Tuesday, March 20, 2012

U.S. General Sees No Sudden Afghan Drawdown


WASHINGTON — The top allied commander in Afghanistan told Congress on Tuesday that he would not be recommending further American troop reductions until late this year, after the departure of the current “surge” forces and the end of the summer fighting season.

That timetable would defer one of the thorniest military decisions facing President Obama — the pace at which the United States removes its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 — until after the November elections.

Gen. John R. Allen, a Marine four-star general who commands the American-led allied forces in Afghanistan, said that he remained optimistic about eventual success but that it was too early to begin shifting forces from battles in the south to the country’s turbulent eastern provinces.

He also acknowledged the deep sensitivities, especially given the current diplomatic crisis with Afghanistan, involved in handing over complete security control to Afghan forces, including over the commando night raids that American commanders say are critical to the war effort. These are the subject of intense negotiation, he testified.

General Allen said that only after reviewing the results of the next six months of fighting — at the end of which there will be 68,000 American troops remaining there — would he turn his attention to the pace of further reductions in the force.

But he repeatedly said that by the end of next year, Afghan forces would have taken over primary responsibility for operations across the country, allowing NATO’s combat role to be finished by the end of 2014, as currently scheduled.

He spoke during a lengthy hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, where the questions and comments of members showed a deep exhaustion with overseas conflict after two wars carried out over the decade since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

General Allen’s testimony also came after a troubling, violent period in Afghanistan, beginning with public protests and a series of murders of American troops by Afghan security forces, after the burning of Korans by United States military personnel. That was followed by a rampage attributed to an American soldier that left 16 Afghan civilians dead.

The general said that in addition to the criminal inquiry into the massacre, there would be an administrative investigation into the headquarters organization and the command of the soldier’s unit.

In his opening statement, he did not stray from the line taken by the White House and the Pentagon in recent weeks: that the progress toward what the Obama administration calls an “orderly and responsible” transfer of the fight against insurgents from the American-led alliance to the fledgling Afghan Army is going smoothly, and that the schedule should not be altered.

He said he recognized the challenges, and deplored the Koran burnings and the killings. But he and members of the committee both described those events as isolated, if unfortunate, and there was little discussion of them at the hearing.

Instead, it focused on the schedule and mechanics of the withdrawal, a subject that is being reviewed by NATO, whose member countries are assembling their leadership in May in Chicago, and in talks between Washington and the government of President Hamid Karzai.

On one delicate subject, the night raids carried out by Special Operations forces that have unsettled the Afghans but are credited with weakening the insurgency’s command structure, General Allen said the Afghans would be taking control of them, too, eventually. Twelve Afghan strike teams are being trained for that purpose, he testified.

He said it was important not to rob the surprise raids of “their momentum, which gives them their effectiveness.” And he said it was “very premature” to say what the outcome of the talks would be. Ultimately, he said, as the Afghans take control of operations, the requirements of the Afghan Constitution would need to be respected.

“Throughout history, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces,” General Allen said. “Instead, they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous forces. In the long run, our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces. Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the ‘way out.’ ”

The possibility of an accelerated withdrawal order by Mr. Obama has angered senior Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee. The chairman, Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, said, “With our eyes at the exits, I am uncertain whether we will be able to achieve the key tenets of the president’s own strategy, due to the constraints that the president himself has put in place.”

Mr. McKeon made the case that “with friend and foe alike knowing that the U.S. is heading for the exits, our silence is likely viewed as a preamble to retreat. And, in warfare, when the mission becomes redeployment, rather than mission success, the outcome can quickly become disorderly.”

General Allen emphasized that Afghan security forces were growing stronger, having reached 330,000, and that their buildup remained on track.

And James N. Miller, the acting under secretary of defense for policy, testified that attacks initiated by the enemy were down 22 percent in the first two months of this year compared with last year, after falling 9 percent in 2011.

Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, captured the war-weariness expressed by many members as he offered a heartfelt plea to General Allen and Mr. Miller to answer a fundamental question about the war in Afghanistan that had been posed to him by a wounded Marine.

Over the past 10 years, “I have been hearing from the administration and those who were in your position prior to you being in here today,” Mr. Jones said. “Everything is: ‘Our gains are sustainable, but there will be setbacks. We are making progress, but it’s — it’s fragile and reversible.’ ”

He paused, and asked, “Why are we still there?”

Peshawar bomb kills 4 cops

Four police personnel including a sub-inspector were killed and two others seriously injured when an explosive device hit a police van on Kohat Road here on Tuesday evening.

The blast occurred when the police vehicle was on a routine patrolling on Kohat Road. The explosion caused fear and panic across the area and large number of people rushed to the site.

The blast badly damaged the police vehicle which resulted in killing of four police personnel and injuring of two others seriously.

Soon after the incident rescue teams and Edhi ambulances rushed towards the site and shifted the injured persons to Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar where they were provided emergency medical treatment.

Heavy contingent of police rushed to the blast site and cordoned off the area. Police and Bomb Disposal Squad collected evidences from blast site and started search in the area.

According to Bomb Disposal Squad, around one kilogram explosive were used in the attack and its target was Additional Station House Officer Hazrat Ali.

The killed personnel included Hussain Khan while two others personnel were injured.

It is worth mentioning here that in the last few months attacks against police have increased and several police personnel were killed in the last few months of 2012 in the fresh spate of terrorism.

Nawaz’s mantra

Editorial:Frontier Post

But who will tell Mian Nawaz Sharif that democracy in itself is no magic ring that if rubbed on the stone, all the country’s difficulties and all the people’s grievances would stand swished off just like that. A panacea of it has to be made of to do that miracle. And that comes about not by chirping ad nauseam a democracy chant but by thinking out creative ideas, innovative schemes and pragmatic strategies to address the people’s problems and the country’s difficulties. But on that score, he has showed a stunning bankruptcy. Hadn’t it been so, wouldn’t Punjab where he acts palpably acts its uncrowned csar have become a land flowing with rivers of milk and canals of honey, which it is not so visibly? So much of democracy mantra has he chanted over these past few years that going by his recipe the province would have become a model of progress and prosperity, worthy to emulate not just nationally but globally as well.
But it remains as mired in people’s woes as the country’s any other part. It is only he, his younger sibling heading the provincial government and their toadies who project it otherwise, but so incredibly. If indeed Karachi’s residents are spending sleepless nights for fear of ravaging lawlessness, so do Lahore’s denizens for the dread of dacoits, thugs, thieves and professional killers. If the citizens of Peshawar and rest of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are in the throes of a stalking blood-soaked terrorism, their compatriots of Lahore are living no lesser in the dreadful shadows of prowling extremists who have made of Punjab their sprawling lair. And if Balochistan is a veritable mess of public services, Punjab figures no better, where indeed unfortunate people have recently been done in numerously by a deadly dengue fever for lack of preventive measures and killed by substandard medication at a government-run cardiology facility. And if the Zardari & Co. is running an inept and corrupt administration at the centre, the Sharif Inc. too is leading an administration reeking with incompetence and sleaze.
Had the democracy chant been such a charming spell, none of these adversities would have befallen the people of Punjab. There indeed are limits even to human skullduggery. But Nawaz knows of none. His perfidy is just unlimited. His pretences are stunning and obscene. He talks as if he has been a paragon of virtues, knowing not that the public perceptions about him and his sibling Shahbaz are as damning as are those about Zardari and Gilani. And if the people are talking about Zardari’s piles, on their tongues are no lesser tales about the Sharifs’ mounds. The Ittefaq Foundry since long exists sneeringly in the people’s mind as notoriously as does the Swiss slush money. In a nutshell, the people view Nawaz not as he himself and his hangers-on project him to be. He comes across to them as a compulsive tergiversator, changing stances to suit his political expediencies.
He is still to come up with a plausible explanation for ditching so unceremoniously his companions of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), which he himself had cobbled up in his London exile-redoubt. The APDM congregation had vowed not to participate in an election under dictator Pervez Musharraf. But when the plunge came, he blinked not eyelid to fly into the ring, leaving the comrades nursing their wound he inflicted on them with his betrayal. Naturally, the people are taking with not just pinch but bags of salt his pretences of now being a hardboiled reinvented democrat, particularly so as he is still to confess and regret unambiguously his old associations with praetorian generals and also as he is yet to give a real democracy to his faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, of whom he has made practically his family fiefdom, where nomination not election to party offices is rule, not exception.
Indeed, his pretentious posturing has become a source of mirthful jokes to an otherwise deeply depressed citizenry not just in Punjab but all over the country. His toadies may not have told him but he really throws his listeners into guffaws when he says so vaingloriously that had he not been toppled by Musharraf he was about to transform Pakistan into an Asian Giant. For, all the people know of is that he was leading Pakistan not to become any giant but to become a theocratic caliphate with him perched on it as lifelong Amirul Momineen. And it is only his shoal of toadies who get mesmerized by his brag that he withstood formidable international pressure and went ahead with retaliatory nuclear testing after the Indian adventurism. The street is least amused. For, had it been even a Mooda Joker in his place, he too would have gone for it as the public pressure was so tremendous that not even a giant of leader would have been able to withstand it and survive in his job.
Nawaz must understand his jiggery-pokery is too slim. He has to do a lot to rehabilitate himself with the masses. Such hogwash as democracy per se being an answer to the country’s all problems is too shallow to wash with a deeply sceptical public. It is ideas to get over them counts for all. Those he must spell out, if any, given his proverbial intellectual superficiality. Otherwise, he should spare this harried nation of his absurd talk.