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 reporting by Faiz Lalani.
Baradar 'singing like a canary.' Captured Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is "singing like a male canary," according to intelligence officials, reports Fox News. Baradar, who remains under Pakistani custody, is providing vital information about the Taliban and other extremist groups in the region. After a series of arrests, the Afghan Taliban's leadership has reportedly dispersed across Pakistan to avoid capture. The pressure on the Taliban is undermining insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Western officials.
5:40 PM ET -- India unnerved by U.S. withdrawal. India is particularly unnerved by the idea of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and of a post-U.S. Afghanistan in which Pakistan will enjoy considerable influence. The U.S. plan to give the Afghan Taliban a stake in a future Afghan government may require that India rollback its influence in the country. This has prompted New Delhi to reconsider its strategic relationship with the U.S, reports the Emirati newspaper The National.
From The National:
The Delhi foreign policy establishment is beginning to re-evaluate its relationship with the US; India had always assumed it had a strategic significance for the United States, as a counterweight to China
Instead of focusing on America...it should have been talking to its neighbours [said MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat.] "Delhi had put all its eggs in the American basket and now needs to activate its regional policies."
Some Indian foreign policy analysts said that New Delhi would look to renewing relations with Iran, which it had neglected after U.S. pressure to isolate the country over its nuclear ambitions.
5:10 PM ET -- Denmark and Estonia bear highest casualty per capita rate in Afghanistan. Using icasualties.org figures, Steve Coll notes that Denmark and Estonia have the highest per capita casualty rates in Afghanistan. That is, if the ratio of deaths to population are taken, the two countries have 1 death per 177,000 and 1 death per 186,000, respectively.
The rest of the numbers from The New Yorker:
[D]eaths-per-population among coalition countries that have fought in the Afghan war, since 2001, starting with the most burdened:
Denmark, 1 per 177,000 (31 deaths)
Estonia, 1 per 186,000 (7 deaths)
United Kingdom, 1 per 224,000 (272 deaths)
Canada, 1 per 236,000 (140 deaths)
United States, 1 per 302,000 (1017 deaths)
Latvia, 1 per 733,000 (3 deaths)
Netherlands, 1 per 810,000 (21 deaths)
Some other major European countries have been less burdened, per capita:
Spain, 1 per 1,500,000 (28 deaths)
France, 1 per 1,600,000 (40 deaths)
Germany, 1 per 2,400,000 (34 deaths)
Poland, 1 per 2,400,000 (16 deaths)
Italy, 1 per 2,600,000 (22 deaths)
5:00 PM ET -- Two drone attacks in northern Pakistan kill 14. Two U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan killed at least 14 people, reports Dawn. One strike targeted a residential compound belonging to the Haqqani network, killing seven suspected militants. A following strike killed seven other militants.
4:00 PM ET -- Drone strikes may be counter-productive. Joshua Foust of Registan.com questions the utility of the much vaunted U.S. drone strikes that target militants in northwest Pakistan. There are arguments both for and against drone strikes, but neither side has concrete methodology to back up its point of view, Foust notes. But, citing a recent London Times piece about how drone strikes are actually boosting support for the Taliban, Foust thinks that the U.S. is essentially shooting itself in the foot by using drones, which stoke resentment. If the rise of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan--the Pakistani Taliban--is any indication, it should sober the pro-drone camp.
"The end result of this incessant drone war against [Taliban] militant leadership is that the leadership itself is far more radical and far less willing to negotiate an end to their insurgency than they were in 2004. While the drones could be called a stunning success in going after al Qaeda, they've also been used for years to go after the Pakistani Taliban--and in both cases the men who replaced the dead commanders were more vicious and less amenable to overtures from governments to discuss an end to the violence."
When Nek Muhammad Wazir was killed by a drone strike in 2004, he was at the negotiating table. His successor, Baitullah Mehsud, was far more ideologically hardened, and refused any overtures. And the Pakistani Taliban continues to operate, even after over 118 drone strikes since 2004.
3:20 PM ET -- What the Kucinich resolution achieved. HuffPost blogger Robert Naiman praises the resolution introduced by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich yesterday, arguing that even though it was eventually defeated, the debate on Afghanistan it forced was necessary. Indeed, this was a debate the House should have had when the Obama administration was re-thinking its Afghan strategy last fall, says Naiman. He stressed the importance of dissent in understanding the conflict in Afghanistan:
[It] is much better for the House to debate now than not to debate at all, or to fail to debate the policy until the question of money is on the floor, a point emphasized by Rep. Howard Berman, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who vigorously opposed the resolution but vigorously supported the debate. Pro-war views are hardly lacking venues for making their case, meeting in church basements, passing out flyers on the sidewalk. Pro-war views dominate the mainstream media. It's dissent against the war that has to fight to be heard. Yesterday, dissent was heard.
2:30 PM ET -- Why did Gates go to Afghanistan this week. "This week's visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Afghanistan was the latest move in a campaign aimed at managing the expectations of an American public divided and skeptical about the overall war effort," writes Brian Katulis in Foreign Policy. The main objective of Gates' visit was to prepare the American public for the coming heavy toll on troops when the offensive in Kandahar begins. After 8 years in the country, NATO has not been able to secure the country's second-largest city. Gates was cautious in his predictions while speaking to the press, stating that it was too soon to know if the surge was working--a hesitance perhaps rooted in his knowledge of the herculean task ahead.
1:55 PM ET -- Professor explains why Marjah was important, hints at potential for Canada to stay in Afghanistan after 2011 Canadian professor Frank Harvey, who traveled to Afghanistan in January and was briefed by officials in Kandahar and Kabul, explains why the operation in Marjah was important. It was, firstly, the largest military offensive waged in Afghanistan since the invasion. What differentiated Operation Moshtarak from others in the past is that its focus was on protecting civilians. This, in turn, was a method to regain the trust of Afghans, who had become disillusioned with NATO's occupation and the high civilian casualty rates. Finally, in Marjah, the strategy will be to 'stay and build,' meaning that post-conflict reconstruction constitutes a significant part of the mandate.
Harvey, who is also a fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, hints that success in Marjah is also aimed that convincing NATO coalition partners to stay beyond their withdrawal dates. "If the strategy works," says Harvey, "successes in Marjah and in Kandahar in spring could also help to persuade the Canadian public and officials in Ottawa that some crucial parts of Canada's operations should continue beyond 2011."
1:15 PM ET -- Can the U.S. succeed in Afghanistan, Robert Kaplan asks. In this month's Atlantic, Robert Kaplan describes the gargantuan task that lies ahead in Afghanistan: to rebuild a complex tribal society located in the daunting terrain of the Hindu Kush mountains. And at the heart of the debate over whether the U.S. can succeed in Afghanistan, Kaplan sees an old philosophical question--is victory pre-determined or do men make it? The "[c]athedral-like mountain ranges [that] help seal divisions between Pashtuns and Tajiks and other minorities" symbolize the geographical and cultural determinism that plagues the war in Afghanistan, while General Stanley McChrystal's new counterinsurgency doctrine--and hopeful talk--represent human will.
Following McChrystal from the surge in Iraq to his new post as NATO commander in Afghanistan, Kaplan reports on the challenges and hopes of the U.S. military and the West in the country. McChrystal is charged with ridding Afghanistan of an insurgency, a task complicated by tough terrain and the intricacies of tribal warfare. Kaplan calls the general's counterinsurgency doctrine a mix of liberal internationalism, moral interventionism, and nation-building--the result of which is that "American ground forces are therefore becoming more like armed relief workers." The author, who admittedly believes in the triumph of individual will, is convinced of the "raw potential" for success. He ends by quoting Churchill, who wrote of Afghanistan a hundred years ago in The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898): "Winston Churchill posits that a great nation has three choices: to turn a country like Afghanistan into a replica of British parliamentary democracy, which he says is clearly impossible; to withdraw completely, which he says is also impossible; or to work with the tribes and the material at hand through a variety of means."
12:40 PM ET -- Taliban leadership vacuum The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Rosenberg writes that the Afghan Taliban's leadership is in flux and a leadership vacuum has been created by Pakistan's recent arrests. Izmat Ali Khan, a former militant, told the Journal that "[t]he shuras [or leadership] are totally split apart these days." A Pakistani intelligence official further stated that "the lines of authority" are unclear.
Pakistan's willingness to go after the Taliban, a group it long supported, has surprised many U.S. officials. They believe that Pakistan has perhaps changed directions since NATO's successes have increased in Afghanistan, and that it may no longer feel the need to hedge against the West by covertly aiding the Taliban. Of course, the Taliban retains the capacity to strike, as an attack on a World Vision Charity office in northern Pakistan yesterday demonstrated.
12:20 PM ET -- Putin in New Delhi to discuss Afghanistan with Indian PM According to the Indian Asian News Service, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will meet in New Delhi on Friday to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan. India, which has pledged $1.3 billion for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and Russia, which fought a decade long war there during the 1980s, have an interest in future developments in the country. After 9/11, India and Russia backed the Northern Alliance--of which current Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a member--and both are wary of recent proposals for reconciliation with the Taliban.
From the Indian Asian News Service:
The two sides are also likely to discuss the implications of the proposal endorsed at the Jan 28 London conference for reintegrating the Taliban in the political mainstream of Afghanistan for the security of the two countries.
Both India and Russia are wary of accommodating the Taliban in any power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan and have resented any distinction between the so-called good and bad Taliban.
11:00 AM ET -- Karzai visits Islamabad. The Associated Press reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad yesterday, meeting with the country's prime minister, president, and chief of army staff to discuss Pakistan's role in upcoming Taliban peace talks and its long-term role in Afghanistan. The current leadership of Afghanistan have tense relations with Pakistan, because of Pakistan's support to the Taliban both during the 1990s and its suspected covert assistance to the Taliban's leadership. Many of the Quetta Shura Taliban leaders are believed to be living in Pakistan, though some members of the Shura have been apprehended by Pakistani officials recently, including the number 2, Mullah Baradar. While analysts contend that Kabul resents Islamabad's interference, Karzai called upon Pakistan to support Afghanistan's reconciliation efforts during a press conference on Wednesday.
10:40 AM ET -- House resolution to withdraw troops from Afghanistan rejected. Rep. Dennis Kucinich's house resolution directing the president to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan was resoundingly rejected yesterday, as 356 voted against and only 65 voted for the resolution. The Kucinich resolution was an attempt to force debate on the war and to reclaim Congress' authority under the 1973 War Powers Act, which requires congressional approval when the president sends troops into a war for more than 90 days.
From the AP:
Congress authorized the use of military force to fight terrorists in 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, but Kucinich said both the Bush and Obama administrations had wrongfully used that authority as carte blanche to circumvent the role of Congress in sending Americans to war.
"Unless this Congress acts to claim its constitutional responsibility, we will stay in Afghanistan for a very, very long time at great cost to our troops and to our national priorities," Kucinich said.
Those who voted against the measure cited the impracticality of a swift withdrawal and fears that supporting the resolution could be equated with opposing U.S. troops currently fighting in Afghanistan. And while Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I) voted no, he brought to light "[t]he U.S. policy of needlessly sending troops into harm's way" and criticized the media's lack of attention to the conflict and the loss of American lives there.