Taliban threat overblown
The idea that the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan is a threat to U.S. national security is an effort at fear mongering to justify the war, an analyst said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said that allowing the insurgent Taliban to regain a foothold in Afghanistan would make the embattled country an operation base for al-Qaida.
Ohio State University political science Professor John Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, challenges that notion, saying it is unlikely the Taliban would host transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaida out of fear of massive retaliation. Meanwhile, the very nature of the terrorist threat transcends national borders.
"The very notion that al-Qaida needs a secure geographic base to carry out its terrorist operations, moreover, is questionable," Mueller wrote. "After all, the operational base for 9/11 was in Hamburg, Germany."
Al-Qaida's numbers have dwindled to around a few hundred in the tribal regions of Pakistan while the casualties attributed to the group and its loose affiliates have dropped to around 300 per year, Mueller noted. This, he wrote, is hardly the world threat that Obama suggests.
Meanwhile, despite trumped-up claims from federal intelligence officials, there is little concrete evidence to suggest al-Qaida operatives have established sleeper cells inside the United States.
Mueller noted that Obama is faced with the same challenges in Afghanistan that America faced in Iraq -- convincing the public to sacrifice lives for what amounts to a humanitarian mission.
"If Obama's national-security justification for his war in Afghanistan comes to seem as spurious as Bush's national-security justification for his war in Iraq, he, like Bush, will increasingly have only the humanitarian argument to fall back on," Mueller concluded.
Karzai seeks First World status
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his long-term hopes for his country were to develop institutions to match those of the industrialized world.
Karzai arrived in Washington earlier this week to hold a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings with U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The Afghan president spoke before an audience at the Brookings Institution on his long-term agenda for his beleaguered nation.
In a compendium of his comments published by London's The Independent newspaper, Karzai said he hoped his country would at some point become a First World nation.
"Afghanistan wants to continue the journey it has began of building democratic institutions, of building a country that has a better standard of living, where not only we save 85,000 lives of infants and children per year, but where we build ourselves into a country that's counted as the First World," he said.
He pointed to progress on the ring-road transport network in Afghanistan and a substantial rise in per capita monthly income as a sign his country was progressing along those lines.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials said Afghanistan is on target to become self-sufficient in wheat production, a sign the progress was under way.
"The vision for Afghanistan 15 years from now is to be much less dependent on the international community," Karzai said.
Military sea change in Afghanistan
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates may appoint a close adviser to oversee military operations in Afghanistan in what is seen as a strategic sea change.
The Wall Street Journal has learned Gates plans to appoint Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez to a top military position in Afghanistan as the Pentagon incorporates the lessons learned from counterinsurgency doctrines in Iraq into its latest strategic efforts.
The Pentagon seeks a more intimate engagement in Afghan operations as part of revamped efforts in the strife-torn nation. U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dispatched Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal in April to oversee a task force on the progress of the Afghan strategy, leaving the American military effectively with two high-ranking generals monitoring the situation.
The Journal reports that top Pentagon officials hope to use troop rotations from Afghanistan to support efforts in Washington once they return stateside, rather than return them to their home bases.
The proposal is met with some opposition from CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus, who supports the idea of a diversified military with diverse deployments.
The Journal reports that the Pentagon's task force on Afghanistan regarded the current strategy as not fluid enough to adjust to the changing threat environment, an attitude reflected in the latest Pentagon "reform" budget for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pentagon pushes 'reform' budget
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates drew on the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan to change the face of the American military in his latest budget request.
The Defense Department requested $130 billion in war funds for 2010, including $61 billion for operations in Iraq and $65 billion for Afghanistan.
The priority given to Afghan operations points to a shift in the strategic focus in the Defense Department as well as a reform of the general military structure.
"If approved, I think it will change the way we manage the Department of Defense," Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said, according to American Forces Press Service.
Gates described the current military structure as inadequate as the strategic emphasis moves from a state-centric deterrent force to one focused on counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism operations.
"The existing organization has not provided adequate institutional support for today's war fighters and their needs," according to an overview of the Defense Department's budget proposal.
The budget focus is the first since either war commenced that the Pentagon is seeking more funds for Afghan operations than Iraq.
The shift reflects the realignment of U.S. military forces. The bilateral Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq calls for a declining troop commitment starting this summer, while Friday, the first troops arrived in Afghanistan as part of a troop surge there.
Baghdad locked on constitutional measures
Iraqi lawmakers said Friday a constitutional committee failed to agree on a series of measures, including Kirkuk and oil, citing political differences.
Sami al-Atroushi with the Kurdistan Islamic Union said lawmakers agreed on a series of constitutional amendments but encountered several obstacles requiring outside consideration, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports.
"We in the constitutional amendments committee raised the controversial issues which need a political agreement to political leaders and we still wait their agreement to send them back to us," he said.
Atroushi noted the vetting of constitutional issues pertaining to provincial authority, the status of the northern city of Kirkuk and the national hydrocarbon law were met with contention.
Iraq is divided over the administrative authority of Kirkuk, with the Kurdistan Regional Government seeking its annexation while other proposals consider special provisions for the oil-rich city.
The KRG, for its part, announced a controversial decision Friday to begin oil exports in June but added that the revenue would be deposited into a national account.
Two main political parties in the KRG, meanwhile, officially registered for the July provincial elections under a unified list.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party officially registered with Iraqi election officials as a unity slate. Analysts have noted the KRG lags in democratic reform compared with greater Iraq, though Kurdish officials have urged patience as government transformation takes hold.
UNDP launches KRG reform effort
A $4.5 million project in Iraqi Kurdistan would go to support budget execution and transparency in the Kurdistan Regional Government, the United Nations said.
The U.N. Development Program announced a three-year program to help the KRG implement regional construction through a financial action plan aimed at strengthening economic measures amid the global financial crisis.
"The aim of the action plan is to strengthen the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the regional ministries' budget execution and enhance the delivery of public services in the three northern Iraqi governorates," the UNDP said in a news release. "It is being implemented alongside a similar and wider effort across Iraq at the national level."
The UNDP said the KRG and the Baghdad central government face challenges from declining oil prices. The KRG said on Friday, however, it would begin oil exports in June, placing that revenue in federal coffers.
UNDP-Iraq Deputy Director Elballa Hagona said the economic situation provides both governments with the incentive to move on a variety of measures to diversify the budget.
"Instead of a threat, the current crisis should provide an opportunity to accelerate much-needed structural reforms aimed at diversifying the economy and stimulating the growth of the non-oil private sector," he said.
The UNDP program coincides with a two-day summit by the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed at supporting government institutions.