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.
With additional reporting by Adam Taylor.
Petraeus predicts 'hard year' in Afghanistan. Speaking in Charlotte Tuesday, General David Petraeus warned that it's going to be "hard year" for US forces in Afghanistan as they embark on a counterinsurgency campaign that could last as long as 18 months, the Charlotte Observer reports. In assessing US efforts so far, Petraeus boasted that the US had already killed "boatloads of bad guys," but added that killing and capturing militants is not a "way out" of the war.
6:30 PM ET -- Footage of militant cave network. ABC News has acquired footage of an expansive network of caves run by militants on the Afghan-Pakistan border that were seized this week by Pakistan troops.
The network of over 150 caves in the Bajaur region of the Federally Controlled Tribal Areas make for some impressive viewing, with small hidden entrances hiding large dorm-style bedrooms, some still full of pillows and blankets. The Pakistan military told journalists that this was the nerve center of militant activity in the area.
ABC reports that a large amount of military supplies were found, including stockpiles of guns and ammunition, bazookas, artillery shells, rocket propelled grenades, mines and stolen U.S. army uniforms. Material was found from both Iran and Iraq. Cash and food supplies were also found.
Former U.S. Army Ranger Andrew Exum told ABC that it looked like the occupants had not had time to plan their escape. Viewing a video of the site, Exum said, "They seem to be quite well organized."
3:30 PM ET -- The focus of the US offensive isn't drugs. AP reports on one of the significant shifts in strategy that the US and Afghan forces have adopted as part of their current offensive in Marjah compared to previous campaigns. The Marjah offensive, the AP writes, "is a war on the Taliban, not drugs."
For years, the Afghan government and its U.S. backer tried to eradicate crops, only to swell insurgent ranks across Afghanistan with impoverished and infuriated poppy farmers. Now, farmers are left alone, even though Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the heroin worldwide, with Helmand province alone responsible for nearly half of this.[...]
The official U.S. policy is now to go after the traffickers and the heroin labs, not producers.
2:00 PM ET -- U.S. to give Pakistan bomb kits. Reuters reports that 1,000 smart bomb kits will be given to Pakistan's air force to aid their battle against insurgents in the border region.
Details via Reuters:
--1,000 MK-82 bombs were delivered last month
--700 GBU-12 and 300 GBU-10 Paveway laser-guided bomb kits to be delivered this month
--18 F-16s likely to be delivered later this year
10:30 AM ET -- Confusion over Karzai's Taliban invitation. President Hamid Karzai's public invitation to the Taliban to join peace talks this spring has caused division among coalition forces about the objectives of the talks, the Washington Post reports. On one side you have the Obama administration, which is arguing that in-depth talks should be delayed until the current offensive in Helmand has moved the military momentum in favor of coalition forces. On the opposite side our British -- as well as some American military commanders -- who would like to see negotiations begin "sooner rather than later" and are optimistic that progress could be made with insurgents this year. the Post writes.
Karzai's effusive invitation, made in late January at an international conference on Afghanistan held in London, has unleashed widespread speculation that discussion of reconciliation -- previously seen as psychological warfare and political gamesmanship -- could lead to substantive talks, or perhaps already has. Kabul has been awash with rumors, with Afghan human rights organizations warning that Karzai plans to forgive countless Taliban atrocities and place insurgent leaders in high-level government positions.