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AT WAR: White House Plays Down Karzai Feud

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White House plays down Karzai rift. The White House tried to play down the public rift growing between the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday, as the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, came to Karzai's defense. Crowley affirmed that Karzai "is a figure that we respect and that we are working closely with to see the emergence of an effective government at the national level." He further challenged recent remarks by former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, which alleged that Karzai was abusing drugs and not mentally fit to govern. "We have no information to support the charges that Peter Galbraith has leveled," said Crowley.

Karzai's anti-Western statements and threats to join the Taliban have drawn the consternation of many in the international community, especially in the U.S. and Europe. The Obama administration now hopes to move forward and to continue its relationship with Hamid Karzai, given that it has few credible partners in Afghanistan.

From The New York Times:

[Crowley's] comments were intended to defuse an atmosphere that American officials said was becoming increasingly toxic and could endanger America's military mission in Afghanistan. They also served to highlight that for this administration, there are no obvious alternatives to Mr. Karzai in a country where the United States will soon have close to 100,000 troops.

"It's important to try to tamp this down and get back to business," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "If he's throwing charges at us and we're tossing them back at him, it undercuts our partnership.

Beating them with Metallica. In Marjah, U.S. Special Forces are blaring the likes of Metallica, The Offspring, and Thin Lizzy to scare off the Taliban, reports The Daily Telegraph. The heavy metal is played at a deafening noise level as part of "psychological operations" designed to intimidate the Taliban.

From the Telegraph:

"Taliban hate that music," said the sergeant involved in covert psychological operations, or "psy ops", in the area in Helmand province.

"Some locals complain but it's a way to push them to choose. It's motivating Marines as well," he added after one deafening round of several hours including tracks from The Offspring, Metallica and Thin Lizzy

But even as Metallica's jams are heard in the villages and fields of Helmand province, the insurgency rages. Residents complain that the Taliban enter their homes at night and harm residents, accusing them of cooperating with U.S. troops. In a recent 24-hour period, nine bombs exploded near U.S. forces.

5:15 PM ET -- The privatization of the war in Afghanistan. Canwest News Service reports that "the number of private security personnel in Afghanistan is soaring." The private security guards protect embassies, coalition bases, and even train the Afghan National Police. The privatization of the war in Afghanistan is demonstrated by the numbers: "In January, a U.S. Congressional study noted the number of armed security contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan jumped from a little more than 3,180 to just over 10,700 in the period from December 2008 to September 2009."

Today, there are around 25,000 registered security contractors, most of whom are Afghans. With significant numbers of civilians expected to land in Afghanistan to help with reconstruction efforts, the demand for private security forces will rise as well. There are, however, many drawbacks to the use of such contractors, including a higher likelihood of civilian deaths.

In February, U.S. military commanders warned that trigger-happy Afghan contractors guarding coalition convoys were indiscriminately shooting and killing civilians in western Kandahar province. Such abuses hurt U.S. efforts to win over the local population since the contractors were being viewed by Afghans as being part of coalition forces, officers said.

5:00 PM ET -- Curing the Afghan ailment. Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV and Capt. Mark R. Hagerott argue in Foreign Policy that the best way to understand Afghanistan is through a medical analogy. If Afghanistan is the ailing patient, then to cure it coalition forces must cure "the body, mind, and spirit of the nation." The body is the infrastructure and physical security; the mind is the country's governmental and educational institutions; and the spirit is its civic leadership.

Caldwell and Hagerott:

Although we [NATO] have made massive investments in the surge and are moving aggressively to restore Afghan immunity, efforts to restore general health are lagging. The rebuilding of critical infrastructure, the restoration of good governance, and expanded education will be essential to restoring the body and mind.

Restoring the spirit of Afghanistan is perhaps the most difficult and complex. The challenges are twofold: the restoration of Afghanistan's tradition of tolerant Islam and the restoration of a sense of service to nation and tribe that predated the rise of warlordism and its associated corruption.

4:30 PM ET -- Five suicide bombers arrested outside of Kabul. According to The Associated Press, Afghan officials thwarted a suicide attack on Kabul today, arresting five suicide bombers as they tried to enter the capital.

Heavily armed police stopped the would-be bombers about 7 a.m. at a checkpoint in the southeastern edge of the city as they traveled in an SUV with explosive vests hidden beneath the engine block, according to Abdul Ghafar, deputy commander of the Afghan National Police crisis unit.

The bombers are believed to be have been sent from Pakistan by the Haqqani network, an insurgent faction based in Pakistan's tribal areas. They were reportedly targeting Kabul's diplomatic enclave. The Haqqani network has orchestrated various other attacks in Afghanistan in the past.

The Haqqani group has been blamed for other attacks in Kabul, including the Oct. 28 assault on a guesthouse used by U.N. workers. Eleven people were killed, including five U.N. staff and the three attackers. It may have played a role in the Dec. 30 suicide attack that killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer at a tightly secured CIA base in Khost province.

3:00 PM ET -- NATO presents two sheep to apologize for Paktia raid. ABC News reports that Vice Admiral William McRaven apologized to a father who lost two sons, two daughters-in-law, and one grandchild in a NATO raid in Paktia, Afghanistan in February. At first, NATO alleged that the Taliban had killed the family, but after journalistic accounts challenged NATO's version of events, the high-ranking soldier offered two sheep to the father, symbolizing a begging for forgiveness under the Pushtunwali code. The father was in turn obligated to accept the sheep, and cannot now take revenge on NATO troops. The family was satisfied with the Vice Admiral's apology, but asked that NATO handover whoever provided the faulty intelligence that led to the deaths of their family members.

From ABC News:

"We were very happy he came to our house," said Mohammad Tahir, the brother of the two men and father of the 18-year-old woman who was killed, referring to McRaven. "We told him, 'Thank you very much. We will not keep anything in our heart against you.'"

The family only asked McRaven to hand over whoever gave him the intelligence that led the joint American and Afghan force to their home on the night of Feb. 12

2:30 PM ET -- Miliband says peace in Afghanistan achievable in two years. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has a lengthy piece in The New York Review of Books, entitled "How to End the War in Afghanistan," which claims that if the international community follows the strategy he outlines, peace and stability in Afghanistan can be achieved in two years.

Miliband argues that a political solution is the key to the Afghan problem, and proposes a two-pronged strategy: one, an internal political solution "in which enough Afghan citizens have a stake, and the central government has enough power and legitimacy to protect the country from threats"; and secondly, an external political solution that allows Afghans to maintain territorial sovereignty.

Miliband goes on to list the accomplishments of the international community in Afghanistan, noting the boost in Afghan troop numbers, increased school enrollment, and better local governance. But he recognizes that more work lies ahead.

In terms of an internal political settlement, he supports the reintegration of the Taliban, saying that "dialogue is not appeasement; nor is allowing political space for discussion with opposing forces and politicians." Battling corruption, devolving powers, and a new legislative process--strengthening the parliament--are mainstays of his position.

On the international level, Miliband believes that Afghanistan must remain independent, and that "[e]very country needs to accept that, just as there will be no settlement in Afghanistan without Pakistan's involvement, so there will be no settlement in Afghanistan unless India, Russia, Turkey, and China are also involved in the search for solutions." A truly regional approach to Afghanistan's foreign policy--one balancing the various competing countries in the region against others--is needed.

From The New York Review of Books:

If we successfully implement the strategy I have outlined, a better future for Afghanistan is not a utopian goal. Within two to five years it is realistic to aspire to see the country still on an upward trajectory, still poor but stable, with a just peace, with democracy and inclusive politics taking hold at all levels, and with incomes growing.

2:10 PM ET -- More Treasury staff to be sent to Afghanistan to target the Taliban's finances. According to The Associated Press, more Treasury Department officials are being sent to Afghanistan to help investigate and target the Taliban's financial networks. The Taliban insurgency is well funded, receiving money from donors in the oil-rich Gulf and from its involvement in the drug trade. The group has sufficient enough resources to recruit and train new members, and to continue its resistance to NATO troops. The U.N. estimates that over $300 million from the drug trade flows to the Taliban annually. So far, there are about a dozen Treasury staffers in Afghanistan working to track and penetrate money laundering operations.

Treasury staff work alongside military, intelligence and drug enforcement authorities in Afghanistan to choke off the insurgents' funding networks, including money laundering operations used by drug dealers, offshore banking and cell phone transfers and more informal operations such as the hard-to-penetrate hawala money-brokering system that flourishes in the Islamic world.

12:20 PM ET -- Galbraith pens op-ed calling for withdrawal. Former U.N. envoy in Afghanistan Peter Galbraith, who made headlines earlier this week by implying that Karzai had a serious drug problem, has written a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post urging the Obama administration to stop supporting Karzai and calling for a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country "because Karzai's government is incapable of becoming a credible local partner." Galbraith notes that under Karzai, Afghanistan has fallen to become the 179th most corrupt country in the world, just above Somalia, which has no government. He argues that Afghans don't believe that Karzai is a credible leader--and neither should the U.S. The Obama administration and Congress should make any financial aid to Afghanistan contingent upon Karzai establishing a truly independent elections watchdog, says Galbraith. And the U.S. must stop recognizing Karzai a legitimately elected democratic leader. In other words, the U.S. should side with democracy rather than with Karzai in Afghanistan.

Since counterinsurgency depends on a viable local partner, the U.S. cannot win in Afghanistan, he argues.

From The Washington Post:

U.S. troops can clear Taliban forces from an area. But if the Taliban is to be kept away, U.S. efforts must be followed by Afghan soldiers who can provide security and Afghan police who can provide law and order. Most important, an Afghan government must provide honest administration and win the loyalty of the population. Karzai's corrupt, ineffective and illegitimate government cannot win the loyalty of the population. U.S. troops do not have the credible Afghan partner that is essential for the success of Obama's counterinsurgency strategy. And because U.S. troops cannot accomplish their mission in Afghanistan, it is a waste of military resources to have them there.