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Sticking with Karzai? U.S. planning afoot in Afghanistan

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We are all waiting to see what will happen with the Afghan election: Will the recount induce a run-off election, or will the election stand? It is too early to tell just yet. The Electoral Complaints Commission, partly appointed by the UN, is recounting about 10 per cent of the disputed votes, with final results due out in about two weeks.

Meanwhile, however, it looks like the American administration is tipping toward Karzai, according to Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. Might this be taken by Karzai as tacit permission to carry through on electoral fraud?

U.S., Allies Vow Support for Karzai
Karen DeYoung - Washington Post

September 28 - The United States and NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan have told President Hamid Karzai's government that they expect him to remain in office for another five-year term and will work with him on an expanded campaign to turn insurgent fighters against the Taliban and other militant groups.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other NATO foreign ministers, meeting Friday in New York with their Afghan counterpart, reached "consensus" that Karzai would probably "continue to be president," whether through a runoff or as the legitimate winner of more than 50 percent of votes cast in disputed Aug. 20 elections, an Obama administration official said.

What Karzai has called "reconciliation" with insurgents who agree to lay down their arms is emerging as a major factor in administration deliberations about a way forward in Afghanistan, officials said. Along with plans to increase the size of the Afghan security forces, the U.S. military is developing programs to offer monetary and other inducements to insurgents it thinks are only loosely tied to the Taliban and other militant groups...

The U.S. force in Afghanistan is scheduled to reach 68,000 by year's end. The number of troops McChrystal has requested remains unknown, although Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said he spoke with Obama on Saturday, called it "one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington. It's 30,000 to 40,000 troops." McCain also spoke on ABC.

[Defense Secretary] Gates has said he is still thinking about his position on a troop increase. But he appeared to disagree with the view of a number of senior administration officials, led by Vice President Biden, that the U.S. effort should move away from full-fledged counterinsurgency toward a greater emphasis on targeted attacks on insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan with drone-fired missiles and other standoff weaponry... (link)

The Biden plan which Gates disagrees with includes a reduction in US forces in Afghanistan. A piece by DeYoung last week gives some of the background:

General's Review Creates Rupture
As Military Backs Call for More Troops In Afghanistan, Civilian Advisers Balk
Karen DeYoung - Washington Post

September 22 - Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's grim assessment of the Afghanistan war has opened a divide between the military, which is pushing for an early decision to send more troops, and civilian policymakers who are increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort...

[B]efore any decision is made, some of President Obama's civilian advisers have proposed looking at other, less costly options to address his primary goal of preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in Afghanistan. Those options include a redirection of U.S. efforts - away from protecting the Afghan population and building the Afghan state and toward persuading the Taliban to stop fighting - as well as an escalation of targeted attacks against al-Qaeda itself in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Obama's public remarks on Afghanistan indicate that he has begun to rethink the counterinsurgency strategy he set in motion six months ago, even as his generals have embraced it... (link)

The Sunday Times provides some support for reports (like above) of US planning to refocus on drone strikes on targets in Pakistan:

US threatens airstrikes in Pakistan
The Sunday Times - Christina Lamb in Washington

September 27 - The United States is threatening to launch airstrikes on Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership in the Pakistani city of Quetta as frustration mounts about the ease with which they find sanctuary across the border from Afghanistan...

Senior Pakistani officials in New York revealed that the US had asked to extend the drone attacks into Quetta and the province of Baluchistan.

“It wasn’t so much a threat as an understanding that if you don’t do anything, we’ll take matters into our own hands,” said one... (link)

Of course, the Obama administration would not be the first in recent memory to use expllicit threats of violence to gets its way with Pakistan. George W. Bush's Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage threatened that the US would bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if Musharraf did not comply with US demands in 2001.

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