The U.S. government is working furiously to counter a plot to attack several European public targets, CIA chief Leon Panetta told the head of Pakistan's intelligence community Wednesday.
The plot, to attack multiple public targets in several European capitals, was slated to occur in late November, according to Panetta. After capturing one of the prospective attackers en route from Pakistan's FATA region, the U.S. government authorized the CIA to step up drone strikes inside Pakistan to unprecedented levels while working with various allied governments to kill or capture the two to three dozen militants reportedly preparing for the operation.
The strikes being planned focus on soft targets, such as tourist attractions and public meeting spaces. No targets were believed to be in the United States, although the targets could very well have American citizens present.
Panetta, traveling in Islamabad, met with Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Wednesday to brief him on what American intelligence services have discovered about a series of Mumbai-style attacks planned by al Qaeda in cooperation with Pakistan's Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the military group responsible for the devastating attacks in India in November 2008.
The Cable received a read-out from a high-level source who was briefed directly on the Panetta-Pasha meeting. The CIA is asking Pakistan to allow expanded permissions to increase the intensity of drone strikes inside Pakistan -- which are already at record levels --and allow greater access for U.S. and associated forces operating inside Pakistan.
According to The Cable's source, Panetta told Pasha that the U.S. already has in custody one of the alleged attackers, a German citizen of Pakistani origin named Siddiqui. He was captured leaving Pakistan's FATA region and is now currently being held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
The attacks were planned for late November and allied intelligence agencies are employing all resources at their disposal to round up the rest of the perpetrators, with the understanding that the threat has not yet been neutralized.
"Unless you have killed or captured all 24 to 36 operatives, how can you be sure the plot is foiled?" the source said.
According to the source briefed on the Panetta-Pasha meeting, there were no targets inside the United States for the plot, but the high-value European targets that were reportedly on the list of sites to be attacked could very well have American citizens present.
European governments have already been taking precautionary measures. The Eiffel Tower was evacuated for the second time Tuesday and the U.K. government is holding its official threat warning level at "severe," the second highest level, which means that "a terrorist attack is highly likely."
Panetta told Pasha that the drone strikes will escalate further in the coming days and pressed him for information that might aid the search and increased access to Pakistani intelligence data on the groups involved.
Pasha, in turn, asked Panetta for any remaining intelligence the U.S. is holding on the groups and individuals it was targeting. Pasha wants the ISI to be in the loop on any related CIA operations. The tone of the meeting was friendly, but extremely tense, the source said.
The Pakistani government is cooperating fully with the CIA, but concerns linger that elements not completely under the government's control may still be holding out, protecting friends in and allegiances with groups such as the Haqqani Network.
The crisis couldn't come at a worse time for the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari has been under increasing attack by elements in the Pakistani military and the ISI, who have been pressing for his ouster and using elements within the media and judiciary to bolster their cause.
Pasha, as well as Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is said to be working with the civilian government on the imminent threat. But simultaneously, elements of the military and intelligence services are increasing their behind-the-scenes opposition to the Zardari government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment on the specifics of the threat Wednesday after meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in Washington.
"Now with regard to the intelligence reports of threats, we are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies," Clinton said.
"As we have repeatedly said, we know that al-Qaida and its network of terrorists wishes to attack both European and U.S. targets. We continue to work very closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including the role that al-Qaida continues to play."
When Anthony Cordesman puts out a report on the military, the Washington community takes notice. His research shop inside the Center for Strategic and International Studies has a reputation for producing exhaustive reports on the defense department, the military, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are as well sourced as they are blunt.
Cordesman's latest product, released today by CSIS, is an unvarnished and sober look at the progress of the Afghan National Security Forces, the key organization that will have to take over control of large swaths of Afghanistan when U.S. troops begin to withdraw next summer. According to Cordesman, their capability to do so is in serious question.
"President Obama‘s new strategy for Afghanistan is critically dependent upon the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). His speech announcing this strategy called for the transfer to begin in mid-2011. However, creating the Afghan force needed to bring security and stability to the region is a far more difficult challenge than man realize and poses major challenges that will endure long after 2011," the report states.
"There is a significant probability that the ANSF will not be ready for any significant transfer of responsibility until well after 2011," Cordesman writes, adding that speeding up the expansion of the Afghan forces is a bad option because it risks building a force that is not up to the task.
"America‘s politicians, policymakers, and military leaders must accept this reality-and persuade the Afghan government and our allies to act accordingly-or the mission in Afghanistan cannot succeed."
The report laments eight years of failed policy regarding how the United States approached the training and development of Afghanistan's military. It blames senior leaders in Washington and pleads with them not to underestimate the scope of the problem or paper over it with false hope.
"The war will be lost if the U.S., our allies, and ISAF do not learn and act upon these lessons," Cordesman wrote. "It will be lost if efforts to meet political deadlines try to rush ANSF development beyond what is possible, or in ways that do not create strong, growing cadres and forces to take over responsibility for security."
You can read the entire 250-page volume here.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
After a Sept. 7 letter from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to State Department employees encouraging them to seek mental healthcare after high-stress postings, the State Department is doubling its mental healthcare providers in Iraq and Afghanistan -- from one to two in each country. But mental health experts believe that even the additional counselors are inadequate to deal with the needs of diplomats deployed in warzones.
Much concern has been devoted to the mental health care needs of returning soldiers and the struggles of a military healthcare system ill-prepared to handle their care. But the same crisis plagues State Department employees deployed abroad, who also suffer the invisible wounds of war such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.
"State Department employees face the risk of being in danger just like soldiers," said Scott Payne, senior policy adviser at Third Way, a progressive think tank. "They see some of the same destruction and human carnage that the military sees. Everything in Afghanistan is the front line, so they live with that pressure every day. That adds up."
The Cable was able to confirm that in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the State Department has exactly one mental health staffer per country. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said that three more "regional" mental health care counselors provide remote care for diplomats serving in the warzone.
One social worker works with diplomats stationed in Baghdad while living in Amman, Jordan. Kabul diplomats are served by a mental health worker in Manama, Bahrain. Islamabad diplomats are apparently covered by one mental health care provider based in New Delhi, India.
These six mental health providers are tasked with covering over 800 State Department employees currently deployed in these three hazardous areas. One more health care employee is being sought for Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's it. Pakistan will have to make do with the one it has.
Steve Robinson, a retired Army Ranger who works as a veteran's advocate, has met with several State Department employees who have served at hazard posts and found that they often face difficulty getting access to mental health providers both overseas and here at home.
"Foreign Service officers are no less human than soldiers, and combat creates life intense experiences that have a direct impact on brain and body function," he said. "State Department people put themselves at the same risk, often without the same support as the military personnel."
And after returning home, State Department employees face unique challenges as they try to reintegrate to normal life. Unlike in the military, they don't have the built-in structures that could help them readjust and share the burden of their experience with others.
"If you are a soldier coming back with your military unit, you have this support network. But people in the State Department may come home without that social network and have a lot more alienation and isolation," said Kayla Williams, an advocate for women's mental health care and a board member of Grace After Fire, a group that supports women returning from war.
In July, the State Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reported that State had made some progress in addressing mental health needs but "may" need to deploy more mental health providers in theater. The OIG recommended State take a survey to see if employees felt well cared for.
The OIG also reported that State Department employees face a stigma when seeking mental health services and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should issue a high level statement encouraging suffering returnees to seek help. This prompted Clinton's letter of Sept. 7. "Seeking help is a sign of responsibility and it is not a threat to your security clearance," Clinton wrote.
Our State Department sources say that while technically seeking mental health services is not one of the 13 criteria under which the Diplomatic Security service can revoke a clearance, there are instances where security clearances have been affected by an employee seeking mental health assistance.
"The problem associated with seeking help is the same in the State Department, which is that there is a stigma attached to seeking help," said Robinson. "There's a culture that mental health issues represent a lack of moral character or intestinal fortitude, as opposed to thinking of this injury the same way you would a burn or a bullet wound."
As the Afghan government counts the votes cast during Saturday's parliamentary elections, the United States is working hard to train the bureaucrats that will run the local and provincial governments that will be crucial to increasing the Afghan government's credibility.
The U.S. mission is based on the goal of handing over swaths of Afghanistan to local governments, which would allow U.S. troops to leave the country. But corruption and mismanagement at all levels of Afghanistan's government is the single largest obstacle to achieving an orderly transition to Afghan control and convincing local citizens to reject the Taliban.
After a series of high-profile spats with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the administration is shifting its anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan to include a greater focus on lower-level officials.
A significant part of this effort consists of a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program, which gives thousands of Afghan government officials a crash course on governing and anti-corruption techniques. After the program concludes, these officials are then sent out to form the foundation of Afghanistan's civil service.
The U.S. government funds and supports the Afghan Civil Service Institute, the makeshift university in Kabul where bureaucrats are trained, through the Afghan Civil Service Support Program, which was launched last February. The institution, which is Afghan-run but U.S.-supported, has graduated 11,000 sub-national government officials and expects to reach a total of 16,000 by the end of the year. It teaches five basic bureaucratic functions: procurement, strategy and policy, human resources, project management, and finance.
"Getting people competent in a few basic skills... things that make a government function is so critically important," said Alex Thier, USAID's director of the office of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs in Washington. "You could have the best ministers, but if you don't have anyone at the local level that is making sure that the ministries function, none of that stuff gets done."
Thier describes the program as a crucial aspect in the drive to establish the conditions that will eventually facilitate the departure of U.S. forces.
"If we're talking about stability in Afghanistan and we're talking about creating a minimally competent government, you have to have people with basic skills. After 30 years of civil war, you don't have those people anymore," he said.
But finding competent candidates, and then convincing them to work for the Karzai government or its subsidiaries, is no easy task, said Thier.
"It is not exactly the greatest time in Afghan history to be a civil servant. The government officials are being targeted and it's very difficult to serve in this environment."
The school has a specific curriculum for anti-corruption efforts, but the point of building up the Afghan civil service is so that better governance will reduce the opportunities for corruption altogether.
"Corruption is a very high priority and basic tools to allow for financial management and budget management are essential to that," said Thier.
The recently trained and deployed Afghan bureaucrats are facing their biggest test in the coming weeks. All 250 seats of the Afghanistan's lower house, called the Wolesi Jirga, were up for grabs last weekend.
The election results aren't expected to be final until the end of October -- but don't take that as a problem, a senior administration official said.
"So the election... will actually play out over a series of weeks. And we just want to make clear that that's fully expected."
As for the integrity of the elections themselves, which is already under suspicion, the Obama administration's position is that the ballot had better checks and balances protecting against fraud than the disputed 2009 presidential polls. Nevertheless, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which vets complaints, has a majority of Karzai-appointed commissioners, raising questions about its objectivity.
"Our sense is that both the [Independent Elections Commission] but also the complaints commission, the ECC, are in manning, leadership and process improvements over the 2009 version," the senior administration official said.
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, both recently returned from touring parts of northern Pakistan devastated by widespread flooding, pledged to increase U.S. government aid to the region.
"I've seen a lot of disasters since I entered the government a long time ago... but what I've never seen before, and what I doubt anyone has ever seen it before, is the way millions of people are spread out across an area the size of Italy, clinging to dykes, living outside the refugee camps, waiting for the water to recede so they can go home," Holbrooke said on a conference call Monday morning. "But there are no homes to return to."
The United States will increase its commitment by $76 million, the State Department announced, bringing its assistance package to $345 million. The United Nations called for $2 billion in aid relief for Pakistan over the weekend, on top of their original $459 million appeal, which is now 80 percent funded.
The new U.S. assistance will be spent immediately on food aid. "There continues to be significant unmet needs in basic food assistance," Shah said, noting that Pakistani leaders had told him that 50 percent of immediate food needs were not being satisfied.
The money will not come out of the funds set aside as part of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Pakistan aid bill. $60 million of that legislation's $1.5 billion commitment for this fiscal year have already been diverted to flood-related disaster assistance, and more will likely be reprogrammed in that direction as the response continues. "The amount and details and so on has to be decided on a case to case basis in consultation with the Congress," Holbrooke said.
But Holbrooke made clear that the United States and the international community is not committing to rebuilding Pakistan alone over the long term and the Pakistani government would have to take the lead.
"The international community is not going to be able to pick up the full costs of the reconstruction phase, the tens of billions of dollars. The international community has been quite generous already," Holbrooke said.
Despite his best efforts, Holbrooke didn't completely avoid becoming embroiled in media controversies during his latest trip to Pakistan. The U.S. Embassy had to deny that Holbrooke made a statement that the United States would not "accept slackness" from the Pakistani military in the war on terror.
Also, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that Holbrooke told reporters in Pakistan that he believed that Pakistan's civilian leadership would survive the latest crisis, saying, "I don't see evidence that the government is drowning."
Nevertheless, Holbrooke sounded pessimistic about the ability of Pakistan to handle the fallout from the flood disaster on its own. When asked Monday if the government in Islamabad would ever have enough money to dig themselves out of the crisis, Holbrooke said, "Nobody knows... probably not."
The State Department's Sajit Gandhi will join the professional staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to be Chairman Howard Berman's (D-CA) new lead advisor on all things South Asia, The Cable has confirmed.
Gandhi, a young and well-respected foreign affairs officer, currently works in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research covering South Asia and before that was on Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke's staff.
He replaces Jasmeet Ahuja, Berman's previous South Asia advisor, who played a large role in the crafting of the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman Pakistan assistance package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama earlier this year. She began her studies at Stanford Law School this month.
Gandhi started out at State in 2004 as a foreign affairs officer, entering the diplomatic corps through the Presidential Management Fellowship program. Gandhi served as the action officer for South Asia in the office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism and as the political officer at the U.S. embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was also an advisor on South Asia in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, where he received a Meritorious Honor Award for his work on the State Department's annual country reports on human rights.
He has also worked as an associate for the Cohen Group, a Washington-based business consulting firm, and as a research associate for the National Security Archive. He holds a master's degree from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and a bachelor's degree from the Elliott School at the George Washington University. He is married to Bhumika Gandhi and the couple just welcomed to the world their first child, a beautiful girl named Seva.
Congrats to Sajit and the whole Gandhi family!
A Florida group's plan to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 could hurt the international mission in Afghanistan and put allied troops at risk, the head of NATO said Tuesday.
"I strongly condemn that. I think it's a disrespectful action and in general I really urge people to respect other people's faith and behave respectfully. I think such actions are in strong contradiction with all the values we stand for and fight for," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "Of course, there is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on the security for our troops."
Rasmussen's comments came just one day after Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus issued a statement criticizing the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, which plans to burn copies of Islam's holy book for 10 reasons they explain on their website.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Petraeus said.
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the head of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, told CNN that the issue was already a hot topic of discussion among Afghans and said, "We very much feel that this can jeopardize the safety of our men and women that are serving over here in the country."
The Associated Press reported that hundreds of Muslims in Kabul have already rioted in protest of the planned Koran burning.
Rasmussen is in Washington to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House Tuesday afternoon. Topping the agenda are metrics for assessing progress in Afghanistan, as well as preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon in November.
In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters, Rasmussen expressed guarded optimism about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, where about 40,000 NATO troops are fighting alongside American soldiers and marines.
Rasmussen said he agreed with President Obama's decision to begin the transition of authority over security matters from allied forces to the Afghan government, including troop withdrawals, in July 2011. He said the pace of withdrawals were to be determined by conditions on the ground, and that the goal was to complete the transition by the end of 2014.
"I can tell you when it will begin, I can tell you when it would be completed, but I can't tell you exactly what will be the time differences between these two points," he said about the transition, predicting an announcement regarding the beginning of the transition at the Lisbon conference.
He acknowledged that there is an ongoing process to identify which provinces to transition to Afghan control first, and what metrics to use in judging progress on goals. He said it was premature, however, to say which provinces might be ready first or what specific metrics might be used.
"We will not leave until we have finished our job... A handover doesn't mean an exit," he said. NATO forces will have an ongoing role, which will include the presence of a base in Kabul that will allow them to continue to provide support at some level in perpetuity, he said.
On the ever-puzzling issue about what to do regarding Afghan government corruption, Rasmussen said that the international community must keep up political pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai but said that he believes Karzai is sincere about cooperating with the NATO-led coalition on this issue.
"He realizes that it is a prerequisite for gaining the trust of his own people that he and his government fight corruption determinedly," he said. "I really do believe he will do what it takes."
Rasmussen said the Lisbon conference will address a host of issues, including tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, NATO cooperation on missile defense, and cyber warfare. He also endorsed a NATO missile defense shield and extended an offer to Russia to participate. (Russia has shown little enthusiasm for missile-defense cooperation.)
On nuclear weapons, Rasmussen said that while he shared Obama's goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, for the time being nukes will remain in Europe as part of NATO's posture. He said the conference will not come out with specific numbers for the reductions of nuclear weapons based in Europe.
"We will not give up nuclear capabilities as a central part of our deterrence policy," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday designated Pakistan's largest Taliban umbrella group as an official "foreign terrorist organization."
The group, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which took credit for the attempted May 1 bombing of New York's Times Square, is now threatening to attack Western aid workers assisting Pakistan with its ongoing flood crisis, according to State Department officials.
Last fall, the Pakistani Army launched an ambitious offensive aimed at rooting the group out of its stronghold in South Waziristan, but top leaders such as Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali Ur Rehman, who the United States has named "specially designated global terrorists," remain at large.
The TTP is widely suspected of being involved in the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A 2009 suicide attack on the U.S. consulate in Peshawar was led by the TTP.
President Obama's top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in May that the TTP was "closely allied" with al Qaeda. "They train together, they plan together, they plot together," he said. "They are almost indistinguishable."
Because U.S. law requires that an organization pose a direct threat to the United States in order to be listed, the TTP's claim of involvement in the Times Square bombing attempt was significant. Now, the U.S. government can prosecute anyone giving "material aid" to the TTP, and the government can freeze the group's assets in the United States.
Lawmakers and some experts had been calling on the State Department to take action sooner.
"We cannot wait any longer to go after this group with everything we've got. This organization poses an existential threat to the safety of not only our soldiers fighting abroad, but also Americans here at home. It's time we dealt them with using every tool at our disposal," Sen. Chuck Schumer, NY, said in May.
Spokesman P.J. Crowley detailed the ties between the TTP and al Qaeda:
"TTP and al-Qaida have a symbiotic relationship; TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qaida, while al-Qaida relies on TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border. This mutual cooperation gives TTP access to both al-Qaidas global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. Given the proximity of the two groups and the nature of their relationship, TTP is a force multiplier for al-Qaida," Crowley said.
States Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin focused on the Times Square episode:
"Faisal Shahzads attempted attack on U.S. soil highlights the direct threat posed by the Pakistani Taliban Todays actions put the TTP and its sympathizers on notice that the United States will not tolerate support to this organization, which has inflicted great harm to U.S. and Pakistani interests," said Benjamin.
There's a battle going on among the standard-bearers of the Tea Party over their foreign policy message. But at the rank-and-file level, Tea Partiers have no unified view on major foreign policy issues. They are all over the map.
Sarah Palin, who spoke at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the Mall Saturday, would like the Tea Party to endorse her quasi-neoconservative approach to national security policy. She advocates aggressive unilateralism, ever-rising defense budgets, unfailing support of Israel, and a skeptical eye toward China, Russia, and any other possible competitor to the United States.
Ron Paul, a founding leader of the Tea Party who has seen the movement slip away from him somewhat, wants the movement's focus on thrift to extend to foreign policy, resulting in an almost isolationist approach that sets limits on the use of American power and its presence abroad.
In over a dozen interviews with self-identified Tea Party members at Saturday's rally, your humble Cable guy discovered that, when it comes to foreign policy, attendees rarely subscribed wholeheartedly to either Palin or Paul's world view. Despite claiming to share the same principles that informed their views, Tea Partiers often reached very different conclusions about pressing issues in U.S. foreign policy today.
Understandably, most Tea Party members at the rally viewed foreign policy through the prism of domestic problems such as the poor economy and the movement of jobs overseas. Almost all interviewees expressed support for U.S. troops abroad and a connection to Christianity they said informed their world view.
But that's where the similarities ended. Some attendees sounded like reliable neocons arguing for more troops abroad. Others sounded like antiwar liberals, lamenting the loss of life in any war for any reason. Still others sounded like inside the beltway realists, carefully considering the costs and benefits of a given policy option based on American national security interests.
For example, The Cable interviewed Danny Koss, a former Marine from Grove City, PA, who was measured when it came to talking about the war in Afghanistan.
"If we are going to stay, I suggest we really win," he said. "I'm not convinced that some of our leadership is ready for that. I know our generals are."
Koss, sounding like a realist, said that he saw China as a near-term economic threat but not a near-term military threat. A strike against Iran was not a good option, he argued, although he said it was wise of President Barack Obama to publicly state that all options are on the table.
When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, however, Koss seamlessly switched to a religious frame.
"You've got to go back and read the Bible, see who had it first. If you believe the Bible and who God gave it to, the rest is history," he said.
Later, we ran into Cecilia Goodow from Hartford, NY, who said that her foreign policy views were determined exclusively by her faith. This led her to regret the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.
"It sounded so reasonable at the time. But Holy Father John Paul II was against the war; he said it would just be an awful thing and many people would be killed," she said. "I always supported the troops, but we know history and we know that wars are sometimes perpetrated by evil people for evil reasons that the average person doesn't even know about or understand, so I can't wait for it all to stop."
Goodow said she wants Obama to stand up for America more and fight the forces of evil, which include Iran, but she doesn't support military intervention, even in Afghanistan.
"Sometimes that's cloudy -- why are we there? Barack Obama ran on the promise that he was going to bring everybody home. That's what we all sat around the table talking about. Maybe if there's a new presidential policy maybe we can have peace again, maybe we can bring our kids home," she said. "War begets more war."
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we found Larry Maxwell of Patterson, NY. Dressed in full Revolutionary War regalia and holding a huge American flag, he was as much historian as activist, engaging passersby in debates about America's past.
While he supported the decision to go war in Iraq and largely believes claims that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Maxwell lamented the cost of the Iraq war and the danger of bolstering Iranian influence in the region.
But while Maxwell was concerned about the tensions surrounding Iran and its nuclear program, he didn't believe that a military strike is the best option.
"Are we the world's police? We're having a lot of trouble here and a lot of problems here. I'm not sure where our role comes over there," he said. "The United Nations would be the place for that ... but nobody listens to them."
Maxwell, like Koss, also referenced the Bible to support Israel's right to the land it now occupies. "The Bible says in the last days, that the Middle East, that's going to be the center of activity," he said. "If you go back to the Bible, it says there's going to be an army of 200 million men coming out of the East to the Middle East, as part of that whole Armageddon and ‘end of days' thing."
But not all Tea Partiers reflexively took Israel's side. Brandon Malator from Washington, DC, who dressed in U.S. Army fatigues and donned a cowboy hat with a Lipton tea bag dangling from the brim, was a stalwart supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not of Israel.
"[We should] stay longer. We've never left any other country and we shouldn't leave Iraq," he said, adding that the U.S. is engaged in a 100-year-war that would include a coming war with Iran and eventually a war with China, which he called "World War III." He praised Obama for sending more troops to Afghanistan. "I think we're doing what we need to do as Americans. I think if the rest of the world doesn't like it, then that's tough luck."
But when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Malatore's was downright dovish. "I hope that Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement, share the land, and do whatever they need to do to stop fighting all the time. I hope that war ends; that's been going on too long."
Alarm bells went off in Washington Thursday when the Pakistani media reported that USAID chief Rajiv Shah had visited a relief camp run by a group associated with terrorists. But according to the aid agency, that's simply not the case.
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper was the first to allege that Shah, who has been touring the flood-ravaged region, had stopped in the town of Sukkur Wednesday to drop off two trucks of emergency supplies in a relief camp supposedly run by Falah-i-Insaniat (FI), which it described as "the latest reincarnation of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian arm of the banned terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)." The group is said to have longstanding ties to both Pakistan's main spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and al Qaeda.
Yahya Mujahid, the spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, reportedly claimed that the group distributed Shah's supplies. Dawn reported that the camp's entrance featured a large banner that read "Relief Camp -- Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation."
But Rick Snelsire, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, said in a statement that Shah visited the Double Session High School in Sukkur, where 1,200 Pakistanis displaced from their homes are seeking refuge. This school "is under the supervision of the government of Pakistan," noted Snelsire. "At no time during his visit did Dr. Shah encounter or meet with any members of a banned extremist organization."
Shah also announced another $50 million in U.S. disaster relief aid, bring the total U.S. commitment to Pakistan up to $200 million. The additional money will come from funds appropriated under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Pakistani aid bill.
The incident highlights how the flood disaster has become a competition between Islamic charities and groups and the government of Pakistan, aided by the international community. Although the United States has been the largest international aid donor following the floods, there are few signs that Pakistanis' views of the United States have improved.
In an event at the Brookings Institution this week, retired general Jehangir Karamat, who served as chief of staff of the Pakistani Army and as ambassador to the United States, said that negative Pakistani media coverage was to blame.
"[W]hat happens between Pakistan and the U.S., the positive side doesn't come up in the media. The negative side comes up in the media, in discussion. And that takes over the whole discourse on U.S.-Pakistan relations," he said. "But I think in informed circles it's very much known what the U.S. is doing for Pakistan."
The Obama administration is quick to point out that the United States has actively engaged in relief efforts in Pakistan, including the dispersal of $1.5 billion in Kerry-Lugar funds. Officials point also to the bilateral Strategic Dialogue initiated in Washington earlier this year as evidence of improving ties between the two countries.
But although Shah is technically the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the flood area, the U.S. response is actually being coordinated by the office of Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, in contrast, USAID was formally in the lead, and the agency ran a "war room" to coordinate relief efforts across the U.S. government.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that "responsibility would continue to rest with Richard Holbrooke" in managing the aid effort, adding that Shah continues to play a pivotal role.
The politics in Pakistan are more complex than in Haiti, however, and Holbrooke's office may be better positioned to manage the interagency effort this time around. The Pakistan aid effort "comes within a broader strategy in terms of the nature of our relationship with Pakistan, as well as supporting Pakistan in its own efforts to deal with the extremist elements within its borders," noted Crowley. "So our strategy with respect to Pakistan is broader than is the case with Haiti."
There is also a functioning government in Pakistan to work with, which was not the case in Haiti.
Holbrooke's aide Vali Nasr explained the value of using Holbrooke's team and relationships in Pakistan to spearhead the flood relief effort.
"The U.S. was able to react very quickly, largely because of the interagency teams that it has put together, especially in the SRAP -- the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- which has made for much more rapid turnaround to addressing these kinds of issues," Nasr said at Brookings.
UPDATE: The Washington Post reported that Shah bumped into the LET during his visit to Sukker. "U.S. officials said after Shah's visit that they had not been aware of the Islamist charity's role at the camp and that they have no control over which organizations helped when and where," the Post said.
State Department sources confirm that Alyssa Ayres will soon come on board as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, covering U.S. policy toward India.
Ayres worked at State during the latter years of the Bush administration as a special assistant to then under secretary for political affairs Nicholas Burns and she was involved in the crafting of and negotiations surrounding the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement. Since then, she has been leading the India and South Asia practice at the consulting firm McLarty Associates, according to her personal website. Last year, she authored a book on language and nationalism in Pakistan entitled, Speaking Like a State.
The position had been widely expected to go to Georgetown professor Christine Fair, but Fair took herself out of the running late last year for reasons that remain unclear. Ayres will report up to SCA's assistant secretary, Robert Blake.
Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has worked with Ayres, praised the choice while simultaneously lamenting the fact that it took the Obama administration more than 18 months to fill the slot.
"She has worked in the government before, she understands the importance of India strategically, and her heart is in the right place," he said. "This is a smart decision they've made, even if they've made it late."
Some in the State Department wondered privately why the administration didn't choose someone with more solid Democratic Party bona fides, as Ayres has only worked for a Republican administration. But Tellis said she is no ideologue and is eminently qualified.
"That she worked in a GOP administration is completely accidental because she came into government through a fellowship program from the Council on Foreign Relations," he said.
According to her McLarty bio, Ayres speaks fluent Hindi and Urdu and previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross as an interpreter in Jammu and Kashmir. She received an A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Last week, we reported that the GOP is holding up the nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Today, we bring you the letter from Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining his objections to the nomination.
Brownback, who will retire from the Senate at the end of this year, has long been critical of Ricciardone dating back to the nominee's time as ambassador to Egypt during the Bush administration and as one of the key officials chosen to strengthen Iraqi opposition groups in early 2003. Brownback states in his letter that Ricciardone "downplayed" the Bush administration's pro-democracy efforts in Egypt and "did not favor" a strong effort to work with Iraqi opposition groups in the run up to the invasion.
"From the latter days of the Bush administration to today, opposition groups from Africa to the Middle East to Asia have been questioning the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights. Given these questions, I am not convinced that Ambassador Ricciardone is the right ambassador for Turkey at this time -- despite his extensive diplomatic experience," Brownback wrote.
Brownback also criticized Ricciardone for his work while in Cairo to establish an endowment fund to provide non-military aid to Egypt, which the senator argued would have been a slush fund for the Mubarak government and contributed to the further marginalization of democracy and human rights opposition groups there. The Obama administration is negotiating over the controversial endowment even to this day.
"I believe democracy and human rights should be considered on par with other aspects of our bilateral relationships, but I am not convinced that Ambassador Ricciardone shares that view. I am concerned that the endowment plan will marginalize further discussion about the development of democracy in Egypt," he wrote.
All of this speaks to how Ricciardone would conduct American diplomacy in Turkey, according to Brownback, who alleges that secular Turkish opposition groups are already complaining they don't have good access to current ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who is on his way to take over for Chris Hill in Baghdad.
Brownback is requesting that State provide written answers and assurances on a list of questions ranging from Ricciardone's views on numerous issues to assurances regarding how the State Departmetn will conduct aspects of foreign policy. He also signaled that Turkey's recent decisions to vote against new sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council and harshly criticize Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident will also be part of Ricciardone's confirmation debate, which could resume when Congress returns from recess.
"I am also concerned that we have not fully considered the ramifications of a Turkish tilt toward Iran and away from Israel, and I will give those issues some attention before the Senate reconvenes in September," Brownback wrote.
Full letter after the jump:
In an exclusive interview published Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Foreign Policy that he plans to leave office some time in 2011, once President Obama's Afghanistan's strategy review is completed.
"I think that by next year I'll be in a position where -- you know, we're going to know whether the strategy is working in Afghanistan," he told national-security writer Fred Kaplan. "We'll have completed the surge. We'll have done the assessment in December. And it seems like somewhere there in 2011 is a logical opportunity to hand off," he said.
Gates also said "it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012" to leave his post, because it might be difficult to get a good candidate to take the job, knowing that the administration might be voted out later that year.
"I just think this is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of a presidential election. So I think sometime in 2011 sounds pretty good."
The speculation over who might replace Gates is a popular parlor game in Washington. The rumored candidates include current officials, think tank leaders, and even some names left over from the last time the job was open.
Top candidates include Michèle Flournoy, the current under secretary of defense for policy, John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. The oft-mooted move of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Pentagon is less likely. (Gates's people say trying to figure out the short list is premature.)
Gates looked back as much as he looked forward in Kaplan's wide ranging interview, revealing for the first time that in 2008 he started a "covert campaign" to prevent himself from being asked to stay on as defense secretary, no matter who won the election.
"It was to try and build a wall of clarity that I did not want to stay high enough that nobody would ever ask me. I was very consistent for a long period there in saying that, because I really didn't want to be asked, knowing that if I were asked I would say yes," Gates said.
The article paints a picture of a man who is savvy enough to think strategically about his own exit from public life but even more loyal to the military and the president, any president, while wars are raging and his service is being sought.
Gates also spoke at length about his drive to reform the Pentagon bureaucracy, show the uniformed leadership that they could be fired, and cut dozens of programs he felt were misguided in the face of stiff congressional resistance.
In one section of the interview, Gates himself struggles with his vision for a military that can't afford and therefore shouldn't pursue hugely expensive platforms, like $3 billion destroyers and $2 billion bombers. He even quotes Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who said "Quantity has a quality of its own."
The future of the 11 aircraft carrier groups currently in service is the perfect example of this tension.
"I'm not going to cut any aircraft carriers," Gates told Kaplan. "But the reality is, if Chinese highly accurate cruise and ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles can keep our aircraft carriers behind the second island chain in the Pacific, you've got to think differently about how you're going to use aircraft carriers."
When Kaplan pressed Gates on why he won't cut carriers, despite his contention they are made somewhat obsolete by 21st-century warfare, Gates acknowledged that even one of the most powerful defense secretaries of the modern era has limits.
"Well, as I said when it came to military retirement, I may be bold but I'm not crazy."
Gates also said he would be open to reassessing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan if more progress is not evident by the December review.
"If we're not making any headway, then I think we have to look at making adjustments," he said.
Gates wouldn't speculate on what those adjustments might be, but he did express confidence that the president's surge of forces to Afghanistan, which he supports, stands a good chance of providing the Afghan government the time needed to gradually take over responsibility from the coalition as U.S. troops begin to withdraw next July.
"The July 2011 deadline was a hard hurdle for me to get over because I'd fought against deadlines with respect to Iraq consistently," Gates told Kaplan. "But I became persuaded that something like that was needed to get the attention of the Afghan government, that they had to take ownership of this thing ... And I recognized the risks."
The State Department is moving to improve how it handles mental health services for employees coming back from high-stress or high-threat postings, but there's still a lot of stigma attached to seeking this kind of help and the department needs to do more, according to a new internal report.
"Employees believe there is still a significant stigma attached to seeking mental health assistance," the State Department Office of Inspector General said in a new report released Tuesday. The OIG called on State to remove the stigma by issuing a high-level statement encouraging returning diplomats to use the mental health tools at their disposal.
State has been ramping up its efforts, including creating a Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) in the Office of Medical Services (MED) and increasing the number of mental health-care professionals at the ready. There is also a consultation and interview process called an High Stress Assignment Outbrief for when Foreign Service officers get back from the field, but less than 60 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan go through it and for other high-stress postings, the usage rate is much lower.
There are also more social workers and psychiatrists than ever at the embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, but according to the OIG it's unclear whether there are enough. One recommendation was to survey the warzone to see if diplomats' mental needs are being taken care of.
Sometimes, simply letting officers know their time in the warzone was appreciated can go a long way, according to the OIG.
"Some returnees felt a lack of recognition for their service," the report stated. "The Department could consider such steps as certi?cates of recognition from the Secretary or more meetings between returnees and senior of?cials at the Department and posts."
There are about 800 State Department employees currently deployed in high-stress or high-threat environments, according to the report.
Even before the release of tens of thousands of classified Afghanistan war documents Sunday, a clearly worried Obama administration had embarked on an aggressive campaign to reach out to domestic and international stakeholders in the hopes of mitigating the fallout.
Administration officials, alerted to the pending leak of reams of reports from the warzone by news organizations, launched a two-pronged, preemptive response: They started calling around to leaders of foreign governments who might be affected to warn them of the story and allay any concerns about U.S. government involvement in the leak, and started working Capitol Hill to limit any misinterpretation as congressmen reacted to the disclosures, which include reports accusing Pakistani intelligence operatives of links to anti-coalition attacks.
"Once we became aware of the existence of this story, we proceeded with several country notifications, as is the case when we are aware of major news stories," a senior administration official told The Cable. "These notifications included Afghanistan and Pakistan, at multiple levels, as well as Germany and the U.K. (given that the documents were leaked to the foreign news outlets Der Spiegel and the Guardian)."
"We've also been in touch with members and staff on the Hill over the last couple of days," the senior administration official said.
One particularly important call was between Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari has at times tangled with his country's top spy agency, the powerful Inter Services Intelligence directorate, and Holbrooke himself said last week while in India that "The links between the ISI and the Taliban are a problem."
Other than Holbrooke, officials involved in the notifications included U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who happened to be in Pakistan and held a high-level meeting with Pakistani officials Saturday night.
After leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan, Mullen had the difficult task of assuring Afghan tribal leaders that the U.S. government was aware and dealing with the problem of Pakistani links to Afghan insurgents. "I've raised that issue. The Pakistani leadership knows it's a priority," he said Monday at a meeting at a U.S. military base outside Kandahar, according to Agence France Press. "Long-term pressure" on Islamabad, he said, would likely bear fruit.
Although some press reports cited anonymous Pakistani sources speculating that the Obama administration was behind the document dump, Pakistani civilian leaders contacted by the administration over the last couple of days appeared to accept that the U.S. government had no role in the leaks. The message to the Pakistanis was that the information was old, not reliable, and shouldn't derail ongoing and increasing cooperation between the two governments.
"The White House succeeded in calming our people," said one Pakistani source. "I think we've contained the damage on this one, at least on our end."
"Obviously we'll be watching closely to see how various countries and populations respond to the information that's here," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who added that the State Department believes Pakistan is committed "at the leadership level" to rooting out terrorists. According to Crowley, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was contacted directly. "We also gave a heads-up to India," he said.
Jones was also working the phones Sunday night and hosting meetings for foreign representatives at the White House Monday to make sure there was no ill will resulting from the revelations. Jones's statement released Sunday night praised recent Pakistani cooperation in fighting terrorism and included the line, "These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."
The administration's relationship with the ISI has apparently not been derailed by the Wikileaks disclosures. ISI chief Lt Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is expected to visit Washington soon, one of a series of meetings he's been having with U.S. officials.
On the Hill, offices contacted included those of Senate Foreign Relations heads John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-MO, and others.
One source said that Skelton's statement, which heavily criticized the actions by Wikileaks and praised recent Pakistani cooperation using themes similar to Jones's statement, was coordinated with the administration. Skelton could not be reached for comment.
"It is critical that we not use outdated reports to paint a picture of the cooperation of Pakistan in our efforts in Afghanistan," Skelton said. "Since these reports were issued, Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against the Taliban, including efforts that led to the capture of the highest-ranking member of the Taliban since the start of the war."
Other leading Democrats were more critical of Pakistan.
"Some of these documents reinforce a longstanding concern of mine about the supporting role of some Pakistani officials in the Afghan insurgency," read Levin's statement. "When Sen. Jack Reed and I visited Pakistan this month, we strongly urged the Pakistanis to take forceful action against militant networks using Pakistan as a base to attack Afghanistan and our troops."
The administration got some rare support Monday from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who condemned the leak in a statement. "The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security, Lieberman said.
The State Department said it had not decided whether one person, such as Private Bradley Manning, who already stands accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks, was the source of the documents.
"We're trying to determine if this is related to that ongoing investigation or a new leak," Crowley said.
Last Friday, Pentagon and Army leaders all came out to honor Gen. Stanley McChrystal in a retirement ceremony complete with a full color guard, performances by the Army band, and a 17-gun salute.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosted the ceremony. We're told he made special arrangements to fly home earlier than planned from his trip to Southeast Asia to attend the ceremony. Gates got off the plane at 1:30 PM at Andrews Air Force Base and made it to Fort McNair just in time for the event.
Gates praised McChrystal's years of terrorist hunting and talked about how unique it was for a senior officer to get so heavily and directly involved in the dangerous special operations missions his unit was carrying out on a daily basis.
"As a lieutenant general, he went out on night missions with his teams, subjecting himself to their hardships and dangers. After going on one operation that resulted in a fire fight, some of his British comrades awarded Stan the distinction of being the highest-paid rifleman in the United States Army," Gates said.
Army Chief of Staff George Casey spoke and a whole bevy of senior military officials and their wives were in attendance, including Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the vice chief of Army staff, and several foreign military officials. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen was in Pakistan.
Casey told the story of the night that McChrystal's unit successfully killed al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and how McChrystal personally identified the body.
"Stan had the body brought to his headquarters compound for identification. We decided not to tell anyone until we were sure, so Stan went down to check out the body and called me. He said, ‘General, we've been tracking this guy for two and a half years, and I think it's him.' I said, ‘How sure are you?' He responded quietly, ‘I'm sure.' And that was the first and only time in our time together there that I heard his voice crack with emotion."
McChrystal had the crowd in stitches with a speech that mixed loving praise for his wife Annie and a comic routine. Noting that the ceremony had the potential to be awkward, McChrystal proceeded to crack jokes about his unscheduled retirement, his marriage, and his three-decade career in the Army. At one point, he warned his close friends in attendance that he could leak stories about them if they spoke out of turn. "I know a Rolling Stone reporter," he joked.
McChrystal then went into a long, affectionate tribute to his wife's patience during his five-year absence from their marriage and the process of reintegrating into family life stateside after being so long in a position of complete authority and control as a military commander:
"First I need to address two questions that we've been asked often lately. The first is: What are you going to do? Actually, Annie is the one who is asking me that. I'm thinking I would be a good fashion consultant and spokesman for Gucci. But they haven't called."
"The other question is always asked a bit tentatively. How are you and Annie doing? We did spend some years apart, but we're doing well. And I did carry some of what I learned into retirement. First, Annie and I are reconnecting and now we're up on Skype with each other. Of course, we never did that all those years I was 10,000 miles away, but now we connect by video link when we are 15 feet apart, and I think she really likes that."
"I was so enthused I tried to use Skype for a daily family [video teleconference], so I could get daily updates and pass out guidance. But there's some resistance to ‘flatter and faster' in the McChrystal household. The same is true for the tactical directive I issued upon my return. It's reasonable guidance: one meal a day, early morning [physical training], the basics for a good family life. But I've gotten a few night letters and Annie is stocking up on ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which is strange since our new yard is smaller than this podium."
"Although the insurgency is relatively small, one woman, she's uninterested in reintegration. I assess the situation as serious, and in many ways deteriorating. Mr. Secretary, look at her. I'm thinking at least 40,000 troops."
Reams of classified U.S. reports claiming evidence that Pakistan's top military intelligence service is playing both sides of the Afghanistan war should not be taken at face value, Islamabad's envoy to Washington is warning.
"These reports reflect nothing more than single-source comments and rumors, which abound on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and are often proved wrong after deeper examination," Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani said in a statement.
Calling the publication of nearly 92,000 classified reports by the whistleblower website Wikileaks "irresponsible," Haqqani said, "Pakistan's government under the democratically elected leadership of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani is following a clearly laid out strategy of fighting and marginalizing terrorists and our military and intelligence services are effectively executing that policy. The documents circulated by Wikileaks do not reflect the current onground realities. The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are strategic partners and are jointly endeavoring to defeat Al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies militarily and politically."
Haqqani is referring to one of only several themes that emerge upon examination of the leaked reports, which were published in coordination with the New York Times, Britain.'s Guardian newspaper, and Germany's Der Spiegel.
The Times focuses on the alleged role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in working with the Afghan insurgency, including al Qaeda, as well as its alleged role in planning attacks inside Afghanistan, including the deadly suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The frustration of American officials at the ISI's failure to confront Afghan militants is peppered throughout the reports.
The Guardian took the data from the reports and organized it so it could be easily understood by the general public. In its story on the ISI, the paper pointed to several alleged but unproven instances where the ISI may have been involved in activities directly opposed to coalition efforts. For example, one report alleged that the ISI was offering to pay up to $30,000 for the killing of Indian road workers inside Afghanistan. Another report accused the ISI of using children as suicide bombers. A third said that the ISI might be exporting poisoned alcohol to Afghanistan to surreptitiously kill coalition troops.
All of the coverage notes that the reports represent single-sourced information that was largely impossible to verify and often totally implausible. Nevertheless, the White House was in full damage-control mode Sunday evening, trying to spin the release of the documents while admonishing Wikileaks for exposing them.
"These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people," National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones said in an emailed statement Sunday evening. He also pointed out that most of the leaked reports were from the time before President Obama initiated his new Afghan strategy and troop surge.
"Since 2009, the United States and Pakistan have deepened our important bilateral partnership. Counter-terrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al Qaeda's leadership. The Pakistani military has gone on the offensive in Swat and South Waziristan, at great cost to the Pakistani military and people," Jones said. "Yet the Pakistani government - and Pakistan's military and intelligence services - must continue their strategic shift against insurgent groups... U.S. support for Pakistan will continue to be focused on building Pakistani capacity to root out violent extremist groups, while supporting the aspirations of the Pakistani people."
The White House also sent out a memo to reporters with "a few thoughts about these stories on background."
1) I don't think anyone who follows this issue will find it surprising that there are concerns about ISI and safe havens in Pakistan. In fact, we've said as much repeatedly and on the record. Attached please find a document with some relevant quotes from senior USG officials.
2) The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.
3) Note the interesting graphs (pasted below) from the Guardian's wikileaks story. I think they help put these documents in context.
4) As you report on this issue, it's worth noting that wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.
Despite the questionable validity of the information in the reports, there are already signs that lawmakers are taking the revelations seriously.
"However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA. "Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent."
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, became the second senator to call for the ouster of Arnie Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, whose office received a failing grade in a new report on its investigations into the use of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funds.
"The recent findings of the independent review of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are appalling and confirm that there is clearly a lack of competent senior leadership in this agency," Coburn said. "Fraud, corruption and wasted resources are placing our soldiers and the mission in Afghanistan in danger. The president must take swift action and replace the Inspector General and his top staff and immediately appoint an aggressive and independent watchdog who will oversee the billions of dollars the United States is sending there."
Earlier this week, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which serves as an oversight board of all inspectors general in the U.S. government, issued a scathing report on the work of SIGAR, which came after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization's shoddy work product.
"In our view, the safeguards and management procedures in this organization did not provide reasonable assurance of conforming with professional standards in the conduct of its investigations from the inception of SIGAR to April 16, 2010," the panel wrote.
Fields responded in a letter that funding delays had prevented him from "building the capacity necessary to address my investigative mandate," and said he had already taken measures to address the panel's concerns.
Coburn had requested the review, along with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, and Susan Collins, R-ME. McCaskill called for Fields to be fired on the day the report was issued.
On Tuesday, The Cable caught up with McCaskill and she said she wanted to see the entire SIGAR office reorganized and folded into its sister organization, the Office of the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).
"We need one inspector general that covers all crisis situations so we can have some accountability and consistency in this mission," she said.
SIGIR head Stuart Bowen has suggested a Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingecy Operations (SIGOCO) as a minor part of its lessons learned project, although his office has not been involved in the current imbroglio regarding SIGAR.
On a separate track, his office has been shopping around town his idea for a new U.S. government agency that would manage all reconstruction efforts in areas where the military is deployed. He calls it the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations.
"It assumes that over time, contingencies will occur," Bowen told The Cable last November, "It's sort of like FEMA. FEMA is set up to address disasters, but disasters aren't continuous. The history of the last 50 years, with 15 contingencies or so, indicates that the next 50 years will probably have more contingency operations."
The SIGAR office Tuesday declined to comment on Coburn's statement.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was quite clear in saying Tuesday afternoon that he has no intention of initiating a new British investigation in the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, but four senators pressed him for concessions Tuesday evening, including asking him to make British officials available for a coming congressional hearing on the issue.
The request puts Cameron in a difficult position. The British public is already upset that its new government is seeming to play into speculation that BP had some role in lobbying for the release of Megrahi, who was released last year to Libya for health reasons but has stubbornly refused to die.
Cameron said Tuesday afternoon, while standing next to President Obama at the White House, that the Scottish Parliament had already completed an investigation and that London had already released reams of information on the case. He pledged to direct his government to go back and see if there wasn't any more information that could be made available.
"I'm not currently minded that we need to have a UK-based inquiry on this -- partly for this reason: I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said. "It was a bad decision."
But that's not quite good enough for Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY, who met Cameron at the home of British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald Tuesday evening.
In an interview Tuesday, Menendez told The Cable just before the meeting that he would continue to press Cameron to make British officials available for a coming Senate hearing that would examine the British government's involvement and any possible interactions with BP regarding Megrahi's release.
"We certainly appreciate the cooperation and hopefully the cooperation will be manifested by helping us getting the right witnesses that we are asking for," Menendez said. "I am disappointed that where he has the ability to look at what transpired with the British government's interaction with the Scottish and Libyan governments, that he would be in the best position to get to the truth."
Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that senators' concerns over the case trumped any worry that focusing on the issue could harm U.S.-UK relations.
"This is beyond our bilateral relationship with the British; this is a question of what messaging do we want to send to terrorists. Do we want to tell them you can kill Americans and others and at the end of the day still get out of jail? That's the wrong message," he said.
CNN reported that the meeting lasted for 45 minutes and that no pledges or promises by Cameron were made. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, told The Cable that the hearing has been scheduled for next week.
Cameron had several meetings on Capitol Hill Tuesday: one with Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and another with Kerry and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, chairwoman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe.
Shaheen told The Cable that she asked Cameron about British interest in EU enlargement, specifically for countries in the western Balkans.
"He confirmed that he is a very big proponent of enlargement. It's been good for Britain and he will continue to support that," she said.
NSC spokesman Mike Hammer said before Cameron's meeting with Obama that the two leaders' hour-long one-on-one session would predominantly focus on the situation in Afghanistan. Cameron said that Britain could begin pulling out troops next year, based on conditions on the ground, and promised there would not be a large British troop presence by 2015.
The government investigators and auditors who are supposed to be looking for waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan received a failing grade in a new government investigation of their own activities.
The scathing report on the work of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) comes after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization's shoddy work product and failure to fulfill its obligations to oversee the billions of dollars being appropriated each year for Afghanistan reconstruction.
"In our view, the safeguards and management procedures in this organization did not provide reasonable assurance of conforming with professional standards in the conduct of its investigations from the inception of SIGAR to April 16, 2010," wrote the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which serves as an oversight board of all inspectors general in the U.S. government.
The report now goes to Attorney General Eric Holder, who will determine whether SIGAR will be stripped of its investigative powers, such as the power to make arrests, issue warrants, carry firearms, etc.
The oversight panel cited 10 major ways in which SIGAR, led by Special Inspector General Arnie Fields, was not conducting investigations in the proper way.
"In sum and substance, there were nearly no official investigative policies and procedures in place prior to March 2010 and, therefore, no investigative activities in compliance therewith," the report stated, adding that what policies were in writing were copied directly from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), SIGAR's older (and apparently more competent) sister organization.
According to the report, SIGAR's investigators also didn't have the proper training and there were no clear quality standards for investigations,
Fields responded in a letter that the newness of his office and delays in funding were to blame for the poor performance.
"It wasn't until the summer of 2009 that SIGAR received adequate funding to begin fully staffing its directorates. Consequently, I have been behind the curve in building the capacity necessary to address my investigative mandate," he wrote, claiming he was already addressing the problems.
In a concurrent but separate review of SIGAR's auditing work, the oversight group gave SIGAR the rating of "pass with deficiencies," and criticized the quality assurance, planning, record keeping, and reporting of SIGAR's audit directorate, run by the assistant inspector general in charge of audits, John Brummet.
Criticisms of SIGAR's auditing are not new. A memo circulated by Hill staffers earlier this year outlined the shortcomings of several of the organization's audits. And Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Susan Collins, R-ME, wrote a letter last December calling for someone to look into SIGAR's operations.
Fields himself asked CIGIE to perform the peer review in this February letter, but most insiders believe he was just trying to head off congressional concerns. Now, some in Congress are calling for his ouster.
"This report proves that SIGAR's performance is inept. It is time for a house-cleaning at SIGAR, including new leadership," McCaskill said in a statement. "For the sake of our soldiers and the American taxpayer, time is of the essence."
The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, and plans to raise the amount to $71 billion over the next year, according to the AP.
The head of all United Nations operations in Afghanistan visited Washington Thursday and met with Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and other administration officials.
Staffan de Mistura, a Swedish diplomat who previously served in Iraq, replaced former U.N. Kabul chief Kai Eide, who left his post after a bitter public feud with his second in command, Amb. Peter Galbraith, about the U.N.'s lack of reponse to the allegedly massive fraud perpetrated by Afghan leader Hamid Karzai in last year's presidential elections.
As Kabul races toward new elections and Karzai leads a project to seek reconciliation with the Taliban, de Mistura serves as the watchful eye of the international community and the leader of over 7,000 U.N. international and local employees in and around Kabul. He sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable to give his take on all things Afghanistan.
JR: What is your message to American policymakers about Afghanistan?
Staffan de Mistura: The message here is basically threefold. We are poised in focusing on three areas ... the U.N. is focusing on elections, on the regional context, and on the internal dialogue. The second message is that we are maintaining a substantial number of our own people and that we will do so by being very attentive of the security situation but also staying to do our job during this critical period. The third one is about the Kabul conference, which is the next rendezvous taking place on the 20th of July, and to make sure, since the U.N. is co-chairing the conference, that it is very productive.
JR: What is your current assessment of the progress of the international mission in Afghanistan?
SDM: We are just in the middle of crossing a river at the moment. It can go in all directions, but it is a critical, crucial moment. And therefore, when you are swimming in the middle of a very heavy current, and you are in the middle of the river, you had better be resilient and determined ... I would like to meet you in three months' time to make an assessment instead.
JR: How does the arrival of Gen. David Petraeus as the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan change the situation on the ground?
SDM: I've met and seen and worked with General Petraeus when we were in the same city [Baghdad] for two years and I saw him in action. So I feel very comfortable that he will be bringing his own style. I'm not talking about policy, but he will be bringing his own approach. Not about a change in strategy but in the way you operate, in the way you respect the local environment and combine military, political, and diplomatic skills. In that sense, I see a lot of positive opportunities in the arrival of General Petraeus.
JR: You worked with Amb. Ryan Crocker in Iraq. What were some of his traits that made him successful in that role?
SDM: He had remarkable diplomatic skills. Second, he was an extremely good listener. At the same time, he had very good knowledge of the Arab mentality and the Islamic environment. He had the capacity, which is rare, to have a quick analysis, synthesis, and then come up with the operational points, which makes him a born leader.
JR: Who do you consider to be the lead U.S. official on Afghanistan? Ambassador Holbrooke? General Petraeus? Ambassador Eikenberry?
SDM: As far as I'm concerned, it's President Obama.
JR: Do you acknowledge that President Obama's July 11 timeline to begin withdrawing troops is being manipulated by America's enemies to dissuade Afghans from relying on the coalition?
SDM: What I do acknowledge is the fact that President Karzai and many Afghans are very much aware of the fact that in the past there have been many occasions where the Afghans felt they were abandoned and that has an impact on them ... That aspect is an important psychological and historical factor that is affecting not only the president but every Afghan. So some type of formula or assurance that whatever happens in July will not mean that the international community turns the page and says goodbye to Afghanistan, particularly if at that time we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, becomes an important psychological factor, even in ensuring that the Afghans believe they need to find a solution.
JR: You are personally involved in reviewing the list of terrorists used to govern the reconciliation process.
SDM: The list includes 137 names ... We need to revisit this list. There is no other way than to do it case by case, one after the other, obtain the sufficient documentation and evidence that either they are not alive or that they have given up on their militancy and their use of violence to obtain whatever they want. I'm optimistic that there is momentum around that.
JR: Do you believe groups such as the Haqqani network and Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar can or should be reconciled with?
SDM: The basic parameters set up by the Afghans themselves at the peace jirga are quite clear: Give up on your connection with foreign terrorists, give up on the use of violence and force, and respect the constitution. If anyone among those on the list or anywhere else would be acknowledging these three points, I would be surprised if the Afghans themselves or the Security Council would not take that into serious consideration.
JR: Do you believe General Petraeus should change the rules of engagement in Afghanistan?
SDM: Any civilian casualty produces a lot of outrage and can produce additional insurgency instead of the opposite. From a human rights point of view it's a very difficult thing to accept. So I'm expecting if he would be very much conscious of that in Afghanistan, like he was in Iraq... I can tell you that 72 percent of all civilian victims are not caused by the international community but by the insurgency.
JR: About Karzai, what is being done to make sure the next elections don't have the same massive fraud as the last one?
SDM: President Karzai has probably the most dangerous, complicated, and difficult job as a president at the moment. So one has to acknowledge this is quite a challenging job. I think Karzai is aware that the U.N. -- and it's going to be my job to show that -- that the U.N. has a moral authority and an autonomy, independence, and impartiality that needs to be respected. The president is fully aware of that. The test will be when there will be moments when we have to exercise that aspect. At the same time, we need to be aware of one thing: We are guests, all of us, and we need to respect the culture, the tradition, and the pride of the Afghan people. So a combination of the two elements will probably be the best formula.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Despite what you may have read, the top Afghanistan policymakers in the Obama administration are all working together constructively and are on the same page, according to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke.
In an interview Wednesday with PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill, Holbrooke said he has seen some truly dysfunctional administrations in his storied, multi-decade diplomatic career -- and this administration isn't one of them.
"I have worked in every Democratic administration since the Kennedy administration, and I know dysfunctionality when I see it. We have really good civil-military relations in this government," he said.
Holbrooke touted his close working relationship with new Afghanistan commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and pushed back against Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and others who have pointed to quotes from officials and the Rolling Stone article that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as evidence that U.S. leaders in Washington and Kabul are not on the same page.
"This is one [administration] which is absent of any ideological differences, as occurred in the last administration and several I served in. We work closely together," he said. "There are always personal differences and ambitions, but this is just not true. It's not a dysfunctional relationship."
Holbrooke, who happened to be in Afghanistan when the Rolling Stone story broke, revealed that McChrystal woke him up in the middle of the night to apologize for quotes attributed to the general's aides that called him a "wounded animal," and an anecdote that portrayed McChrystal as irritated at getting emails from Holbrooke.
"I was appalled that they said those things, but I don't take it personally. These things happen," Holbrooke said.
So who's to blame for the perception that Obama's Afghanistan team is in disarray, according to Holbrooke? The media.
"The press then created a narrative out of an isolated incident," he said, referring to the McChrystal story. "Honestly, it just isn't true."
The press is also apparently to blame for the confusion over President Obama's July 2011 timeline for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
"Well, I have got be honest with you. If there's a misunderstanding, it may be because the issue has not been correctly represented in the media," Holbrooke said. He declined to blame the confusion on leading senators like Graham and John McCain, R-AZ, who have repeatedly said they are still confused as to what exactly what will happen next summer.
Holbrooke finished off the interview by arguing that the Obama administration's relationship with the Afghan government shouldn't be judged on the ups and downs between the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"So, this is a very tough situation in Afghanistan. No one denies that. But the important thing to underscore is that it's not a government of one person," he said.
When Vice President Joseph Biden sat down with Gen. David Petraeus in the outgoing CENTCOM commander's Tampa home for dinner Tuesday evening, it was actually the second private encounter between the two men in as many weeks.
Only seven days prior, Biden and Petraeus had what's called a "pull-aside" meeting at the White House. This meeting was held immediately following the senior Afghanistan strategy session in the Situation Room, where the president decided to ask Petraeus to move to Kabul and run the war in Afghanistan following the sacking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Despite reports that Biden and Petraeus are on opposite sides of the debate over how to prosecute the war, Biden was actually a leading proponent of choosing Petraeus to replace McChrystal, an administration official said. Meeting with Obama in the Oval Office just before the strategy meeting where the decision to fire McChrystal was discussed, Biden gave Obama his strong recommendation to select Petraeus.
After the general accepted the offer, Biden told Petraeus in their pull-aside meeting that he had strongly supported the idea of giving him the command. The two men agreed to meet one more time before Petraeus left for Kabul. Biden happened to be traveling to Pensacola, Florida yesterday to visit areas affected by the Gulf oil spill, so they agreed to meet at Petraeus's Tampa house.
Both at their meeting last week and at Tuesday's dinner, they discussed their mutual support of the president's policy, the official said, trying to put to rest what the administration feels is an overblown discussion of an incident described in a recent book by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter, when Biden reportedly said, "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."
"There is not a Biden versus Petraeus dynamic here," the official said. "Both the vice president and the general signed onto the president's policy and both are committed to it." That policy, the official pointed out, included both the surge of 30,000 troops and the July 2011 drawdown date, when the administration says a yet-to-be-determined number of troops will begin to depart.
Inside the policy process last fall, Biden advocated for a more counterterrorism-heavy strategy, rather than a troop-intensive counterinsurgency strategy, out of his genuine skepticism that the Afghan government would rise to the occasion.
And the quote, while accurate, doesn't attempt to define what Biden meant by "a whole lot." The surge was always meant to be a temporary measure, so when some of those 30,000 additional troops come home, that could be considered to be a "lot," the official argued
Nevertheless, Republican senators are seizing upon the Biden quote to allege that the two men are either fighting against each other inside the Obama administration, or just not on the same page regarding the president's Afghanistan policy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, pressed Petraeus on the quote during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning, asking him if Biden was "right."
Petraeus referred to their previous meeting at the White House, saying, "The vice president grabbed me and said, ‘You should know I am 100 percent supportive of this policy.'"
The dinner itself was more of a social affair than a business event, with many other people attending, including Mrs. Holly Petraeus, Lt. Gen. John Allen, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill and his wife, and Biden's national security advisor, Tony Blinken.
Allen was named Wednesday as the new acting head of CENTCOM, succeeding Petraeus. Petraeus was confirmed for his new post Wednesday by a Senate vote of 99-0.
Official White House Photo by David Lienemann
So, after President Obama's new Afghanistan commander, Gen. David Petraeus, spent hours explaining the nuance of U.S. policy on Afghanistan to Congress, has the confusion about the July 2011 timeline been resolved? Not so much.
Petraeus was extremely clear in describing Obama's strategy to set July 2011 as the date that the U.S. will begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, with the pace of that withdrawal dependent on the conditions on the ground. How many troops would leave and how fast is simply not determined yet, but "July 2011 is not a date when we will be rapidly withdrawing our forces and switching off the lights and closing the door behind us," he wrote in his written answer to questions from the committee.
After emerging from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Petraeus's nomination for his new post, chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, argued that the issue is settled and even those who don't agree with the policy shouldn't be able to continue to claim it's unclear.
"Republicans may disagree with the policy but they can't say now they are confused by it," Levin said. "Many people want to misrepresent the policy and then complain about it. Republicans can say they don't like it, but that's a different argument."
Levin also rejected the contention that the Afghan and Pakistani governments aren't clear about what the July 2011 timeline means." I think they understand very clearly the date is a beginning point," he said.
Critics of Obama's timeline, including Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, say it is a gift to the Taliban, citing numerous reports that the militants have been using the July 2011 date to convince wayward Afghans that the Americans are leaving -- so you'd better side with the eventual winners now.
But Levin disagreed with that critique, saying the date -- now just a year away -- is needed to instill a sense of urgency within the Afghan security forces.
What if the Afghans simply can't get ready that fast? "The president can change his mind," Levin said.
Not everyone's persuaded.
"I'm as confused as ever," committee member Lindsey Graham, R-SC, told The Cable after the hearing.
Graham doesn't believe administration officials when they say they have no idea what the pace of withdrawals will ultimately be, or whether the decision to draw down U.S. troops will take conditions on the ground into account, as Petraeus has emphasized in his public comments.
"General Petraeus is trying to be a loyal soldier, but I'm not buying that it is conditions based," Graham said.
"If the policy is that the withdrawal will definitely begin in July 2011 and the only open question is the pace, that's a damning policy," Graham added. "We need to resolve this. The enemy is being empowered by the confusion here at home."
Graham pointed to Vice President Joseph Biden's quote in a recent book by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter, when he said, "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."
Levin countered that no matter what the quote is, Biden is not the one making the decision.
"He had his input and that input was focused on training Afghan forces and not on increasing U.S. troops," Levin said. "He had his say and now the policy has been decided and he supports the policy."
This will probably come up when Petraeus hosts Biden for dinner tonight.
When General David Petraeus testifies today on Capitol Hill, his main job will be to carefully define the timeline for the beginning of America's exit from Afghanistan, a timeline that has stakeholders in Washington and throughout the region confused and concerned.
"As the President has stated, July 2011 is the point at which we will begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government will take more and more responsibility for its own security," Petraeus wrote in his advanced questions submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee and obtained by The Cable. "As the President has also indicated, July 2011 is not a date when we will be rapidly withdrawing our forces and -switching off the lights and closing the door behind us."
His job will also be to defend President Obama's decision to set a public date for the beginning of the withdrawal in the first place, by arguing that having a time line in the public discussion helps pressure the Afghans to move faster toward being able to govern and secure their country on their own.
"I believe there was value in sending a message of urgency -- July 2011... But it is important that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, in which the reduction of US forces must be based on the conditions at the time, and not a date when the U.S. heads for the exits," he wrote to the committee. He stressed that multiple times that the pace of the drawdown would be "conditions based."
But even in his own writing to the committee, Petraeus acknowledged that the enemy, the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, are waiting out the coalition and biding their time until foreign forces decide to leave.
"Insurgent leaders view their tactical and operational losses in 2010 as inevitable and acceptable. The Taliban believe they can outlast the Coalition's will to fight and believe this strategy will be effective despite short-term losses. The Taliban also believe they can sustain momentum and maintain operational capacity," he wrote.
One of the main enablers of any U.S. exit is the development of the Afghan National Security Forces, which has not gone at the pace the coalition had hoped. Petraeus wrote that he would review the situation of the ANSF within four months of assuming command, if confirmed.
As of the latest review, only 5 out of 19 Afghan National Army brigades can function without a majority of their functions supported by the U.S., according to Petraeus, and only 2 out of 7 major headquarters can function properly without significant coalition support. As of June 27, there are 7,261 ANA troops in the city of Kandahar and 6,794 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province, Petraeus wrote.
He also said that a comprehensive plan to reintegrate some Taliban fighters is under final review with President Hamid Karzai and "offers the potential to reduce violence and provide realistic avenues to assimilate Pashtun insurgents back into Afghanistan society."
Petraeus promised to take a look at the rules of engagement that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan feel are tying their hands in the fight, but he didn't say whether he was leaning toward changing them or not.
Meanwhile, confusion over the president's timeline persists both in Washington and abroad as interested parties try to interpret the July 2011 date in a way that serves their own political interests.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said Monday that there would be "a serious drawdown" next summer, seemingly getting ahead of the administration in an effort to appease the liberal wing of her caucus, which is threatening to not support more funding for the war.
Two of the committee members Petraeus will face today, Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, held a press conference Thursday to announce their opposition to setting any public date, no matter what the caveats.
Foreign leaders are especially confused, particularly the Afghan and Pakistani governments, who see a difference between public promises of drawdowns and private assurances from the administration that the July 2011 date would not precipitate large scale troop reductions.
One high level diplomatic source said that Pakistani and Afghan leaders believe that they were told by National Security Advisor Jim Jones that there was not going to be a big withdrawal and the there would be "no reduction in commitment" in July 2011.
But regardless of whether the administration sent mixed messages, the nuance of their time line policy has been misunderstood or ignored in the region, as various actors start to plan strategies with the expectation that U.S. troops are leaving.
"In retrospect, despite all the caveats, it was a mistake to put such a date certain for the beginning of withdrawal," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "The word beginning was lost and it strengthens the ability of different interests to hedge, which is exactly what they've been doing."
As the debate over the road ahead in Afghanistan heats up in Congress, Democrats are using the power of the purse to seek broad changes in the administration's policy and express their unhappiness with the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.
In the latest move, a leading House appropriator promised Monday to remove all the Afghanistan foreign operations and aid money from next year's funding unless she can be assured none of the funds are being wasted due to corruption in the Afghanistan government.
"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords, and terrorists," foreign ops subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-NY, said. "Furthermore, the government of Afghanistan must demonstrate that corruption is being aggressively investigated and prosecuted."
Her subcommittee will mark up the fiscal 2011 state and foreign ops appropriations bill Wednesday. When they do, billions of dollars the president requested for all sorts of non-military work in Afghanistan will not be in the bill.
A spokesperson for Lowey said she was responding, in part, to two articles published Monday that described some of the abuses of U.S. taxpayer funds going to Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than $3 billion of cash has been flown out of the Kabul airport over the last three years, packed in suitcases, and a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation is underway. The Washington Post reported Monday that Karzai is protecting high-level political officials from scrutiny related to the missing funds.
Lowey's spokesman told The Cable that the largest pots of money to be affected are about $3.3 billion in economic support funds and about $450 million requested for anti-narcotics and law enforcement aid to Afghanistan. Other accounts to be excluded include global health money, anti-terrorism funds, and military training funds for Afghanistan army officers. Humanitarian aid would not be affected.
Lowey also tied the issue to the still struggling U.S. economy, a theme that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, focused on in a separate speech today. Democrats in Congress are preparing to go home to their districts after this week for a July 4 recess that will kick off the congressional campaign season. Accordingly, they are amplifying their rhetoric about deficit spending and expressing their unhappiness with the progress of the war in Afghanistan.
"Too many Americans are suffering in this economy for us to put their hard-earned tax dollars into the hands of criminals overseas," Lowey said.
unclear exactly how Lowey's bill will be treated after it passes out of her
committee. There is not much chance the Congress will pass a full slate of
funding bills this year at all. Hill sources said that the current thinking is
to pass one bill that will keep the government running until after the
elections, called a continuing resolution. In past years, those catch-all
spending bills often have had big changes from what the committees put forth,
so the money could be added back later on.
It's also unclear exactly how the Afghan government, much less the Obama administration, could actually assure Lowey that the billions of dollars being sent to Afghanistan are not being siphoned off by corrupt officials for illicit purposes.
The office of Kay Granger, R-TX, the ranking Republican on Lowey's committee, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UPDATE: Granger issued this statement late Monday afternoon:
"I share similar concerns with Chairwoman Nita Lowey about today's press reports alleging the shipment of billions of dollars in donor funds out of Afghanistan. However, I cannot support cancelling all FY2011 Afghanistan funding for the State Department and USAID until all the facts are clear and we know the impact this could have on our troops on the ground. When General Petraeus helped craft the current Afghan strategy last year it was not exclusively a military strategy - the State Department and USAID were intended to be key partners in the overall effort."
Rising U.S. debt is a huge national security problem that must be tackled now, the leader of the House said Monday.
"It's time to stop talking about fiscal discipline and national security threats as if they're separate topics: debt is a national security threat, one of the greatest we know of," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Unsustainable debt has a long history of toppling world powers."
Hoyer didn't call outright for cutting defense spending, but he did say that the United States needs to shift away from a focus on military power, increased focus on development, and examine on the root causes of anti-Americanism, while still prosecuting the war against violent extremists.
"America's military is a powerful weapon, but it is not the only one we have," he said. "We cannot afford to turn our backs on any weapon in our arsenal."
In one sense, Hoyer is echoing the Obama administration's policy as set forth in the recent National Security Strategy, which went farther than ever before in arguing that a strong economic base is the foundation of U.S. national power.
"First and foremost, we must renew the foundation of America's strength. In the long run, the welfare of the American people will determine America's strength in the world, particularly at a time when our own economy is inextricably linked to the global economy," the document reads. "Our prosperity serves as a wellspring for our power."
At last weekend's G-20 summit, the world's top economies pledged to half deficits by 2013. The Obama administration reportedly resisted such austerity measures inside the negotiations, and the prospects of the United States reaching that goal are slim. The White House would prefer to delay tackling the budget until the global economic recovery is on more solid footing.
Hoyer is calling for president's debt commission to tackle the problem now and for a budget agreed to be signed immediately, even if actual measures won't be implemented until the economy is stronger.
"An agreement like that, to be implemented after the economy has fully recovered, is a necessity today," he said.
The White House and the Democrats in Congress, the House especially, haven't seen eye to eye on several economic policy issues lately. Only last week, Hoyer announced the Congress won't even pass a budget resolution this year, instead passing a "budget enforcement plan" that would allow the administration to spend $7 billion less than what it requested last year but would also allow Congress to avoid preparing a long-term budget plan before the November elections.
"It isn't possible to debate and pass a realistic, long-term budget until we've considered the bipartisan commission's deficit-reduction plan, which is expected in December," Hoyer said.
Congress has yet to pass fiscal 2010 war funding, despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates's warning that the military would have to start doing "stupid things" to make ends meet if the money isn't delivered soon.
The new and temporary head of the NATO ISAF mission in Kabul has a clear message in the wake of the firing of Gen. Stanley McChyrstal: Don't worry, everything about the mission will stay exactly the same.
That message, which British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker communicated through an interview with NATO television today, is meant to reassure local and international stakeholders that there won't be disruptions in the complex ongoing operations by NATO forces. He also expressed sadness about the sudden ouster of General McChrystal, but echoed President's Obama's call to focus not on the drama, but on the job at hand.
"Nobody expected this to happen. We wouldn't have planned it or chosen it, but it makes no difference," Parker said. "What we're doing continues yesterday, today, tomorrow - there isn't any change, so I think we want to be very careful about not making too much of something which is very sad, we all regret it, but nothing here has changed at all - we continue with our mission."
"But this is more than a man, this is about the mission and we all know that and there's a group of people in Afghanistan who are completely committed to the NATO mission and we will not miss a beat and I can absolutely assure you that nothing will change."
Amb. Mark Sedwell, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, echoed Parker's contention that there will be no change in the strategy to following the change in leadership.
"That strategy remains the basis of the campaign and the campaign remains on course," he said.
President Obama's decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan with Gen. David Petraeus will do little to reassert civilian control over the U.S. mission there, according to the former No. 2 U.N. official in Afghanistan.
Announcing the move today in front of the White House, Obama said that U.S. democracy "depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command."
But Amb. Peter Galbraith, who was fired from his role as deputy of the U.N. mission in Kabul last year after privately raising concerns about the widespread fraud perpetrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the presidential election, told The Cable in an exclusive interview that Obama's decision to change commanders in Afghanistan ignores the need to have the diplomats, not the generals, in the lead.
"The president needs to make clear that it is the ambassador that speaks for the U.S. and the commanding general is not the one who is making U.S. policy," Galbraith said.
Galbraith argues that in the aftermath of the dispute between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Karzai following last year's presidential election and the revelation that Amb. Karl Eikenberry did not see Karzai as a credible partner, Obama allowed McChrystal to become the primary connection to the Afghan leader. Meanwhile, the top two civilian officials were marginalized.
"Unfortunately, as part of his love offensive, Obama made a mistake in letting Karzai choose his interlocutor," Galbraith said.
Holbrooke was delivering a "tough love" message before he was pushed to the side. Now Karzai, who "heads a mafia state," according to Galbraith, has no incentive to make the reforms that would allow his government to achieve the credibility it needs.
"Eikenberry was right," Galbraith said, referring to the ambassador's leaked memos, which were published by the New York Times in January "He said the strategy wouldn't work because we don't have a credible partner and the strategy is not working."
As for McChrystal, Galbraith gave him credit for changing the tactics of the military operations in Afghanistan, but gave him low marks for the diplomatic role he was playing with Karzai and his government.
"He understood that you can't win the war by just killing lots of Taliban, but there's no evidence that he understood the key flaw with his strategy, which is that you need a credible partner, which we don't have," he said.
The president was totally justified in sacking McChrystal, Galbraith said. But if there's no credible partner in Afghanistan, there's only one policy option left to him.
"Withdraw most of the troops," he said. "There's no point having thousands of troops there pursuing an objective that can't be achieved."
President Obama announced that he has accepted the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, who until the release of this Rolling Stone profile was the commander of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan.
Here is the full text of his remarks:
Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I do so with considerable regret, but also with certainty it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country. I'm also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership we need to succeed."
I don't make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement on our strategy. Nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult. Stan McChrystal has always shown great courtesy and carried out my orders faithfully. I've got great admiration for him and for his long record of service in uniform. Over the last nine years, with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of America's finest soldiers. That reputation is founded upon his extraordinary education, his deep intelligence, and his love of country.
I've relied on his service, particularly in helping to design and lead our strategy in Afghanistan. So, all Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform. But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president. As difficult as it is to relieve General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that is necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
My multiple responsibilities as commander in chief led me to this decision. First, I have a responsibility to the extraordinary men and women who are fighting this war and to the democratic institutions that I have been elected to lead. I've got no greater honor than serving as commander in chief of our men and women in uniform and it is my duty to see that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out. That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them. That allows us to come together as one. That's part of the reason that America has the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
It is also true that our democracy depends on institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command and strict civilian control over that chain of command. That's why as commander in chief I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy.
Second, I have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. I believe that this mission demands unity of effort, across our alliance and across our national security team. And I don't think we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change. That, too, has guided my decision. I just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team but I won't tolerate division. All of have personal interests, all of us have opinions, our politics often fuels conflict, but we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities to one another and to our troops who are in harm's way, and to our country.
We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan society from within and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world. So make no mistake, we have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same. That's the strategy we agreed to last fall. That's the policy we are carrying out in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that effort, we are honored to be joined by allies and partners that have stood by us and paid the ultimate price of the loss of their young people at war. They are with us because of the interests and values we share and because this mission is fundamental to the ability of free people to live in peace and security in the 21st century.
General Petraeus and I were able to spend some time this morning discussing the way forward. I'm extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to serve in this new capacity. It should be clear to everybody that he does so at great personal sacrifice to himself and to his family. And he is setting an extraordinary example of service and patriotism by assuming this difficult post. I say to the American people, this is a change in personnel but not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place. In his current post at Central Command, he has worked closely with our forces in Afghanistan, he has worked closely with Congress, and he has worked closely with both the Afghan and Pakistan governments, and with all our partners in the region. He has my full confidence and I am urging the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible.
Let me conclude by saying that it was a difficult decision to come to the conclusion that I've made today. Indeed it saddens me to lose the service of a soldier who I've come to respect and admire. But the reasons that led me to this decision are the same principles that have supported the strength of our military and our nation since the founding. So once again, I think General McChrystal for his contributions to the security of this nation and the success of this mission in Afghanistan. I look forward to working with General Petraeus and my entire national security team to succeed in our mission. And I reaffirm that America stands as one in our support for our men and women who defend it.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.