by Taylor Marsh
Yesterday I had my second interview with Scott Kesterson, the only photojournalist imbedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Podcasts of that interview can be found here, but also check out the December 15th podcasts, which was my first time talking with Scott. Thanks goes to Amy at BlogTalkRadio for setting up the interview with Scott. It was a terrific discussion branching out into the realities of Pakistan, but also the coming spring offensive from the Taliban that is being prepared as you read this post.
One of the stories we discussed was ISAF and the border issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are very real. Musharaff has wanted to mine and fence the border, but NATO, which is taking over most of the efforts, has been strongly against it so Pakistan is rethinking their tactics, though no one is admitting it's doing so under pressure.
After the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion, the Bush administration is preparing a series of new military, economic and political initiatives aimed partly at preempting an expected offensive this spring by Taliban insurgents, according to senior U.S. officials.
Even as it trumpeted a change of course in Iraq this month, the White House has completed a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. It will ask Congress for $7 billion to $8 billion in new funds for security, reconstruction and other projects in Afghanistan as part of the upcoming budget package, officials said. ...
The NATO-led force International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghanistan, and Pakistan have set up a joint intelligence-sharing center at ISAF headquarters in Kabul. NATO officials said they expect the new center to coordinate the fight against insurgents coming from Pakistan into Afghanistan without tackling the highly charged questions of where the border lies or how it should be secured. ...
Brigadier General Richard Nugee, the chief ISAF spokesman, said in Kabul today that this is the first time that the Afghan and Pakistani armies -- together with their NATO allies -- will be sharing tactical intelligence on a continuous basis.
Nugee said the center, to comprise between 15-20 intelligence officers from the two countries and ISAF, has already begun its work. Its formal inauguration ceremony will take place on January 25. ...
One of the things Scott and I talked about is that he believes NATO is not going to be effective. The U.S. forces have earned great respect in Afghanistan because of our reputation of being willing to yield great force. Scott's of the belief that this is necessary in this part of the world, where without that threat of force the people in charge are just not respected. It's a cultural reality that many in the U.S. do not appreciate. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to use that force, which is an important distinction.
On a related issue, though dealing with another brewing conflict, Edwards is getting quite a bit of heat for his rhetoric on Iran lately. He stated recently that the threat of force against Iran can never be off the table. Many bloggers have been highly critical of him for saying so bluntly that the U.S. is willing to strike Iran. Progressives believe Edwards is sending the wrong message, even a message akin to Mr. Bush's, which we all know long ago tilted to overbearing. As for Edwards, it's important to remember that he is not Bush. I also think the notion that we are to be talking softly with Iran at this point is a mistake. Mr. Bush set up this dynamic with Iran. That said, I also believe we should be stressing diplomacy and getting talks started with Iran as the first topic we discuss, which is being left as a secondary notion. This is a mistake. But are people really suggesting that Democrats take force off the table with Iran?
Getting back to Afghanistan, I really hope you will listen to Scott via my podcasts and take the time to listen to the first interview (December 15th) as well. He's not getting near the coverage he deserves for risking his life to bring us the real truth on the ground in Afghanistan. Come spring, Scott's warnings could likely prove out.
UPDATE and response to comments: First, altohone, Scott explains the NATO problems in the podcasts. Listen to them and you'll get your answers. As for one alarming reality of why we're giving so much aid, just read Peter Bergin's new article in -- and I don't suggest this magazine very often - TNR: The Return of Al Qaeda. Here's a snippet:
There was a time when that was true. In the months and years immediately following the Taliban's ouster, Al Qaeda lost its main sanctuary and struggled to regroup in the largely lawless zone along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Key leaders were captured or killed. Years passed during which the group mounted few major attacks.
But, today, from Algeria to Afghanistan, from Britain to Baghdad, the organization once believed to be on the verge of impotence is again ascendant. Attacks by jihadists have reached epidemic levels in the past three years, with terrorists carrying out dramatic operations in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, as well as multiple suicide attacks across the Middle East and Asia--not only in Iraq, but also in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, jihadists have made inroads in the horn of Africa; the Taliban's efforts to turn Afghanistan back into a failed state appear to be succeeding; and Al Qaeda's Iraqi branch recently declared sovereignty over the country's vast Anbar province. ... ..
That should explain it. And thanks, christleft, Scott is doing incredible work, so I'm pleased to give it all the attention I can.