The Cable

Graham back on board with Afghanistan mission

What a difference a few days make. After warning earlier this week that he was about to "pull the plug" on his support for the Afghanistan war, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is back on board with the mission following a new agreement on detainees.

Officials in Kabul announced Friday that the United States had agreed to gradually hand over control of most Afghan detainees in its custody over the next six months, representing a compromise between the Afghan demand that they be handed over now and the American refusal to hand them over at all. The issue became especially sensitive after the U.S. military admitted burning dozens of Qurans at the Parwan Detention Facility on Bagram Air Force Base late last month.

Graham traveled to Kabul recently and met with President Hamid Karzai to discuss the progress (or lack thereof) in negotiating a U.S.-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement that would provide the legal framework for the 20,000 U.S. troops expected to remain in Afghanistan past 2014, the deadline by which President Barack Obama has said full control of Afghanistan will be handed back to the Afghans.

On March 6, Graham told The Cable that if Karzai didn't budge on his demands for the immediate handover of all prisoners and the immediate cessation of night raids against the Taliban, he would "pull the plug" on his support for the whole war.

"If he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later," Graham said.

On Friday, in response to the announcement of the detainee deal, Graham issued a new statement expressing optimism that the issues between the United States and Karzai's government could be worked out.

"Today's agreement regarding detainees begins to clear the path for a broader strategic partnership agreement between our two nations which will be the biggest accomplishment to secure Afghanistan in over a decade.  The remaining issue left to be dealt with is the issue of night raids with Afghans in the lead, a vitally important military tactic which must be preserved," Graham said. "This has been an emotional and contentious topic for all concerned."

He explained that the agreement creates a "double-key veto system" that would allow either the Americans or the Afghans to object to the release of any detainee believed to be a threat to coalitions forces. Also the Afghans have changed their law to allow for "administrative detention" of suspected insurgents without having to go through the Afghan criminal justice systems.

"The adoption of Protocol II of the Geneva Convention, allowing for nations facing an insurgency to detain individuals as a security threat, rather than a common criminal, is a major breakthrough in the war effort.  It creates a lane of detention under Afghan law specifically designed to deal with the insurgent threat," Graham said. "As previously mentioned, this begins to clear the way for a broader strategic partnership between our two nations."

But if Karzai really wants to complete an agreement with the United States that has Graham's support, he's going to have to tackle the night raids issue sooner or later.

"With a rational agreement allowing for US captures to Afghan control, combined with an agreement that will continue night raids, we could be on the verge of reaching a turning point in the war - a strategic partnership agreement - that will allow us to reduce our military presence post-2014," Graham said. "This is an outcome that we have been fighting for and tremendously enhances our nation's national security."

The Cable

State Department: No reason to think we are calling off the Kony hunt

The State Department weighed in on the Invisible Children campaign to stop Joseph Kony Thursday, explaining that it is aware of no plan to pull U.S. advisors from the hunt, as the viral video suggests.

"In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That's where the American advisors come in," says the narrator of the video "Kony 2012," produced by the grassroots NGO Invisible Children. The clip has been viewed more than 55 million times on YouTube.

"But in order for the American advisors to be there, the American government has to deploy them," the narration continues. "They've done that, but if the government doesn't believe the people care about Kony, the mission will be cancelled. In order for the people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony's name is everywhere."

Freelance Journalist Michael Wilkerson pointed out in a blog post for FP this week that this fear of some imminent withdrawal of the U.S. advisors doesn't seem to be based on any actual statements from the Obama administration.

"So the goal is to make sure that President Obama doesn't withdraw the advisors he deployed until Kony is captured or killed. That seems noble enough, except that there has been no mention by the government of withdrawing those forces -- at least any I can find," Wilkerson wrote.

At Thursday's State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked directly if there was any internal consideration of withdrawing the 100 or so U.S. military advisors that President Barack Obama deployed to Africa to aid the fight against Kony's Lords Resistance Army only 5 months ago.

"I don't have any information to indicate that we are considering that," Nuland said, noting that the Pentagon is in charge of the advisors. "As you know, they've only been in for a couple of months, and we consider them a very important augmentation of our effort to help the East and Central African countries with this problem."

Nuland said the Invisible Children effort was helpful but she noted that the cause the group is supporting has been something the U.S. government has been active on and aware of for years, although she noted that State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was made aware of the video yesterday by his 13-year old daughter.

"Well, certainly we appreciate the efforts of the group Invisible Children to shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA. As you know, there are neighboring states, there are NGO groups who have been working on this problem for decades," she said. As you know, thousands of people around the world, especially the young people, have been mobilized to express concern for the communities in Central Africa that have been placed under siege by the LRA. So the degree to which this YouTube video helps to increase awareness and increase support for the work that governments are doing, including our own government -- that can only help all of us."

As for the campaign's goal that Kony be arrested by the end of 2012, that just might not be possible, the U.S. military is warning. At a congressional hearing late last month, AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham said that there was no way to tell when the LRA might be defeated.

"The Lord's Resistance Army is an organization that creates through violence a tremendous amount of instability in a four-country region of east and central Africa," Ham said. "Initially beginning in Uganda but now extending their efforts into South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they've displaced many thousands of African citizens and brought terror and fear to families across the region."

"To date, what we have found is that presence of the U.S. mostly special forces advisors that are working with the armed forces of those four nations are having a very positive effect," said Ham, but added that the effort is "not yet to the point where we see the end in sight."

In a Feb. 22 briefing with reporters, Navy Rear Adm. Brian Losey, commander of Special Operations Command Africa, said that the LRA is on the run and is down to about 200 core fighters.

"Now they are only a small percentage of their former strength," Losey said.