The United States’ New Approach toward Afghanistan
International Peace Studies Centre – IPSC
After the new government led by Barack Obama came to power in the United States, earlier criticism directed at Bush administration’s policies and the Republicans’ conduct towards Afghanistan became realized in various dimensions and aspects. The plan to implement a new approach within the overall strategy of the United States in fighting extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan appeared to be serious on the agenda of Washington. Obama set the agenda to solve the problem with al-Qaeda and terrorism as one of the most important foreign policy priorities. Obama Administration shifted its center of attention from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to exert more pressure on the militant groups and take further action to tighten the situation for the insurgency by furthering security-control regulations. Obama and aides, since coming to power, have aimed at undertaking three goals in Afghanistan: an initial increasing of U.S. forces, a subsequent gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, as well as furthering negotiations with the Taliban.
Moreover, the new United States Administration has also relocated the scope of operations in the war against extremism across the southern border of Afghanistan into Pakistan. It is in Pakistan that the Obama Administration has been able to advance another front in the fight against the Taliban with the help of Pakistan and by way of conducting several military operations. Despite Obama Administration’s expansion of militaristic operations into Pakistan, unlike his predecessor government in the United States, the new government policies in Afghanistan pay more attention to infrastructural development including strengthening civil society, national institutions as well as the military and economic capabilities. Obama and advisers’ plans for Afghanistan work towards the establishment of a stable democratic government in this country in order to counteract the return of terror and extremism to this land.
This article seeks to answer the following question: “how do the approaches adopted by the new President of the United States, Barack Obama, compare to that of his predecessor president, George Bush, in relation to Afghanistan?” This paper uses textual analysis as its main methodological framework. The most important document and the reference source of the study for this paper is Obama’s comprehensive “Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan” which was announced on 27 March 2009. In this document Obama outlines U.S. program in Afghanistan including the gradual withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan in 2011; a provision for careful consideration of the role of Pakistan in fighting terrorism; strengthening local, civil and military institutions to increase their power in assuming their responsibilities of running Afghanistan; pursuing negotiations with the Taliban and the disarmament of militant insurgents, etc…. Nevertheless, the challenges Obama faces in Afghanistan have added many difficulties and complications in achieving this mission.
Keywords: Barack Obama, United States, Afghanistan, Terrorism.
Barack Obama was alarmed to see that the continuation of the dominant conditions and surrounding circumstances during the administration of neoconservatives led by George Bush will only lead to further isolation and collapse of the United States of America. It was due to this that Obama’s slogan of “change” won the trust and acceptance of the American public and he became the sworn 44th president of United States. As far as the sphere of foreign policy, Obama who was to inherit the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the former president promised that he will bring military troops home from both countries during his campaign. After Obama took residence at the White House, he tried to employ a new approach of changing the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq by way of maintaining an optimal military presence while facilitating susceptible grounds for his promise of withdrawal of troop. Obama, his political allies and associates were convinced that the great extent of attention Bush had invested in Iraq caused Afghanistan to become a safe haven for extremism. The extremist groups, in turn, by expanding their militaristic scope of action within and beyond the borders of Afghanistan were threatening United States’ security as well as the regional security. This became an intimating danger for the future to come as well as time-present. Accordingly, Obama announced his administration’s strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2009 and insisted on the implementation of its provisions and plans in various levels of military, economic, infrastructure, etc….
Barack Obama’s Approach in Afghanistan
Obama Administration that had allocated the security situation in Afghanistan as a serious priority of his government both during his campaign and after moving into the White House announced his agenda for Afghanistan and hid plans for the problem of terrorism on March 27, 2009 (Obama, New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan). However, Obama’s particular approach towards Afghanistan cannot constitute as different from that which George Bush had planned for Afghanistan. In other words, what the Democratic Obama-Biden administration has implemented in Afghanistan and Pakistan since coming to power is in line so far with the broader U.S. strategy in the fight against terrorism and extremism in that region. However, George Bush’s policies, stances and practices in terms of his government’s greater attention to the situation in Iraq had encountered several dead ends in Afghanistan. Therefore, George Bush’s vision for the region could not adequately meet the complex challenges United States was facing in Afghanistan. For this reason, the new U.S. Administration under the slogan of “change” did not assess the continuation of previous approaches as efficient. Obama and aides became determined that there is a need to hunt down, fight and destroy the roots of extremism by seriously investigating and taking into consideration the infrastructural issues involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The fact of the matter is that during the eight-year war in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been able to renew their forces and pose serious threats not only to Afghanistan but also to the regional countries and beyond, especially to the United States. Therefore, it became necessary for the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to establish a new approach and try to sort out the shortcomings of previous approaches and take appropriate action for advancing the national interests of the United States.
Accordingly, the White House aimed at striking, dismantling, defeating and impeding the progress of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to prevent the possibility of any future returns. For this reason, Obama assigned a group of experts and aides to review the situation in Afghanistan and present their strategies for dealing with Afghanistan’s predicaments. This group of aides submitted their propositions to the new United States administration and the U.S. government subsequently founded its strategy towards Afghanistan based on these proposals. Obama’s aides with a retrospective outlook actually tried to work out a plan based on a comprehensivist policy and infrastructural guidelines that target the underlying roots and fundamental problems in the region. For further research, this paper intends to study the underlying causes announced in Obama and aides’ agenda for the region. One can categorize these underlying causes to four major proposals addressing military operations, gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, paying the due attention to economic, political, cultural infrastructures as well as opening up new fronts in Pakistan.
Military Operation and the Gradual Withdrawal of Forces from Afghan Soil
After the onset of the war on terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan in October 2001 and following the overthrow of the Taliban, the military operations of the United States and its allies against al-Qaeda, their bases, and hideouts continued in the form of two distinctive combat missions in different parts of Afghanistan. The first military action was officially named “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF) and it included the United States combat units as well as some of the U.S. allies (UK and Afghan forces). In OEF-Afghanistan about 28,300 American troops were engaged in the combat mission, with the field of action being mainly in eastern and southern Afghanistan near Pakistan’s border (Katzman 2009, 16).
The second combat mission was separate from OEF-Afghanistan and was a joint operation of NATO, United States of America, and United Kingdom. This mission was officially formed by the United Nation Security Council and named “International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in December 2001. ISAF was responsible for maintaining the security in Kabul and neighboring regions. ISAF on 23rd of July 2009 included about 64,500 troops from 42 countries from which about 29,950 troops belonged to the United States’ forces. In July 2006, ISAF took over the command of the southern regions and in October 2006 ISAF was assigned the command of operations in Eastern Afghanistan.
Before the Obama Administration came to power, the above-mentioned troops under the command of the United States conducted several military operations against the Taliban in various regions of Afghanistan. Briefly speaking these include:
- Operation Anaconda which took place in March 2003 and it involved U.S. and Afghan forces in the Shahi-Kot Valley region southeast of Gardez
- Operation Mountain Thrust in May 2006 which was led by NATO
- Operation Medusa in September, 2006
- Operations Volcano led by British troops in February 2007 involving United Kingdom’s Royal Marines and Commandos
- Operation Harekate Yolo I and II in October and November 2007 respectively
- The Battle of Musa Qala in December 2007 launched by the Afghan National Army and backed by British forces of the ISAF
- Operation Eagle’s Summit by ISAF and Afghan National Army forces involving mostly British troops in August 2008. (War in Afghanistan: 2001-Present, at Encyclopedia Wikipedia)
These operations were to some extent able to drive back the Taliban. Nevertheless, with the United States and Coalition Forces casualty count increasing in figure to 5,500 in October 2009 and with Afghan civilian casualties becoming greater as the war continued, it became necessary for United Stated and allies to review and reconsider their military policies in the region (Hal and Landay 2009).
Obama, after settling into the White House called for reform of the military policies of the previous government primarily by commissioning Richard Holbrooke as presidential representative in the affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009-2010). This special representative position was created specifically for Holbrooke for the first time in January 2009. In May 2009, in line with Obama’s reform agendas David D. McKiernan was replaced with Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal as the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander of the U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A). This replacement was indicative of Obama’s serious determination to organize his government’s plan and prepare U.S. troops in Afghanistan for his reform policies.
David D. McKiernan, before dismissal from his position, requested about 20- 25,000 more combat troops to be sent to Afghanistan; both form U.S. and other allies. On 17 February 2009, Obama agreed to increase troop numbers and deployed 21,000 troops to take up positions at the volatile regions of Helmand and southeast Afghanistan. However, the new commander of USFOR-A, General McChrystal after taking over his command in 26 June 2009, was sent on a mission to review and report on the state of the war in Afghanistan. He submitted a 66-page report on 30 August 2009 and showed serious concerns for the situation of stability in Afghanistan and the war with al-Qaeda. General McChrystal notified Obama and aides that the severity of the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating on a daily basis and expressed dim hopes of success in Afghanistan. However, on an optimistic ground, McChrystal also noted that the war in Afghanistan could potentially accomplish its intended goals and win the situation if the Obama Administration is willing to change its policies and send 40,000 more combat troops to the region (McChrystal 2009, 18)
On December 9, 2009, Obama after reviewing McChrystal’s report and following recommendations of his military and security advisers agreed to deploy 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. These forces are to be sent to conduct military operations and to train local Afghan forces. It is expected that by June 2010, 27,000 of these troops take position in Afghanistan (Starr 2009). As such, in the first sixteen months of Obama’s presidency the process of increasing U.S. forces in Afghanistan tripled in number. This increase occurred in a manner that the United States Department of Defense announced on May 24th, 2010 that with the continues increasing of the number of troops every day, for the first time ever the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has exceeded the number of American forces in Iraq. Pentagon figures show that there are currently 94,000 U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan and 92,000 serving in Iraq (For the First Time since the War on Terrorism, Iran-e Emrooz 2010, 4). This increase in troops in Afghanistan occurs after the United States proposes and assigns a Pentagon defense budget of $65 billion for Afghanistan, in May 2009 for the following year, which is the year 2010. These figures show that, similar to troop numbers, for the first time war funding allocated to Afghanistan surpasses the outgoing funds allocated for Iraq in 2010, which is requested to be $61 billion. This indicates a clear priority of Obama’s government to invest more for their plans in Afghanistan (For the First Time the Budget for the War in Afghanistan, ISNA 2009).
After the announcement was made that Obama intends to dispatch new troops to Afghanistan, several allies of the United States became committed to increase their troops and act in accordance to the new approach of the United States in the region. For example, Canada sent off 250 military forces, United Kingdom deployed 2,000 extra British troops to Helmand, Finland added 500 more soldiers and Georgia dispatched 200 fresh troops to Afghanistan (Thompson 2009, 11-14).
One of the major military operations that took place after the announcement of U.S. military’s dispatching of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan was Operation Strike of the Sword or Operation Khanjar in Helmand province on 25 June 2009. This mission was the most extensive offensive military operation since the U.S. Marines put an end to the unrests in Iraq in the Battle of Fallujah. In Operation Khanjar about 4,000 U.S. Marines Corps and about 650 Afghan National Army soldiers participated and were supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well. In this US-led offensive operation the joint allied forces were able to penetrate deep into the Helmand Valley and capture Taliban strongholds that none of the international forces present in Afghanistan had access to in the past seven years: that is areas that were in complete control of the Taliban militants. Prior to these joint operations against Taliban in southwest Afghanistan, Helmand province was one the most important Taliban stronghold and a center of assembly and militaristic organization for the insurgency. Helmand province was also a trouble-free border for the flow of insurgency fighters to and from Pakistan where these forces fled to Pakistan and re-enter back into Afghanistan without much control.
Another operation conducted in southern Afghanistan was Operation Moshtarak (Dari for Joint Operation) in which coalition forces and Afghan National Army soldiers conducted an offensive joint attack focusing on the Nad Ali District of Helmand province. Beginning on 13 February 2010, Operation Moshtarak was the first Afghan-led operation in which 15,000 American, British, and Afghans troops were involved. The largest joint operation since 2001, this offensive mission particularly was conducted to liberate the city of Marja, known to be the largest city in control of Taliban insurgent forces. To reduce civilian casualties, NATO forces before the offensive attack issued statements urging civilian of this region to refrain from leaving the safety of their homes with the onset of the operation. However, despite predictions of NATO experts, Operation Moshtarak did not comply with the expected outcomes and resulted in a very long battle that lasted several months.
During Operation Moshtarak , Taliban forces forcibly prevented the civilian inhabitants of Marjah to leave this region using them as human shields in their fight against the allied troops. The operation despite the great number of casualties among both the foreign troops and Afghan National Army forces played a significant role in driving the Taliban out of Helmand Province. Subsequently, the Taliban who had suffered significant casualties and losses were forced to flee the region. The significance of Operation Moshtarak as the largest military operation in Afghanistan since Obama came to power is to the extent that many analysts call it “Obama’s first military challenge in Afghanistan” (Malek, the Reuters 2010).
Apart from these victories over the Taliban, Obama is promising to the Afghan people that United States will start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan starting in July 2011. Of course, this withdrawal plan also involves training the Afghan armed forces so that they can take control of the security of the country after the foreign troops leave. Therefore, the plan is to pay the attention due to security concerns in Afghanistan and increase the number of foreign troops and expert forces in a manner in which guarantees the conditions in which U.S. and allied forces can keep their commitment of complete withdrawal by the end of 2011. Working towards development of susceptible conditions for a secure withdrawal of troops is one of the integral parts of Obama Administration’s plan for Afghanistan and it is considered his top priority. To implement Obama’s agenda for Afghanistan, United States has invested in training, strengthening, and increasing armed forces in Afghanistan and supporting the Afghan National Army and police in terms of quality of services and quantity of forces. As such, U.S. and NATO forces are training Afghan forces and strengthening them until they are prepared to take responsibility for the security of their country. Obama in his 27 March 2009 remarks regarding this shift in approach in his New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan says:
I’ve already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. …At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That’s how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.
Taking into Consideration the Economic, Political, Cultural Infrastructures
Establishing and Strengthening the Central Government
Years of instability and conflict has dramatically weakened, damaged and made fragile local institutions in Afghanistan, especially the central government which has led to formation of suitable grounds for growth of extremism and recruitment of extremist groups by terrorist networks. Therefore, the United States along with allied states took the first step right after the overthrow of the Taliban and the fall of Kabul in November 2001 and moved towards strengthening Afghan institutions by assisting the formation of a potentially all-embracing, encompassing, powerful central government. The International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, on 5 December 5 2001, lead to the the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions (i.e. Bonn Agreement). This was one of the initial series of meetings held with the participation of various Afghan political and military groups in which the future structure of Afghanistan’s government was debated and decided on, in a manner that satisfied all the various participating sects, ethnic groups and political parties involved (See the text of the Bonn Agreement, 22 December 2001).
United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 1386, which was adopted unanimously by the Security Council members on 20 December 2001, recognized, endorsed, and reiterated the articles of the Bonn Agreement. According to the Bonn Agreement Hamid Karzai replaced Burhanuddin Rabbani as the interim president of the Afghan Transitional Administration and was named Chairman of the Afghan Transitional Administration for his inauguration to take place on December 22, 2001. The Transitional Administration of Afghanistan organized an emergency assembly of Loya Jirga in June 2002, with 1550 representatives participating from 364 regions to determine the structure of the transitional government. The 35-member Afghan Constitution Commission began drafting the constitution of Afghanistan and presented the draft to the President of the Afghan Transitional Administration on 3 November 2003. A Loya Jirga was assembled and began reviewing the draft of the constitution on 13 December 13 2003 to finally endorse it on 4 January 2004 with little change. A specific time was also decided for holding presidential, provincial and local elections. Afghanistan’s first presidential election was held on 9 October 2004 in which 18 candidates were running and Hamid Karzai won the seat. In addition, parliamentary, provincial and district elections that were supposed to be held in April-May 2005 were postponed and the parliamentary and provincial elections were held on 18 September 2005 with the parliamentary functions beginning on 18 December 2005 (The Special Page On Loya Jirga, BBC Persian 2004).
It is noteworthy that the relationship between Karzai and Obama has been sore and continues to suffer from deep distrust between the two sides when compared to the relative friendly relationship of Karzai and the Bush. Obama views the current political structure in Afghanistan as hindering the progress of what Obama has intended for Afghanistan and preventing the realization of Obama’s new strategies. Even from the beginning of his term, Obama’s administration had directly or indirectly put the possibility of the replacing the current leader of Afghanistan on the agenda. However, the actual conditions and real politics on the ground forced United States to accept Karzai as the only suitable option to take on the leading responsibilities of governing the central government. The United States began supporting Karzai, once more, even though such relation was represented otherwise in the declarative policies of Obama’s administration.
During the second post-Taliban presidential elections in Afghanistan which was finally held on 20 August 2009, after much delay, Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative and aide on affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan stated that the United States’ official position regarding the election is to avoid support for any one candidate. Holbrooke added that Afghanistan’s presidential election is a great opportunity to build the future and destiny of the Afghanistan. The events after the election involved risky unfoldings and the final announcement of election results was delayed due to allegedly extensive election fraud and Karzai government’s abuse of public property and misusing of election funding to their own advantage. The United States and allies feared that the country’s electoral tensions will bring about even more instability and this would ultimately strengthen the Taliban. Finally, after much international intervention and pressure on Karzai to accept the election as fraudulent, he agreed to hold a second round of elections in which Karzai competed with Abdullah Abdullah. After Abdullah quit the second round and resigned as a candidate, chaos grew and the situation of the country became even more turbulent. Until finally, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan announced Karzai as the president for a second term to form his new administration and select its officials (Karzai was Formally Announced as the Official President, Khabaronline 2009).
Hamid Karzai’s after forming his new government made some unprecedented statement at the Independent Election Commission–IEC of Afghanistan. In this controversial speech, Karzai officially admitted that the 2009 presidential and provincial councils’ election involved fraud. However, Karzai objected that the extensive frauds in Afghanistan during elections were violations committed by the foreign officials on Afghan soil and not by Afghans. Karzai’s remarks peaked even more and became more contentious when he accused certain foreign officials and named names such as Peter Galbraith, former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and General Philippe Morillon, the chief observer of the EU Election Observation mission to Afghanistan (Obama’s Spokesperson: ‘Karzai Must be Transparent’, AfghanPaper 2010).
Hostile comments made by Karzai such as the aforementioned accusations of fraudulent interfering of foreign forces in the elections led to increasing resentful breaks and differences between Kabul and Washington. However, despite this, the White House continued to support Karzai. In this regard and post-elections time, General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of NATO’s ISF and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan defended Karzai. Despite Karzai’s verbal disputes with the White House McChrystal called the Afghan president a “great partner” who has been “absolutely straight forward and reliable” (General McChrystal Supports Karzai, Avapress 2010).
After Obama’s visit to Kabul in March 2009, his counterpart Hamid Karzai returned the visit and headed to Washington on 10 May 2010. In this meeting, the two officials discussed several issues including the war against terrorism, economic concerns, possible initiatives and efforts for peace and stability in and measures for protection of civilians in Afghanistan. In fact, the main objective of Karzai’s trip to Washington was an attempt to improve relations between Kabul and Washington that was sabotaged after Karzai’s remarks about Western intervention in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. After meeting with Karzai, Obama welcomed continuation of more rigorous, tighter cooperation with Afghanistan, assuring his commitment to cracking down on al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. The United States’ increasing pressure on Karzai to root out corruption in his government was another reason for tensions between the two countries. Karzai also tried to settle disputes between Kabul and Washington and reduce tensions while at the White House by welcoming constructive talks about the need to protect Afghan civilians in the midst of the war on terror. However, Karzai also expressed concerns about the ability and dependability of Afghan indigenous security forces to take responsibility and fulfill their duties for security maintenance after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2011 (Obama Admitted to Mistakes Made, Mehr News Agency 2010).
In addition, the United States has made an effort to strengthen Afghanistan’s central government by means of empowering civil, social and political institutions of the country both locally and in the international sphere. In the international sphere, for example, engaging members of Afghan civil institutions in international conferences was undertaken as a measure to advocate of civil institutions of Afghanistan. These include conferences such as the UN Roundtable Conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo (2002), the London Conference on Afghanistan (2006) and the Netherland International Conference on Afghanistan (2009). Obama Administration’s new strategy as reflected in the official March 2009 announcement pays a lot more attention to non-combative, non-militaristic civilian aspects of the fight against extremism in Afghanistan. This shift of strategy is less militaristic when compared with Bush administration’s policies in Afghanistan. In order to be able to pursue this shift in policy practically, Obama allocated more financial resources for economic development to further strengthen local governance in Afghanistan with the aim of attracting more tribal and ethnic leaders to engage with the central government politically rather than militaristically. The new U.S. administration has also invested in strengthening and expanding Afghan security and intelligence forces to support the central government in negotiations with Taliban leaders in order to encourage the insurgency to move toward political participation, engagements and campaigns instead of armed conflict and violence.
Dialogue with Moderate Factions of the Taliban
Among the strategies of United States’ for strengthening of the central government in Afghanistan is to disarm the militia, to bring about conditions that will lead them towards other employments and/or will encourages them to engage in political participation by conducting political campaigns as appose to military actions. In this context, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Program (DDR) was established by the government of Afghanistan with support from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to disarm the country’s militia, former combatants and the insurgency. DDR and UNAMA began their mission on 1 July 2003; however, the mission did not proceed as planned. This was primarily because Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry did not follow the mandated guidelines for reduction of Tajik forces and Tajik ethnics in senior positions on time and as such, the program was delayed with phase two completing on June 30, 2006. According to the United States New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Congress report, the full implementation of the approximately 100,000 Afghan combatants into civilian life was not fully achieved. As of April 2008 about 55, 800 individuals went through the DDR training program and were directed to other jobs in the agriculture sector, small businesses or other employment options (Katzman, CRS Report for the Congress 2008) . The DDR program was initiated and continued with financial support from numerous countries with an initial budget of $162 million of which roughly $142 million were spent with Japan contributing most of this fund (ibid and Dennys 2005, 34). Following the relatively unsuccessful DDR mission on June 11, 2005 a new program was launched to disarm the remaining Afghan fighters. Vice-President Karim Khalili launched the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) mission, arguing that the disarming phase of targeting former military combatants is completed and that this new program will target “illegal armed groups” with the aim of eradicating them. The DIAG program convinced members of illegal militant groups to disarm and leave insurgency without paying them any incentives.
The DIAG program has an annual budget of $13 million from a total of $35 million dedicated to this project that is contributed several countries to support development projects such as implementing the new arms ownership and gun control laws. The DIAG mission also faced some challenges especially from local resistance fighters who insisted that it is essential that they would be armed against the Taliban for maintaining local security. In 2008, Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) was launched in which the United States government supported Karzai in setting up of Peace Councils to possibly negotiate with the Taliban and other armed groups who belonged to more moderate factions. The APRP program was conducted under the supervision of the National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and following negotiations conducted under this program, five thousand of Taliban leaders and commanders put down their weapons and joined the rest of the key players in the country’s political rivalries. Some notable figures among the five thousand Taliban who joined civilian life and real politics on the ground include Molawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, Former foreign minister of the Taliban government, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani a former Taliban cabinet minister and Mulla Abdul Salam (Raketti) a former Taliban military commander.
These negotiations with the Taliban are in line with Obama’s vigorous efforts to change tactics, as reflected in the strategies of the March 2009 USA’s Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was in line with these new strategies that an olive branch was given even to insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar the current Hezb-i-Islami leader and the former Prime Minister and Mujahideen leader. Hekmatyar is considered a terrorist by the US state department and is an enemy of Karzai who has taken part in numerous attacks against the central government. Other insurgent leaders were also invited for talks including Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network and one the more influential younger militants, along with a number of commanders who were close to Mullah Omar the Taliban leader. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador in Pakistan who spent a year in U.S. custody at the Guantanamo prison and Mohammad Daoud Abedi, a California businessperson who came to represent Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, were among the mediators. Ian C. Kelly the U.S. Department of State’s spokesperson welcomed the talks with the Taliban adding the conditions that “the U.S. would support such efforts only if Taliban are willing to abandon violence and lay down their arms, and accept Afghanistan’s democratically elected government” (Filkins, NY Times 2009). Homayun Hamidzada, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson on the same occasion, welcomed the talks with the insurgency adding that his government “has kept all channels of communication open” and is willing to negotiate with both the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s network (ibid and Roston 2009).
In December 2009 NATO forces, decided to join Karzai and practically help him out in dealing with the mutual negotiations with the insurgency for disarmaments. In this new NATO initiative, it was argued that since Karzai’s does not commit to eradicating government corruption and improving of the quality of governance, NATO is forced to take matters into control and persuade militants to put guns down. As such NATO will provide financial, economic and security incentives to insurgency for their collaborations. This was in the same month that President Obama announced he is forced to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
However, with all these measures taken so far, the more extremist factions of the Taliban militia are still insisting on their initial post-war position of demanding withdrawal of foreign forces, the implementation of their Islamic constitution and the implementation of Islamic Sharia law in Afghanistan’s legal system. The more extremist Taliban factions condemned Obama’s decision of dispatching 30,000 more troops and in a press release declared that Obama’s new strategy is a self-serving colonial project that is not seeking reforms in hope of solving the problems of Afghanistan. In the statement that was sent to the media via email, it was emphasized that U.S. politicians deceive public opinion in the United States by demonizing the Taliban and portraying them as dangerous threats to the United Stated and the World.
The Taliban argue that Obama’s new approach towards Afghanistan does not work to the advantage of the American people who at the present time are suffering from crises surrounding the economic recession. The mainstream Taliban consider Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan an approach that is grounded on the personal-interests of the Pentagon generals, (neo)conservative politicians and the capitalists. The Taliban also stress that the new Obama strategy cannot practically solve any of Afghanistan’s current problems and that increasing of American troops will only increase American fatalities and casualties in war.
The Taliban statement also declared war against the new U.S. troops, promising more attacks against the fresh forces to come. In 18 March 18 2010, The Sunday Times, in an interview that it claims it has conducted with two Islamic scholars affiliated with the Taliban, writes that the Taliban’s ruling Quetta Shura and Mullah Omar are ready for at least some form of peace negotiation. The Sunday Times quotes one of these scholars/commanders saying:
[Mullah Omar] is no longer interested in being involved in politics or government. All the Mujaheddin seek is to expel the foreigners, these invaders, from our country and then to repair the country’s constitution. We are not interested in running the country as long as these things are achieved. (Grey, Timesonline 2010).
According to this newspaper, the interviewees were also critical of the time that the Taliban, controlled institutions of governance and were the sole ruling authority in Afghanistan. These scholars now believe that, their movement was too inexperienced to keep up with their theocratic ideas of statehood and the affiliated partisanship of their militaristic aspirations:
We didn’t have the capability to govern the country and we were surprised by how things went. We lacked people with either experience or technical expertise in government. Now all we’re doing is driving the invader out. We will leave politics to civil society and return to our madrasahs [religious schools]. (ibid)
The image that this interview is painting based on the claims of the two members of the Quetta Shura is quite contrary to what was previously known of the Taliban’s position towards peace negotiations. In fact, the present position of the Taliban according to the interviewees is exactly the opposite of the position that the mainstream members and the leadership of the group had announced or practically carried out in the past. As such, if the interviewees were telling the truth and the message they were relaying was to become an actuality, this would have been the greatest achievement for the Afghan government. The hope was short lived, nonetheless and the Taliban issued a statements rejecting the claims made in the Sunday Times article by the two scholar/commanders. The Islamic State of Afghanistan (the Taliban) officially made an announcement denying the Sunday Times claims and allegations emphasizing that this newspapers actions were legitimizing occupation. The Taliban specifically stressed their position against foreigners in Afghan land and added that they have not reconsidered their initial positions yet, and they still will act in accordance to their old anti-occupation stance and will continue the war against the occupiers (Afghan Taliban Deny Reports of Talk Plans, Afghan Islamic Press 2010).
Formation and Strengthening of Indigenous Afghan Security Forces
Another very significant factor for strengthening the central government is establishing and strengthening of local indigenous Afghan security forces, including Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army. United States, ever since the overthrow of the Taliban has invested $40 billion in various security, defense and development projects in Afghanistan. Of this total sum of money, $18 billion has been allocated to equip and train Afghan security forces. Undoubtedly, empowering of Afghan security forces, Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police will lead to decreasing number of United States and NATO forces getting involved in fewer security, defense and military operations.
Obama’s New Strategy in Afghanistan advocates strengthening and expanding of the Afghan security forces in order for them to be able to assume responsibility for security and defence struggles against the militia of the insurgency. The new United States strategy speculates a need for 134 thousand Afghan troops to be drafted and trained for the National Army and 82 thousand forces for the national police by 2011. This new strategy is really a continuation of the plan that George Bush administration had envisioned for post-war Afghanistan in 2008. In order to achieve this goal, President Obama announced that he is going to dispatch 21,000 extra troops for Afghanistan On 27 March 27 2009. Among the new forced deployed to Afghanistan more than 4, 000 were to be experts and specialist send to train Afghan indigenous forces. The United States had initially allocated about $20 billion to train and equip Afghan indigenous forces, since 2002. In October 2009, the United States Congress approved and added an additional $7.5 billion to this budget in order to train and equip more Afghan National Army and police by 2011. General McChrystal, in his August 2009 report, stresses that the security situation in Afghanistan has been worsening; emphasizing that training of more indigenous forces has now become a military necessity (McChrystal 2009, 27). McChrystal in this report argues that in order to be able to leave Afghanistan safe and secure to Afghan forces and in order for these forces to be able to establish and maintain complete security throughout Afghanistan, post-withdrawal, an estimate of 270 thousand trained soldiers are needed for the National Army along with about 140-160 thousand National Police Force (ibid).
According to the United States Department of Defense reports, the current Afghanistan National Army with 91,000, trained troops deployed everywhere in the country is able to be in charge of 75 percent of combat operations in eastern parts of Afghanistan and possibly over 50 percent of total defense operation all over Afghanistan. According to the same report, currently the Afghanistan National Army takes part in about 90 percent of military operations that are taking place with cooperation of the coalition forces. Afghanistan National Army has reached the level of operational capability that they even took part in the earthquake relief mission across the border in Pakistan during 2005 major earthquake in the Pakistan administered Kashmir. In addition, United States through the Focused District Development Program is sending experts from district to district, training individuals drafted into Afghanistan’s law enforcement administration and the National Police. This program has also allocated the much-needed resources for education and training of the National Police in 34 provinces of the country and 365 police districts all over Afghanistan. By September 2009, the Afghan National Police employed 80,000 law enforcement officers working in immigration, border control, substance abuse and narcotics divisions and this number included a total 700 female officers (Katzman 2010, 15).
Fighting Government Corruption
The objectives of the United States in capacity-building for governmental institutions in Afghanistan has been fighting and eradicating corruption, systemizing disciplinary consequences for professional misconduct, fraudulence, criminality, bribery, etc. and bringing corrupt Afghan officials, notable personalities and politicians into justice. The U.S. intelligence reports suggest that even some senior government officials in the central and local level are involved in drug trafficking, bribery, fraud etc…. Former U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Thomas Schweich, who served in Afghanistan during Bush Administration reported in a statistical analysis that Afghan high officials including President Hamid Karzai’s own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai are highly complicit in opium cultivation and trade. According to Schweich, drug traffickers tend to pay bribes to and buy hundreds of police commanders, judges and other officials; as such, corruption related to narcotics has drawn senior officials into this trade as well (Schweich 2004, 35). According to Schweich’s reports, some of these officials have access to very critical confidential information because of their administrative positions and in addition heir personal interests are interwoven with involvement in these businesses; for this reason, they actively hinder the fight against Taliban leading any attempts of fighting the insurgency into dead-ends and failure (Jones 2009, 15).
Afghanistan’s recent presidential elections revealed the realties behind corruption of governmental institution in this country. Despite the fact that the U.S. government had always emphasized the need for administrative reforms in Afghanistan, this widespread government corruption became a determining challenge for the United States in achieving its goals and winning the war against terrorism. Karzai administration’s corruption, the criminal activities of some government officials and their involvement in the narcotics trafficking trade as well as Karzai government’s negligence and incapability in fighting corruption damaged relations between Bush and Karzai. Washington and Kabul relations became even more strained when Obama came to power. In his March 2009 speech on new strategy of the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, president Obama called on Afghanistan government:
… I want to be clear: we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people. (President Obama’s Remarks, March 27, 2009)
Joseph Biden, the Vice President of the United States of America in his first trip to Afghanistan in January 2009, passed on a clear and unambiguous message of the new administration to Afghanistan. Biden’s meeting with Karzai did not satisfy both side and the discussions surrounding the issue of Afghan government’s corruption lead to verbal disputes between the parties and caused much anxiety and concern. Obama Administration in September 2009 presented a list of benchmarks to the Congress in which the anti-corruption measures that Karzai’s government has been employing were reviewed. In these benchmarks, Obama lays out the conditions that the Afghan government need to meet in order to be illegible for more international funding and economic investment: Karzai government is obliged to fight and eradicate governmental corruption (Kruzel 2009)
Destroying the Financial (Re)sources of the Taliban
Considering that about %80 of Afghans work in the agricultural sector in the country and considering that %92 of the opiate products in the world are originally cultivated in this region, Afghans’ livelihood is dependent one way or another on the narcotics trade and cultivation. The annual estimates of incomes from narcotics trade in Afghanistan range between $100-400 million, which is considered a major source of financing for militant groups (Jones 2009, 15). As such, the United States based on these estimates argues that one way to wipe out the root causes of the security problem in Afghanistan is to destroy poppy cultivation fields, encouraging farmers to cultivate alternative crops such as saffron, wheat and pomegranate trees. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its November 2008, report states that compared to their 2005 data, there has been a positive trend of decrease in the cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan (Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009, 15). According to this UNODC report, as of 2009 there are 18 poppy-free provinces out of the 34 provinces, which is a positive step forward when compared to the year 2007 in which only 13 provinces had completely stopped growing poppy plants (ibid). United States in the fiscal year 2008 allocated a $38-million budget for the Good Performance Initiative (GPI), which is an initiative investing in development assistance to those provinces that are conducting counter poppy cultivations measures (U.S and Afghanistan Policy in Action 2010). Some of this money, for example, was given to provinces such as Balkh who in a process of poppy cultivation reduction had achieved eradication of poppy growing. In addition, according to some Afghan cabinet ministers, a Social Safety Net program for poppy eradication has also been active in areas that farmers had suffered economic losses due to wiping out of poppy fields.
United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which is a law enforcement unit working under the U.S. Department of Justice has been teaming up with the Afghan Counter Narcotics mission. The Drug Enforcement Administration has been sending off its foreign-deployed advisory and support teams to Afghanistan as part of DEA’s global actions against narcotic trade. This joint mission has been working to identify drug traffickers, with the U.S. DEA team training and equipping the Afghan police. The DEA has also been equipping the Afghan Counter Narcotics Police with advanced vehicles such as helicopters to widen their scope of action and to optimize their joint efforts. Moreover, the United States has allocated an $8-million budget for specialized Narcotics Judicial Center in Kabul that deals specifically with investigating, chasing down and prosecuting drug traffickers (Glaze 2007, 19).
Although the combination of all these counter narcotics programs along with development budgets have been able to reduce opium poppy cultivation in the short term, however, in the more permanent structural aspects of the fights against drug trafficking these programs have faced many challenges. These include the very difficult task of re-employing Afghan workers who used to be involved with various jobs in the narcotics trade and cultivation sector. On March 21, 2009, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke harshly criticized the U.S. counter narcotics strategies in Afghanistan. At a Brussels conference, Holbrooke called such efforts wasteful and ineffective:
The United States alone is spending over $800m a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing…It is the most wasteful and ineffective program I have seen in 40 years. (Envoy Damns US, BBC News 2009)
In July 2009, Ambassador Holbrooke added to his critical stance, announcing that “the United States would end its prior focus on eradication of poppy fields” since it is only driving afghan workers towards the Taliban. He added that in the war against the Taliban, efforts should be made to cut off the financial support they are receiving from wealthy individuals in the littoral state of the Persian Gulf (Katzman 2010, 58).
Increasing the Coalition Forces legitimacy
Since the fight against extremism and terrorism is a long war that can only be achieved over time, foreign forces in Afghanistan have to work towards increasing their legitimacy and invest in the acceptance of their military presence so that indigenous population, the Afghan people, are able to trust their humanitarian benevolence. On 29 December 2009, the United Nations published some statistical analysis that stated an increase of over ten percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first ten months of 2009 (that add up to 2,038 civilian death) when compared to the year 2008 (Starr 2009).
Increases civilian casualties caused widespread objection and disapproval of both Afghan authorities and people who raised their voices against coalition forces’ inability to fight militants adequately. This dissatisfaction was to an extent that Hamid Karzai, the country’s president and a U.S. ally repeatedly warned against the negligence of U.S. and allies in maintaining the security of Afghan civilians. Karzai was specially outraged by an April 9, 2009 American-led overnight military attack that killed five civilians, including two children and a nine-month-old baby in Khost province. Expressing his anger and criticism, Karzai stressed that Afghan authorities “for several years repeatedly asked the international military forces (to) carry out their counter-terrorism operations in ways that do not cause civilian casualties” (President Hamid Karzai Condemns Terrorist 2009).
In order to increase the legitimacy of coalition military presence in Afghanistan certain measures need to be taken including: strategizing military operations to reduce civilian casualties, increasing security levels in locations of civilian life, increasing communication with ordinary people and providing them with safety options and comfort while increasing anti-insurgency operations against Taliban militants. General McChrystal in his 30 August 2009 report states that he is aware of the necessity of the aforementioned measures and that there is a need to transform the operational culture of ISAF and focus on supporting the Afghan people, understanding their environment and developing meaningful relationship with them. In a television appearance on the CBS’s “60 Minutes” McChrystal said: “If the people [of Afghanistan] view us as occupiers and the enemy, we can’t be successful and our casualties will go up dramatically” (McChrystal 2009, 49).
Since fighting extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is tremendously important for Barack Obama and owing to the actual experiences of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the past eight years, the Pentagon establishes a new unit called the Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program that is designed to develop meaningful relations between indigenous locals and the coalition forces. The main objectives of the program is to communicate and understand afghan people, their culture and the environment they live in to better understand the particularities of their lived experiences hands on with a human touch (Dreazen 2009). Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program is a joint initiative and is managed by both Afghan and coalition leadership while supporting the mission plans of the Operation Enduring Freedom. This program educates and trains forces to be deployed to Afghanistan, as well as the civilian members of the program in language and cultural training so that they can follow a strategized common plan in Afghanistan and keep the coherence and unity needed in this cultural mission. Individuals drafted and trained for this program are sent out to Afghanistan to be employed at strategic positions to have the needed influence in order to ensure the progress that the program envisions in achieving America’s goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan (ibid).
Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE) is a new unit, which is established within the structure of the central command center in Afghanistan for collecting comprehensive intelligence and information with a new methodology. Trained individuals include combat forces and non-combative units including analysts that are trained to focus on the language, religion, and cultural particularities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The unit operates on the ground, locally and gathers information on all levels, conditions, and political dynamics of religiosity, political partisanship and ethnic relations. This form of social, cultural and political intelligence is then transferred to various information processing units with military authority and/or non-military body of experts who have the capacity to analyze that information and strategize accordingly in the fight against extremism and terrorism (Dreazen 2009).
Opening up New Fronts in Pakistan
After 11 September 2001, Pakistan joined the war against terrorism, alongside the U.S. military and its allies for which this country received much international aid and funding. Up until the present time and since the Afghanistan war began in 2001, Pakistan has received nearly $18 billion logistical support (Pakistan Received $18 Bn 2010). In his March, 2009 strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, President Barack Obama requested that the Congress increases the economic aid to Pakistan. According to Obama’s request, financial assistance to Pakistan increased $1.5 billion annually over the next five years adding up to a total of $7.5 billion. The new government in the United States argued that this money is really a ‘‘down payment’’ for one of America’s “stronger allies” in the fight against terrorism for which Islamabad will be able to take up a greater role in destroying al-Qaida safe havens, hideouts and military bases, especially those located around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions (Obama, New Strategy 2009). As a matter of fact, Obama Administration in naming his strategy for the region as Afghanistan-Pakistan (AFPAK) Strategy, has announced the togetherness of the situation in the two regions, not because of the geographical proximity of the two regions but because the similarity of the situation of war on terror in these countries. By providing a joint strategy, Obama has put Pakistan on the same agenda, envisioning similar plans for this country as that of Afghanistan, explicitly declaring that stability and security will not be possible in Afghanistan unless one strategized to destroy terrorist bases in Pakistan. In 1 December 2009, in an address to the nation on the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama states:
After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts …These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
The United States’ new administration also proposed that the Congress allocates an additional $2.8 billion in aid for the Pakistani military so that they can jointly strengthen the U.S.-led campaign to battle terrorism and extremism along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This additional funding is apart from the $1.5 billion annual budget for five consecutive years that Obama had previously called for in 2009. This additional Budget is specifically a militarily financing project in which the money is for “equipping, training, and building infrastructure directly related to counterinsurgency operations” (Fishel 2009). Obama Administration is also seeking the consent of Congress to allocate an additional $3.2 billion in fiscal year 2011 to Pakistan. On February 25, 2010, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State announced in a meeting she took part at in the Senate Appropriations Committee, that this additional $3.2 billion aid is much needed to fight against extremism, encourage economic development, strengthening civil institutions, and establishing lasting relations with the Pakistani people (State Department Seeking 3.2 billion 2010).
Despite allocating such a great amount of financial aid to Pakistan, Obama has not been all satisfies with Islamabad’s record of partnership. Hence, in the new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Obama has subject the continuation of economic assistance, grants, and military budgets to Pakistan to compliance with certain preconditions and meeting specific requirements. Obama, on 27 March 2009, refers to these preconditions:
It’s important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al Qaeda. … These are challenging times. Resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future — because the security of America and Pakistan is shared. Pakistan’s government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe havens, and we must isolate al Qaeda from the Pakistani people. And these steps in Pakistan are also indispensable to our efforts in Afghanistan, which will see no end to violence if insurgents move freely back and forth across the border…. And after years of mixed results, we will not, and cannot, provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.
Although the U.S. has called Pakistan its Major non-NATO ally in fighting terrorism and extremism, over the past nine years the Pakistanis with the knowledge of United State’s engagements in two foreign wars, continued to make deals and take advantage of the international configurations to benefit their own national interests. They continued to get financial assistance from the U.S. in the name of war against terror and undertook the excepted measures only when action against extremism were directly threatening Pakistan’s national interests. Despite all of this, even as early as the Bush Administration’s time, Pakistan was being pressured by the U.S. government to take on a more active role in the war against terror. With the expanding activities of insurgency in Pakistan and militants’ traveling back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Bush administration put Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president who was leading a military government at the time, under intense pressure to be liable and actively responsible towards establishing security in Pakistan’s tribal areas and borders with Afghanistan.
It was only after much U.S. pressure that Islamabad began conducting extensive military operations in Waziristan Mountains in 16 March 2004. In the series of Waziristan operations, U.S. forces specially used their spy planes to find targets and the American Drone planes played a particularly significant role in the destruction of militant bases. Despite all this, there is significant intelligence reports that suggest Pakistani army and the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have continued to maintain their secret ties with the Taliban. These hidden links of Pakistan’s governmental institutions such as the military and the secret services to the enemies of the United States has lead widespread objections from the governments of the United States and Afghanistan. As early as January 2007, Karzai was criticizing Pakistan’s government because of their negligence of their mutual partnership and their failure in preventing penetration of al-Qaeda to Afghanistan from Pakistan (Raddatz 2010). In addition, Afghan officials announced on 7 July 2008, that they have found evidence suggesting that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is systematically providing assistance to Afghan insurgency, especially to the Afghan separatist militias of the Haqqani Network. Pakistan’s lack of commitment in pursuing their share in the war against terror and insurgency lead to Bush’s harsh confrontational position towards Pakistan, in 2007. The main reason for all this pressure and anxiety is the logistical significance of Pakistan in the fight against extremism. However, all these diplomatic conflicts have taken its toll on U.S.-Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and in February 2008, Pakistan refused to participate in the Tripartite Commission Meeting of NATO, Afghan and Pakistani leaders, which was held regularly in the common borderland between the two countries.
However, after the defeat of Musharraf in Pakistan, these tripartite meetings resumed as of June 2008. Since the coming to power of President Obama, this Tripartite Commission Meeting of U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders was held in May 2009. The three leaders agreed on common goals of fighting against extremism. Apart from the tripartite gathering, in a separate meeting between Asif Ali Zardari President of Pakistan with his American counterpart, the two sides agreed to strengthen the front against extremism in Pakistan in order for the U.S. to be able to send additional economic, technical, technological, and military aid to Islamabad. In addition, the two partners decided to exchange military intelligence and the United States promised to equip the Pakistani Army with advanced remote controlled aircraft and helicopters.
In addition to political and security agreement between Washington and Islamabad in the fight against extremism, the two countries have opened up several new fronts and have conducted joint military operations in Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, especially in the areas of South Waziristan and Swat Valley. Since the start of Obama’s presidency, these joint Pakistani-U.S. operations are more frequent and intense. On 6 April 2009, the Pakistani army began Operation Black Thunderstorm with the aim of clearing areas of Buner, Lower Dir, Swat and Shangla in South Waziristan. According to Pakistani military sources in this operation, the militant forces killed 128 armed-soldiers and 317 soldiers were injured. In turn, the joint U.S. Pakistani forces were able to kill 1,475 of the insurgency and capture around 100 of them (Sayah 2009).
After this successful operation, United States forces along with their Pakistani partners became even more determined to overthrow Baitullah Mehsud and his forces. Baitullah Mehsud was a prominent leader of Pakistani Taliban who over the years and before his death became very powerful, as 20,000 more individuals had joined his militant insurgency. In March 2009, the United States assigned a reward of up to $5 million for any information on Baitullah Mehsud. With increasing Drone plane airstrikes of the United States in early 2009, Baitullah Mehsud was killed along with his second wife in an attack on South Waziristan. After Baitullah’s death, Hakimullah Mehsud took his place. The joint operations of United States and Pakistani forces against the Taliban and Hakimullah Mehsud, the new insurgent leader, continued. Most of the operations were carried on, in October 2009, and around Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Islamabad allocated a $5 million reward for Hakimullah Mehsud and 18 other paramilitary insurgent leaders. As the military operations continued, in 28 October 2009, thousands of the U.S.-Pakistani joint troops became deployed to the Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan, with the purpose of liberating cities of Kotkai, Kaniguram, Sararogha, and Laddah. These Pakistani military operations were successful and they were able to free Waziristan region and bring it back to Pakistan’s control on December 21, 2009 (Taliban Driven Out 2009). The new leader, Hakimullah Mehsud was killed during these October-2009 operation by remote-control plane airstrikes (Mirkiani 2010). In March 2010, the Pakistani military operations in the wide area Bajaur drove militants out of this region and liberated Bajaur. As the fights continued, on 23 March 2010, the joint forces began yet another counter-insurgency operation in the Orakzai region. It is believed that many of the insurgency militants, including their leader Maulana Toofan after escaping from Ballabh regions have moved to Orakzai (Tack 2010).
Barack Obama, the President of the United States and aides in strategizing a new approach towards Afghanistan, and generally, the fight against the growing extremism made an effort to reform the former United States President, George W. Bush’s ineffective approach towards Afghanistan. George Bush’s approach in Afghanistan came under criticisms and faced some harsh challenges because of its security-based, intelligence-orientated militarism. For Bush Administration, Afghanistan was a security problem and it had to be dealt with by means of security measures. However, what Bush bestowed to the next president of the United States after eight years of conducting his way of war against terror in Afghanistan, was a fungal-like growth of extremism, inch by inch, almost everywhere in Afghanistan and the southern borders of this country with Pakistan. Obama, aware of the shortages of Bush’s politics and his policies of war on terrorism, developed a new approach to reform Bush’s merely security-based agendas for the region. In order to conduct such reforms in strategy, Obama after coming to power began his mission of developing a form of strategy that reforms the security-orientated approach to Afghanistan by taking into account and considering‒in configuration‒ the social, political, economic, and cultural implications of such war, simultaneously in order to eradicate terrorism effectively. As such, Obama’s new approach towards Afghanistan revolved around three axes of gradual withdrawal from the territory of Afghanistan until 2011, negotiations with the Taliban and implementing economic development projects within Afghanistan.
The multi-dimensional configuration of Obama’s new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan raised considerable critical praise among the analysts. However, it is important to realize that Obama is facing various challenges while moving towards the implementation of his multi-dimensional approach in Afghanistan. Obama Administration, his group of aides and experts must pay the due attention to these challenges, find a solution for them and fulfill the needed requirements for paving the way for achieving successful implementation of Obama’s goals in Afghanistan. The range of these challenges that might be hindering the implementation of Obama’s desired-goals for Afghanistan might include: government corruption; economic cultural poverty of Afghan society; the ambiguity of Pakistani offensive partnership in the fight against extremism as well as the obscurity ISI’s involvement with Taliban both in Pakistan and in the neighboring land of Afghanistan; the potential ability of indigenous Afghan security forces to assume security of their country after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2011 and the increasing number of civilian casualties as the war continues. Should Obama’s prescribed approach fail to solve the aforementioned problems and challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama will experience a defeat in Afghanistan that would compare to Unites States’ defeat in the Vietnam War.
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اعتراف اوباما به اشتباهات در جنگ افغانستان در دیدار با کرزی، خبرگزاری مهر،22/2/1389 ، در دسترس است در:http://www.mehrnews.com/fa/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=1082204
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-“Pakistan Received $18 Bn US Aid since 9/11.” Paktribune. (25 Feb. 2010).
- “President Hamid Karzai Condemns Terrorist Attack on the City of Khost”. (22 June 2009).
For original Persian source see:
رئیس جمهور حامد کرزی حمله تروریستی در شهر خوست را محکوم کرد، 1/4/1388، منبع اینترنتی در دسترس است:
-Rashid, Ahmed. “Pakistan and the Taliban”. in. Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and
the Taliban. Ed. Maley William. London: C. Hurst & Co., (1998). 72–89.
-Roston Aram. “Talking to the Taliban.” Foreign Policy Report. (8 Oct. 2009).
- Sayah, Reza. “Pakistan Secures key Swat Valley city.” CNN. (30 May 2009).
- Schweich, Thomas A. “Report about corruption in Afghanistan.”
-“The Special Page On Loya Jirga on BBC Persian.” BBC Persian. (9 June 2004).
For the original Persian source see:
صفحه ویژه لویه جرگه و قانون اساسی، (9 ژوئیه 2004)، در دسترس است در:
- Starr, Barbara, “Obama Approves Afghanistan Troop Increase.” CNN. (17 February 2009).
- “State Department Seeking 3.2 Billion Dollars for Pakistan for 2011: Clinton.” (25 Feb.
- Tack, Sim.“Pakistan’s Orakzai Offensive.” The Geopolitical and Conflict Report. (29
- “Taliban Driven out of a Key Battleground: Pakistan.” AFP. (12 Dec 2009).
- “Text of Bonn Agreement.” (22 December 2001).
- Thompson, Mark.. “Obama is Afghanistan plan.” Foreign Affairs, (1 Dec. 2009): 11-14.
-“U.S. and Afghanistan Announce $25.7 Million in Good Performers Initiative Awards for
Provincial Counternarcotics Achievements.” U.S. Department of State: Diplomacy in Action. (10 November 2010). http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/11/150762.htm.
- “War in Afghanistan 2001- Present/” available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
 Quetta Shura is the primary Taliban council based in the Balochistan province of Pakistan and its leader is Mullah Omar. Quetta Shura is also a think tank base for military operations of Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Along the leadership of the Taliban who has fled to this region post U.S. and allies invasion of Afghanistan, there are also many students from the Madresahs (religious schools) who have migrated to this region during the Jihad time in Afghanistan. Many of the former Jihadi forces specially those who were affiliated with Harakat-e Enqalab-e Islami party that fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s under the leadership of Maulavi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi are now active under the leadership of Quetta Shura.
 Pakistan from 1980s has always used Taliban in Afghanistan as a tool of its power advantage. Major leaders of the Taliban have been students at religious seminaries in Pakistan. It is estimated that since 1998, Pakistan’s ISI has provided roughly $30 million in economic and fuel energy aid to the Taliban. In return, the Pakistani intelligence service has been able to infiltrate inner layers of the organization of the Taliban group as well as the military of Afghanistan being able to manipulate circumstances and exert their influence in form of disrupting the successful achievements and decisions of both Taliban as an organization and Afghanistan as a country. President Asif Ali Zardari in an interview with CBS network admitted that CIA and the ISI are responsible for the emergence of Taliban militants in Afghanistan. See: CIA and ISI Together Created Taliban: Zardari, Times of India, May 11, 2009, also available at:
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/CIA-and-ISI-together-created-Taliban-Zardari/articleshow/4 508279.cms; Rashid, Ahmed (1998).”Pakistan and the Taliban”. in Maley, William. Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban. London: C. Hurst & Co.72-89.