Continuing Coverage & Analysis What to Do in Afghanistan -- The Debate Counterinsurgency -- The Critiques Profiles -- The Key Players Echo Company in Helmand Province The Debate Over Drones
Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar issued these detailed rules and regulations describing how the Taliban should fight and engage with the local population. Found by the U.S. military on the body of a dead insurgent, the directive, dated May 9, 2009, instructs Taliban fighters on the proper procedures for dealing with captured spies and enemy equipment, and outlines a strict personnel policy. Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, director of intelligence for ISAF, described it to FRONTLINE as "an interesting contrast between the way they have been fighting, and the way now he is trying to adjust how they're going to fight in the future based on … what Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal has put out as his tactical directive: to be focused on the population."
Continuing Coverage & Analysis
The Af-Pak Channel
A group blog from Foreign Policy
and New America Foundation. Its "Daily Brief" is updated every morning with the latest reporting from the region.
The Best Defense
Thomas Ricks' astute foreign policy blog. Many of the former Washington Post
military reporter's entries focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
magazine's national security blog, which features posts on Afghanistan by writer Noah Schachtman, who was embedded
with the Marines' Echo Company in Helmand province.
A group blog by New York Times
correspondents, photojournalists and local interpreters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other conflict areas.
What to Do in Afghanistan -- The Debate
Commander's Initial Assessment, August 2009 (PDF)
Gen. Stanley McChrystal's
leaked 66-page report on Afghanistan that triggered the current debate. In it he states that "failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
The Afghanistan Impasse
Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid explores the future of the Pakistani Taliban following commander Baitullah Mehsud's death, the implications of the recent presidential election in Afghanistan and the difficult choices facing President Obama's administration. Also read Rashid's June 2009 piece
on Pakistan. (The New York Review of Books,
Go All-In, Or Fold
As President Obama weights his options, The Washington Post
's Rajiv Chandrasekaran notes that President Obama's instinct to find the middle ground between two extremes may be the most dangerous approach to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. (Sept. 27, 2009)
Obama at the Precipice
In this op-ed, The New York Times'
Frank Rich uses the book Lessons in Disaster
by Gordon Goldstein to draw a comparison between Obama's dilemma and the one confronted by President Kennedy and his advisers in Vietnam. (Sept. 27, 2009)
Is It Worth It?: The Difficult Case for the War in Afghanistan
"Advocates for withdrawal from Afghanistan certainly have a case," writes defense policy analyst Stephen Biddle. "The stakes are not limitless, the costs of pursuing them are high, and there is no guarantee that even a high-cost counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan will succeed. But success is possible all the same, given our strengths and our opponents' limitations. And failure could have potentially serious consequences for U.S. security." (The American Interest
, July/August 2009)
The Distance Between 'We Must' and 'We Can'
As President Obama weighs troop increases in Afghanistan, James Traub writes: "It's striking how opinion is divided not according to left and right, or hawk or dove, but rather by the difference between the Wilsonian 'what we must do' and the Kennanite 'what we can do.'" (The New York Times,
Oct. 3, 2009)
Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan (PDF)
Co-written by Andrew Exum
, the Center for a New American Security provides a detailed series of recommendations for the U.S. and its allies to regain momentum against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the next 12 months. Among them include "protecting the population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the Taliban and al Qaeda" and using a "'civilian surge' to improve governance and decrease corruption in Afghanistan." (June 2009)
On Point: Candor and Afghanistan
Lawrence Wilkerson, George Packer and Daniel Ellsberg discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the decisions facing President Obama on the Sept. 21, 2009 edition of NPR's On Point
Counterinsurgency -- The Critiques
Countering the Military's Latest Fad
"Counterinsurgency doctrine is on the verge of becoming an unquestioned orthodoxy, a far-reaching remedy for America's security challenges," warns Celeste Ward
, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations capabilities, who argues we are drawing the wrong lessons from Iraq. (The Washington Post
, May 17, 2009)
The Irresistible Illusion
In this piece in the London Review of Books
, Rory Stewart
, provides an extensive and philosophical critique of the policy choices facing the U.S. and its allies. He writes that, "after seven years of refinement, the [pervading] policy seems so buoyed by illusions, caulked in ambiguous language and encrusted with moral claims, analogies and political theories that it can seem futile to present an alternative." Specific to Obama, he states that his "new policy has a very narrow focus -- counter-terrorism -- and a very broad definition of how to achieve it: no less than the fixing of the Afghan state." (July 2009)
Profiles -- The Key Players
The Last Mission
writer George Packer's in-depth profile of Richard Holbrooke
, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Sept. 28, 2009)
Hawk Down: Why Joe Biden Flipped on Afghanistan
An inside look at Biden's shift from pushing for troop and aid increases to Afghanistan to advising "a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes." (The New Republic,
Sept. 24, 2009)
Stanley McChrystal's Long War
Dexter Filkins' expansive narrative of what current U.S. policy changes look like on the ground in Afghanistan, focusing on both the experiences of Gen. Stanley McChrystal
and Echo Company, 2nd Batallion, 8th Regiment. (The New York Times
, Oct. 14, 2009)
A Dogged Taliban Chief Rebounds, Vexing U.S.
The New York Times
reports on Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, who "represents a vexing security challenge for the Obama administration." Included in this bio are insights into Mullah Omar's past and how his "keen awareness of Western public opinion" has fostered his success. (Oct. 10, 2009)
Echo Company in Helmand Province
"Armed Social Work": the Marines' new brief
Terri Judd of The Independent
reports on the Echo Company's efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population. Her reporting focuses on confronting the Taliban in battle and engaging with the local Afghan population. (Sept. 9 2009)
Firepower Trumps 'Soft Power' in This Afghan Town
magazine's Noah Schachtman explains Capt. Eric Meador's strategy of "deliberately sending his Marines out to provoke fights with the Taliban, in order to keep the militants off-balance -- and give some of the pro-government villages a chance to rebuild." (Sept. 9, 2009)
'America's Battalion' in Afghanistan
In this special online series, NPR follows the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, known as "America's Battalion," on their mission in Afghanistan. The series spans stories of on-the-ground conflict, the personal struggles of soldiers and the stories of their families at home.
The Debate Over Drones
U.S. Shifting Drones' Focus to Taliban
The Los Angeles Times'
Julian Barnes on the U.S. military's decision to move away from using Predator drones in their hunt for Al Qaeda terrorists in favor of targeting Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan. "The move," Barnes writes, "…represents a major change in the military's use of one its most precious assets." (July 30, 2009)
The Drone War
In this article, authors Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation, take a critical look the military's covert airstrikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "The drone war against Al Qaeda's leaders -- and, increasingly, their Pakistani-based Taliban allies -- has been waged with little public discussion of its legality or efficacy," Bergen and Tiedemann write. (June 3, 2009)
Analysis: A Look at U.S. Airstrikes in Pakistan through September 2009
An in-depth look at the U.S. covert air campaign in Pakistan, including a list of high-value targets killed since 2004. According to authors Bill Roggio and Alexander Mayer of The Long War Journal
, their analysis shows "a marked increase in the frequency of attacks since 2008. These attacks are also becoming increasingly lethal." (Oct. 1, 2009)
Qaeda: Drones Suck, But Spies Are Worse
This blog post from WIRED's
Danger Room links to Al Qaeda theologian Abu Yahya al-Libi's translated treatise explainng why American and coalition spy networks are the group's most serious threat. These drone-and-agents campaigns, modeled after successful campaigns in Pakistan, are falling into increasing favor by American counterterrorism proponents. (Oct. 8, 2009)