McKiernan established early momentum
Departing U.S. Gen. David McKiernan leaves the military environment in Afghanistan in a better position for success, a Brookings scholar noted.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Tuesday he would replace McKiernan, who served as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan for about 11 months, with Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a special forces officer who oversaw several high-profile raids in Iraq.
"Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador," Gates said. "I believe that new military leadership also is needed."
Observers said McKiernan may have lacked the intimacy with the counterinsurgency doctrine embraced by Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command.
U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled his latest strategy for Afghanistan earlier this year, employing a military and civilian policy modeled after the plans Petraeus used in Iraq.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the charges against McKiernan may be accurate but added that he is responsible for setting the initial groundwork for success in the latest strategy for Afghanistan.
McKiernan led the early charges in calling for additional troops in Afghanistan while encouraging a corresponding training effort for domestic forces.
By all accounts, O'Hanlon said, McChrystal is a counterinsurgency expert on par with Petraeus but would typically have to exercise patience with military bureaucracy.
"Military culture and the traditions of civil-military relations do not tend to favor such disruptive actions, with their potential negative implications for morale and their ability to feed the gossip mills in Washington and beyond," O'Hanlon wrote. "But these are not ordinary times."
Taliban stockpiling white phosphorus, U.S. says
U.S. military forces in Afghanistan declassified reports that they say show insurgents were behind claims of the misuse of white phosphorus munitions on civilians.
Washington faces continued backlash over mounting concerns of civilian casualties allegedly from U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan. The latest claims point to "unusual" burns, which Afghan officials and military doctors confirmed are from white phosphorus.
White phosphorus is used for a variety of legal uses in the battlefield, including illuminating nighttime targets and as a smoke-producing agent. It is considered a conventional weapon under international law, though several rights group complain of the secondary effects of the weapon.
A statement from the U.S. military in Afghanistan said its use of white phosphorus is in line with conventional norms.
The statement said the declassified data "show that insurgents have stockpiled and used white phosphorus against personnel in both indirect-fire attacks as well as improvised explosive devices."
The latest reports stem from reports of civilian casualties in U.S.-led operations in Farah province last week. Anonymous defense officials told the American Forces Press Service there was no evidence to suggest U.S. forces used white phosphorus munitions in the Farah operations.
"We've checked our reports again, and no munitions containing white phosphorous were used by coalition forces in Farah," the official said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Monday that Taliban militants were using civilian casualties as part of a propaganda effort to discredit American forces.
"One of the disadvantages we have in these situations is that the Taliban don't tell the truth and they don't care what the truth is," he said.
Communications part of Afghan war effort
Part of the revamped war effort in Afghanistan includes the ability to develop a strategic communications plan to counter insurgent propaganda, officials said.
In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, communications director for U.S. Central Command, said counterinsurgency operations such as those waged in Iraq and Afghanistan rely on communicating with the public as much as on military force.
"In many of the parts of Afghanistan, the message that they're hearing is coming by way of intimidation -- night letters by the Taliban, radio broadcasts that really are required listening, and if they don't, they face death," he said. "We've got to be able to counter that with our own penetration."
Smith said CENTCOM was working on a draft plan to develop networks in Afghanistan, mostly through radio broadcasts, to penetrate the national message with what American forces view as a transparent communications.
"There has to be a realization of being first with the truth," he said.
His comments come as top U.S. defense officials scramble to counter claims by Afghan insurgents that U.S. military strikes are to blame for countless civilian casualties, most recently in Farah province.
Kurdish forces met with protests in Ninawa
Tribal leaders and other influential figures took to the streets Tuesday in the Iraqi province of Ninawa to protest the presence of Kurdish Asayish and Peshmerga forces.
Soldiers with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces prevented Ninawa Gov. Athil al-Najefi from the Hadbaa list from entering the Basheeqa district to attend a local sports festival Friday.
Around 1,000 elders and other leaders took to the streets, raising banners and chanting slogans in support of the new government of the Hadbaa list and in protest of Kurdish forces, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports.
The Sunni Hadbaa list won a surprising victory in the January provincial elections, taking over 19 of the 37 seats and subsequent control over the government. The victory was met with frustration from Kurdish leaders, who took 12 seats but pulled out of the government after Hadbaa refused to grant them Cabinet positions.
Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, said he would oversee a reform of the Kurdish forces.
Asayish forces conduct counter-narcotics and other special operations, while the Peshmerga are considered Kurdish regional forces.
Peshmerga, however, are divided between regional loyalties to Talabani's PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Both parties announced plans to run under a unified ticket for the July elections in the Kurdish provinces. Talabani said he would seek unity for the Peshmerga as well.
In related developments, a top official with the Asayish in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk survived an assassination attempt following a suicide attack that killed 11 and wounded six others.
Opposition mounts for Kurdish vote
The two leading Kurdish political parties in Iraq may suffer modest defeats as opposition movements gain strength ahead of the July 25 elections.
The Kurdish provinces of Iraq -- Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniya -- are set to hold elections July 25. Challengers for the 111 open seats come from 42 separate political entities, with 11 seats reserved for ethnic and religious minorities.
A quota established by the Kurdistan Regional Government sets aside 30 percent of the seats for female candidates.
The Kurdish political system is dominated currently by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, lead by Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Both parties had announced they would compete in the July election under the Kurdistani unified list in an effort to maintain political dominance.
Opponents point to a political climate run by the two parties as one tainted with corruption and self-interest, opening the door for challengers from rival lists to emerge on the scene, the Iraqi analytical Web site Niqash reports.
Nawshirwan Mustafa, a former leader in the PUK, heads the opposition Change list, while four parties -- the Kurdistan Socialist Party, the Islamic Group in Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the independent Toilers Party -- make up the Service and Reform slate.
The Kurdish provinces were set for a May 19 vote, but that date was pushed back as lawmakers wrangled over election laws. The July vote is for parliamentary positions as well as the KRG presidency, with provincial elections set for later in the year.
Kurdish officials said they need a united front in the Kurdistani list to counter increased Arab pressure against their region but added that challenges to Kurdish democracy are healthy for the evolution of the government.
Baghdad, London set for security agreement
Baghdad and London are set to sign a sweeping bilateral security agreement at the end of May that includes specifics outlining the training of Iraqi forces.
Christopher Prentice, the British envoy to Baghdad, said London was set for a documented transition from a military to an advisory role in Iraq following announcements by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in April that British combat operations had ended.
"We will reach agreement specifically at the end of this month, and we will focus basically on the future training of Iraqi forces," he told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. "We will turn our military relations into normal ones without the presence of combat forces."
British forces had operated out of their base in the southern port city of Basra in support of Operation Telic, their coordinated mission in support of the U.S.-led effort in Iraq.
Prentice said London would consider military arms sales as a separate provision, pointing to a series of economic agreements signed in London with the Iraqi government in April.
"The security agreement does not have a clause about providing weapons," he said.