AT WAR: Colbert Mocks Media Over Afghanistan Coverage (VIDEO)
We are blogging the latest news about America's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Email us at AfPak [at] huffingtonpost.com. Follow Nico on Twitter; follow Nicholas on Twitter. See archives of 'At War' here.
Colbert takes on media over Afghanistan. On last night's 'Colbert Report,' host Stephen Colbert chastised the media for ignoring the war in Afghanistan, satirically pointing out that the media was more concerned about Eric Massa's sex life than the lives of Americans and Afghans currently embroiled in the conflict. Colbert's denunciation of the mainstream media follows Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy's impassioned speech criticizing the lack of coverage of the war in Afghanistan.
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5:30 PM ET -- Aftermath of Operation Moshtarak. France24 examines the aftermath of Operation Moshtarak, NATO's latest military offensive in Marjah, Afghanistan. It is impossible to know how many civilians have been killed or injured, reporters Claire Billet and Patrick Lovett note. NATO and Afghan officials described the operation as a success. However, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations worry that the landmines planted during Operation Moshtarak may make a return to normal life difficult for Afghans in the area.
5:15 PM ET -- Holbrooke angers Afghan parliamentarians. Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan, has angered Afghan parliamentarians for some recent remarks he made at a forum at Harvard. He reportedly told the audience that "[t]he Taliban is woven into the fabric of Pashtun society on both sides of the border with Pakistan and almost every Pashtun family has someone involved with the movement." Hazrat Sebghatullah Mojaddadi, head of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament "[denounced] the recent statement of Richart Holbrook, [sic]...that there is a Talib in each Pashtun family. This kind of statement is considered to be unrealistic and baseless, and it is a major obstacle for strengthening peace and reconciliation in the country." The parliamentarian challenged Holbrooke's oft-repeated refrain that the Taliban is woven deeply into Afghan society, a claim that Afghanistan analyst Joshua Foust also refutes.
5:00 PM ET -- Pakistan will not send troops to fight Taliban in northern tribal areas. Speaking to the Financial Times, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani said that his country will not launch new military operations against the Taliban in its tribal areas because it "needed to focus on holding territory captured [in the Swat valley and South Waziristan]." He noted that since development aid had not yet reached the area, it would be premature to exit without removing the threat of a Taliban resurgence. Gilani also told the reporters that "militants were now moving into some of Pakistan's most densely populated areas, such as Punjab province" as a result of the military offensive in the tribal areas. U.S. and NATO officials have encouraged Pakistan to continue operations against the Taliban in North Waziristan. Over the past few months, Pakistan's army has largely focused on the southern areas of the tribal belt.
4:45 PM ET -- How did Al Qaeda penetrate a CIA base in Afghanistan? In the latest issue of GQ, Robert Baer recounts how and why Humam Khalil Abu-Malal al-Balawi, a double agent for Al Qaeda, easily walked up to CIA agents--all lined up to greet him--and blew himself up. The attack on the CIA's base in Khost, Afghanistan was indicative of a bigger problem in Langley, writes Baer, a former agency operative. Al-Balawi was able to penetrate the base because for years the CIA had been neglecting the role of field operatives and relying more on foreign allies for human intelligence. "Kathy"--a pseudonym for the base's chief--and most of her CIA colleagues were desk-sitting analysts assigned to the field, where they had little experience. Lacking the kind of training that overseas operatives received, the CIA agents who greeted al-Balawi failed to put him through a metal detector and forgot to conduct even a simple body search.
As the wars dragged on, the CIA's problems cascaded, leaving an agency with almost no officers with real field experience. Personnel were shifted in and out of assignments for three-month stints, too brief a period to really know a place or do any meaningful work. Over time, these patterns completely undid the old standard that you needed experience to lead. After a year's tour in a post like Baghdad, an officer could pretty much count on landing a managerial position. Never mind that he'd spent his time locked down in the Green Zone, never getting out or meeting an informant.
4:00 PM ET -- Peace talks with Taliban could mean reversals to women's rights. The Washington Post's Karin Brulliard reports that many Afghan women fear that Kabul's plan to bring the Taliban back into Afghan national politics would be a blow to women's rights. Activists, hoping to secure a voice in the upcoming peace talks involving the Taliban, have been met with silence from the Karzai administration. Women worry that if they are not allowed to participate in the talks, the government may reverse the advances to women's rights made since the fall of the repressive Taliban regime. Today, for example, Afghan women "make up one-quarter of parliament, fill one-third of the nation's classrooms and even compete on Afghan Idol." A government women's affairs official, however, told Brulliard that the Taliban will change once they receive positions in government, claiming that insurgents harm women only because they hope to antagonize the government in Kabul.
3:30 PM ET -- Former Pakistani president opposes US withdrawal. The Associated Press says that former Pakistani President and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf told an audience in Portland, Oregon that he opposes the U.S. plan to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan starting July 2011. He insisted that President Obama keep U.S. troops in the country until the Taliban is roundly defeated. While he was in power, however, Musharraf was frequently criticized for his limited efforts to curb the Taliban's activities in his own country.
3:10 PM ET -- Planned attacks foiled. "Two suicide jackets, 16 hand grenades, hundreds of bullets and more than 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms) of explosives" were found in an empty shop in Lahore yesterday, according to The Associated Press. The city has suffered a string of suicide attacks recently, and police believe that the attacks originated from this particular shop. The Daily Times reported the same day that a truck laden with explosives was seized by Pakistani police as it made its way from Peshawar towards the capital city, Islamabad. The discovery of explosives and suicide vests--and the continued attacks on civilian and military installations--are a reminder that militants are actively operating in northern Pakistan
2:00 PM ET -- US troops to come under NATO command. Virtually all U.S. forces will come under the command of NATO in Afghanistan, reports The Associated Press. The move, announced by Vice Adm. Greg Smith, seeks to bring unity of command to all foreign troops in the country. As a result, 20,000 U.S. troops currently serving under American command (assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom) will now join the 90,000-strong international NATO force.
1:50 PM ET -- Roadside attacks on the rise in Afghanistan. AOL News reports that while the number of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have gone down in Iraq, the opposite is happening in Afghanistan, where the volume of roadside IED attacks has doubled in the last year. The U.S military's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has spent billions on technology to help detect and disarm IED bombs, but the situation in Afghanistan remains daunting. Unpaved roads and the widespread dispersion of the Taliban make it far more difficult to combat roadside bombs in Afghanistan.
1:30 PM ET -- Afghanistan to send 1,000 policemen to Kandahar. Afghanistan's government will send more than 1,000 policemen to Kandahar province to boost security in the area after a wave of Taliban attacks over the weekend, according to The Associated Press. NATO and Afghan troops are expected to undertake a major offensive in Kandahar in the coming months, and it is believed that the recent Taliban attacks are aimed at challenging the writ of the government ahead of the planned offensive.
From the AP:
Some of the 1,100 new Afghan police in Kandahar will come from the capital, Kabul, and some will be recruited and trained locally, [Kandahar's governor] said. It will take a few months to put the new forces in place...
Kandahar city's police now number more than 2,000, and U.S. and Canadian trainers have been working to build up a professional force. The police are traditionally one of Afghanistan's least-trusted institutions.
Building up Afghan security forces is a key goal of the international coalition in the war, now in its eighth year. [U.S. President] Obama hopes to begin withdrawing troops by 2011 and start turning over security to local institutions strong enough to prevent the Taliban's return to power.
11:50 AM -- Petraeus warns of tough year ahead The Associated Press reports that General Petraeus warns of a tough year ahead in Afghanistan. Petraeus heads the the U.S. Central Command and is charged with overseeing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, the general said that while the U.S. and its NATO allies could reverse the Taliban's gains, they will face "tough fighting and periodic setbacks" in the coming year.
11:00 AM ET -- U.N. report says covert U.S. and Afghan troops killed family A U.N. report criticizing the conduct of U.S. and Afghan covert forces was obtained by The London Times. The report specifically discussed a night raid in Paktia province which killed a policeman and his family. Initially, NATO had said the victims had died hours before NATO's forces had arrived, but further investigation by The London Times and the U.N. revealed that the civilians were "assaulted by US and Afghan forces, restrained and forced to stand barefeet for several hours outside in the cold." The U.S. and Afghan forces later refused to provide medical attention to the family and its guests, resulting in their deaths.
10:55 AM ET -- Mullah Omar may be in Karachi, PakistanThe BBC's Shahzeb Jillani speaks to residents in Karachi about the possibility that the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, is hiding in the Pakistani metropolis. U.S. and British intelligence services have hinted in the past that they believe that Mullah Omar may be living in the city of 14 million. The Taliban's number two--Mullah Baradar--was caught in Karachi last month.
10:30 AM ET -- McChrystal takes control of special ops According to The New York Times, after a series of civilian casualties involving U.S. Special Forces, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal is reining in Special Ops troops due to concerns about repeats of incidents such as the attack on a civilian convoy on Feb. 21 in Oruzgan province which killed 27 civilians. Reducing civilian casualties is a key part of McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy, which aims to improve Afghans' perceptions of the U.S. Last year, the U.S. military cut civilian deaths by 28 percent. However, a small group of Special Forces remain exempt from the regulations, including the Army's Delta Force and the Navy's Seals.