghan border, and increase public education on the dangers of ammonium nitrate.
"In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, we believe that Pakistan must implement concrete measures, to counter terrorism. Removing ammonium nitrate from the terrorist arsenal is one such good faith measure that is also in Pakistan's national security interest," the senators wrote.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is on a mission in Islamabad to repair the fractured U.S.-Pakistan relationship and, following meetings with top Pakistani officials, issued a statement that appeared to be on behalf of the U.S. and Pakistani governments.
Kerry, as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an author of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan, is in a perfect position to convey congressional angst following the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, perhaps for over five years. But he holds no position in the executive branch, which would traditionally determine the status of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.
Kerry met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and then issued a "joint statement" from him and those three leaders that seemed to express agreement between the U.S. and Pakistani governments on a wide range of issues.
"It was agreed that both the U.S. and Pakistan must recognize and respect each others national interests, particularly in countering terrorism and in working together for promoting reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan," read the joint statement, which was posted on the website of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad."It was agreed that all tracks of U.S-Pakistan engagement need to be revisited with a view to creating a clear understanding on the ways and means to carry forward their cooperation, in a mutually beneficial manner. It was also agreed that the two countries will work together in any future actions against high value targets in Pakistan."
"Pakistan's leadership welcomed the clear affirmation by Senator Kerry that U.S. policy has no designs against Pakistan's nuclear and strategic assets. Senator Kerry stated that he was prepared to personally affirm such a guarantee," the statement read.
Kerry also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would travel to Pakistan soon.
Kerry has traveled to both Pakistan and Afghanistan on behalf of the Obama administration before. He played a key role in smoothing relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last year, and traveled to Lahore in February to help negotiate the repatriation of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, following Davis's killing of two suspected Pakistani intelligence agents in broad daylight.
Meanwhile, the State Department wants to be clear that Kerry does not actually speak for the U.S. government.
"It wasn't a joint statement, it wasn't a U.S. government statement," a State Department official told The Cable.
Nevertheless, Kerry's actions are highly coordinated with the State Department. While Kerry was on the ground, Clinton had phone calls with Zardari, Gilani, and Kayani, a State Department official said, and spoke with Kerry as well.
Kerry is playing an increasingly prominent role in managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, relative to that of two other key interlocutors, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and CIA Director Leon Panetta. Panetta, who will be nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly got into a shouting match last week with Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman is also getting more face time with top Pakistani officials. He was on the ground in Islamabad the day bin Laden was killed and will be traveling there again this week with CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell.
Grossman has been trying to set up the third round of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which was scheduled for late May in Islamabad. At Monday's briefing, however, State Department spokesman Mark Toner wouldn't say if the dialogue would take place then.
"The secretary does plan to visit Pakistan in order to have an in-depth strategic discussion about our cooperation and to convey the U.S. government's views on the way forward with Pakistan," Toner said. "She'll go when she can have those discussions in the right context and with the right preparation. And we're engaged right now with the Pakistanis to lay that groundwork."
Vali Nasr, who until recently was a top Pakistan advisor for the SRAP office, told The Cable that Kerry is playing two roles -- delivering a tough message from Congress while also extending an olive branch from the Obama administration.
"His job is to stabilize the relationship. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has suffered serious setbacks. It's important to prevent it from collapsing any further," he said.
"We don't really have any option but to continue our relationship with Pakistan. One lesson from the bin Laden discovery is that if al Qaeda senior leaders are in Pakistan, we have even more work to do there."
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.