National Security Network

Amidst Tragedy in Kabul, U.S. Must Hone in on Core Objectives

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Report 18 May 2010

Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan Pakistan Terrorism & National Security


Twin developments today bring into focus the challenges the U.S. faces in South Asia:  a devastating car bomb in Kabul killed five U.S. troops and more than a dozen Afghan civilians, even as top U.S. officials travel to Pakistan to build pressure on countering terrorist activity in the region.   As the deaths in Kabul took the American death toll in Afghanistan past 1,000, it is essential that the U.S. remain concentrated on the core task of fighting extremists who seek to harm Americans in the region and at home.

To that end, the U.S. must match our military efforts in Afghanistan with diplomatic and political approaches that empower the Afghan government to transition to a point where Afghans, not the international coalition, are in the lead.

The Times Square bomber case ought to bring home again that the struggle against extremists is regional, not relegated to Afghanistan alone.  Military efforts in Afghanistan must be matched by regional progress to deny safe haven to the extremists who seek to kill Americans and our allies. 

As the President acknowledged in a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, "there are many difficult days ahead." The sacrifices by Afghans and Americans alike must be redeemed by a strategy that secures core American national security objectives - and returns to Afghans control over their own destiny.

Powerful car bomb devastates Kabul, bringing U.S. casualties in Afghanistan to 1000. Today, the New York Times reported on a grim milestone in the U.S. war in Afghanistan: "On Tuesday, the toll of American dead in Afghanistan passed 1,000, after a suicide bomb in Kabul killed at least five United States service members. Having taken nearly seven years to reach the first 500 dead, the war killed the second 500 in fewer than two." A Toyota minivan carrying more than 1,000 pounds of explosives smashed into a NATO convoy during rush-hour in Kabul on Tuesday.  According to the AP, "A Taliban suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy in the Afghan capital Tuesday, killing six troops - five Americans and one Canadian, officials said. Twelve Afghan civilians also died - many of them on a public bus in rush-hour traffic.  The powerful blast occurred on a major Kabul thoroughfare that runs by the ruins of a one-time royal palace and government ministries. It wrecked nearly 20 vehicles, including five SUVs in the NATO convoy, and scattered debris and body parts across the wide boulevard. The body of woman in a burqa was smashed against the window of the bus.  The attack - the deadliest for NATO troops in the capital since September - comes despite a ramped up effort by Afghan authorities to intercept would-be attackers and better secure a capital city that saw a spate of brazen attacks this winter."

According to a separate Times story, "While the Taliban was quick to congratulate itself for killing the American and NATO soldiers, its statement made no mention of the dead and wounded Afghan civilians. The attack was condemned by the United Nations, NATO and the American Embassy, which accused the Taliban of ‘callous disregard' for the lives of ordinary Afghans." 

NATO troops have been gearing up for a major offensive in the southern province of Kandahar, a major Taliban stronghold.  As Reuters noted this morning, "[The attack] comes after the Taliban announced a spring offensive against the Afghan government, foreign forces and diplomats in Afghanistan in response to NATO plans for an offensive on the group's southern stronghold of Kandahar.  ‘This will not deter us from our mission of securing a better future for this country,' NATO spokesman Brigadier General Josef Blotz said in a statement."  [NY Times, 5/19/10. AP, 5/18/10. NY Times, 5/18/10. Reuters, 5/18/10]

Panetta and Jones arrive in Pakistan for counterterrorism efforts.  The Washington Post reported this morning that "President Obama's national security adviser, James L. Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta were set to travel to Pakistan Monday night for meetings with top government, military and intelligence officials on progress in the Times Square car bomb investigation and concerns about future terrorist attacks... officials said that Jones and Panetta intend to reiterate to the Pakistanis the importance that the administration places on more aggressive military action against groups allied with al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, has said he traveled to the region to train with elements of the Pakistani Taliban, officials say." "Jones and Panetta are scheduled to meet Wednesday with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari; Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani; the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani; and Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan's main spy agency."

The New York Times goes on to report that "A senior administration official said General Jones would not threaten the Pakistanis, but would convey the risks to the country's relationship with the United States if a deadly terrorist attack originated there. He plans to prod them to take tougher steps against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, the official said." And, "While General Jones's specific requests were not clear, the senior administration official said he might ask Pakistan's military to push harder into North Waziristan, the main base for the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups. Mr. Shahzad, 30, has told investigators that he trained in North Waziristan, but Pakistan has said it is still preoccupied trying to hold South Waziristan and Swat... Among the other possible American requests, this official said, were more intense surveillance of suspected terrorists and allowing more American military advisers to operate in Pakistan."  "American intelligence officials have expressed growing concern about the increasingly intertwined network of Islamic extremist groups operating in and around Pakistan's tribal areas." [Washington Post, 5/17/10. NY Times, 5/17/10]

What We're Reading

The Thai government dismissed proposed peace talks to end the country's nine-week crisis, calling on thousands of anti-government protesters to disperse.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, in an effort to convince Congress that he's making progress in his ongoing battle against drug cartels.

South Korea is widely expected to make official its holding North Korea responsible for the sinking of a navy corvette that broke in two on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.

China has jailed Huang Guangyu, once the country's richest man and the founder of a major retail chain, for 14 years for bribery, insider trading and illegal business dealings.

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva says he will sign a law legalizing same-sex marriage passed by parliament earlier this year.

Gaza's Hamas rulers executed three convicted killers and dropped off their bullet-riddled bodies at a hospital, despite appeals by human rights activists to halt the practice.

Iraq's de-Baathification commission, which disqualified scores of prospective lawmakers in the run-up to the March 7 parliamentary elections, announced that it was unable to ban nine others after the vote but vowed to keep trying.

India's government is reviewing its strategy for fighting Maoist rebels after a landmine attack in Chhattisgarh state killed more than 30 people.

The European Union transferred €14.5 billion to Greece, the first installment of EU funds under the rescue package worked out by the EU and the International Monetary Fund - just in time to pay for nine billion euros worth of bonds that come due Wednesday.

Somalia's president said he will appoint a new prime minister and cabinet to take control of his shaky one-year-old government, which is engaged in a protracted fight against al Qaeda-backed insurgents.

Commentary of the Day

John Nagl and Peter Galbraith have a British-style debate about whether the war in Afghanistan is winnable.

Kurt Volker lays out six ways the West can rebuild a crumbling international order.

Lewis Hay explains what needs to be done in order for the US not to lose the clean energy race.