Thursday, June 30

What amazing luck! Within 24 hours of attack on InterContinental Hotel, ISAF locates a prime suspect!

Alternative to luck theory:

Hi, I'm just calling to say how much I've enjoyed working with you. Thank you. Yes, I'm cleaning out my desk now. No; no plans at this time to write another memoir. By the way, about that InterCon business; would you mind asking General Pasha if he could maybe check around and get a firm lead on who coordinated the attack and where to find him? Uh huh. Uh huh. Of course he has every right to be angry about all the negative publicity about the ISI but you know Langley is still pretty ticked off about Khost. Look, tell him it's not as if we're asking for Haqqani or Omar; just someone high enough on the food chain to make Centcom happy.
ISAF airstrike kills senior Haqqani Network commander involved in Kabul hotel attack
By Bill Roggio
The Long War Journal
June 30, 2011

Coalition special operations forces killed a senior Taliban commander who was involved in a suicide assault on a hotel in Kabul just two days ago.

Ismail Jan, the Haqqani Network commander, was killed yesterday in "a precision airstrike" in the Gardez district in the eastern province of Paktia. The special operations forces targeted Jan "after receiving several intelligence reports from Afghan government officials, Afghan citizens, and disenfranchised insurgents," the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release that announced Jan's death.

ISAF described Jan as a deputy of Haji Mali Khan, "the senior Haqqani commander inside Afghanistan." He also commanded fighters in the Khost-Gardez Pass, a strategic area that links the provinces of Khost and Paktia. Khan "moved into Afghanistan from Pakistan in late 2010," ISAF stated. "During this time he led approximately 25 to 35 fighters in conducting attacks against Afghan and Coalition security forces."

Jan provided "material support" for the June 28 suicide assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that killed 12 people. The heavily armed suicide assault team penetrated security at the hotel and went room to room in an attempt to kill foreigners. ISAF helicopter teams were called in to kill members of the team who were sniping from the rooftop.

ISAF said that the Intercontinental attack was carried out "in conjunction with Taliban operatives," confirming a report by The Long War Journal that the attack was indeed carried out by the Kabul Attack Network.

The Kabul Attack Network is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. It pools the resources of these groups to conduct attacks in and around the Afghan capital. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] directorate as well.

The network's tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Ghazni, and Zabul, a US intelligence official told the Long War Journal.

The Kabul Attack Network is led by Dawood (or Daud) and Taj Mir Jawad, military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Dawood is the Taliban's shadow governor for Kabul, while Taj Mir Jawad is a top commander in the Haqqani Network.

Background on the Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network operates primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, and also has an extensive presence in Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar, and Kunduz.

The terror group has close links with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and its relationship with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan, a tribal agency in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network has also extended its presence into the tribal agency of Kurram.
(See LWJ report Pakistan's Jihad and Threat Matrix report Pakistan backs Afghan Taliban for additional information on the ISI's complicity in attacks in Afghanistan and the region.)
Visit LWJ website for rest of the report and its source links.

Egypt's nervous central bank currency traders waiting on next week's news

June 30:
CAIRO (Reuters) - The Egyptian pound moved within reach of a 6-year low after violent protests rocked central Cairo on Wednesday and following a government decision last week not to borrow $3 million in credit offered by the IMF.

The pound traded as low as 5.9705 to the dollar, approaching the six-year low of 5.9765 it reached briefly on March 30 and traders say 5.97 is an important resistance level that if substantially breached could send the pound much lower.

Some of the pound's weakness "was related to Wednesday's events in Tahrir Square," one currency trader says.

The violence may delay the return of tourists, an important pillar of foreign exchange earnings, in the wake of the Egyptian popular uprising earlier this year.

"The market had also been expecting an inflow of dollars from the IMF agreement, so the announcement it was cancelled contributed to the downside," he added.

A currency analyst outside of Egypt said the purchase of dollars at the close of the 2010/11 fiscal year, which ends on June 30, has also put pressure on the pound.

Traders say the central bank, which they say supports the pound indirectly through several local banks, is loath to allow the pound to fall below the 5.97 resistance level, but may have to rethink its stance if Egypt's foreign reserves turn out of have fallen substantially when end-June figures are released next week.

Wednesday, June 29

Kabul Attack Network is prime suspect in InterContinental Holel attack

This is still such a fast-moving story it can't be established at this time with any certainty which group carried out the attack but Long War Journal's June 28 discussion provides the best guess at this time as to the identity of the perpetrators' gang. See the LWJ website for source links in the report:
[...] Today's suicide attack was likely carried out by the Kabul Attack Network, which is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda.

Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate as well. The network's tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Ghazni, and Zabul, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The Kabul Attack Network is led by Dawood (or Daud) and Taj Mir Jawad, military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Dawood is the Taliban's shadow governor for Kabul, while Taj Mir Jawad is a top commander in the Haqqani Network.

The Taliban have prioritized attacks against hotels in Kabul. In February, a suicide bomber detonated at the Safi Landmark. And in January 2008, a suicide assault team carried out an attack similar to today's at the Serena Hotel. Foreigners were the targets of both strikes.

Today's attack is the second major strike in Kabul this month. On June 18, a heavily armed three-man-strong suicide assault team dressed in military uniforms attacked a police station in the 1st district in Kabul, near the Finance Ministry. Nine people were killed in the attack.

The Taliban have carried out two other major suicide attacks in the capital since the beginning of April. On May 21, a suicide bomber detonated his vest at a hospital that is used to treat Afghan soldiers. Six people were killed in the blast. And on April 2, a suicide assault team attempted to storm Camp Phoenix, a NATO base. The suicide bombers were defeated by US troops guarding the perimeter.

Current death toll from attack on Kabul InterContinental Hotel

From AFP via Australia's ABC News website:
Hotel raid death toll rises
Posted 22 minutes ago

The death toll from yesterday's Taliban assault on a Kabul hotel has risen, with authorities saying 21 people, including the nine attackers, were killed.

Heavily armed Taliban militants stormed the Intercontinental Hotel, sparking a ferocious battle involving Afghan commandos, New Zealand special forces and a NATO helicopter gunship.

Officials said all of the gunmen were killed during the night-time raid on the hilltop hotel, which is frequented by Westerners and Afghan officials.

The state-owned 1960s hotel, which is not part of the global InterContinental chain, was hosting delegates attending an Afghan security conference and a large wedding party when the insurgents struck.

The interior ministry said nine Afghan civilians - mostly hotel workers - and two police officers were killed in the brazen assault and another 18 people were wounded. It said a ninth dead Taliban militant had been identified.

The ministry and the government in Madrid said a Spanish man - reportedly a pilot working for a Turkish airline - was also killed at the hotel.

Interior ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi said the slain hotel workers had been on the first floor and in the lobby at the time of the attack.

Among those staying at the hotel were provincial government officials who were in Kabul for a conference on the handover of power from foreign to Afghan security forces. The process starts next month.
The attackers steered clear of the normally heavily guarded road snaking up to the hotel, instead picking their way through the trees on the northern slope towards the building around 11:00 pm on Tuesday, police said.

Panicked guests were told to stay in their rooms as the attackers, thought to have suicide vests, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, roamed through the building for about four hours before the raid was quelled.

Major Tim James, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said ISAF deployed one helicopter at the request of Afghan authorities which circled the hotel, opening fire on a number of insurgents wearing suicide vests.

"We've had reports that there were a number of explosions caused either by the insurgents detonating themselves or the engagement by the helicopter causing that (suicide vests) to explode," he said.

Witnesses identified the NATO aircraft as an Apache attack helicopter.

AP Report: Security in N. Afghanistan has fallen apart

The report by AP correspondent Kathy Gannon was posted yesterday via the Miami Herald. A must read for those who haven't been keeping up with events in the north of the country.

Attack on Kabul InterContinental not an example of swarm tactic but this is a good time to review John Arquilla's advice on countering swarms

Illustration: Oliver Munday and Ramell Ross for Arquilla's New York Times piece on swarm/counter-swarm tactics

When I'd first posted about the attack on the InterContinental Hotel, which was while it was still in progress, I'd written that it seemed to be a 'swarm' attack, of the kind launched against Mumbai in 2008. When I read B. Raman's analysis today on the attack I realized I'd been wrong to view it as a swarm tactic because even though it had touched off chaos in Kabul it was lodged against only one site. This realization decided me to review John Arquilla's description of the swarm, which he gave in a February 2009 op-ed for the New York Times (The Coming Swarm):
With three Afghan government ministries in Kabul hit by simultaneous suicide attacks this week, by a total of just eight terrorists, it seems that a new “Mumbai model” of swarming, smaller-scale terrorist violence is emerging.

The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time. This approach certainly worked in Mumbai, India, last November, where five two-man teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives held the city hostage for two days, killing 179 people. The Indian security forces, many of which had to be flown in from New Delhi, simply had little ability to strike back at more than one site at a time.

While it’s true that the assaults in Kabul seem to be echoes of Mumbai, the fact is that Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been using these sorts of swarm tactics for several years. Jemaah Islamiyah — the group responsible for the Bali nightclub attack that killed 202 people in 2002 — mounted simultaneous attacks on 16 Christian churches in Indonesia on Christmas Eve in 2000, befuddling security forces.

Even 9/11 itself had swarm-like characteristics, as four small teams of Qaeda operatives simultaneously seized commercial aircraft and turned them into missiles, flummoxing all our defensive responses. In the years since, Al Qaeda has coordinated swarm attacks in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen and elsewhere. And at the height of the insurgency in Iraq, terrorists repeatedly used swarms on targets as small as truck convoys and as large as whole cities.[...]
Raman's analysis underscores Arquilla's definition of the term and shows the limits of likening the attack on the InterContinental to the ones in Mumbai:
[...]6. The attack resembled the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, which involved, inter alia, attacks on two hotels, in two respects and differed in two other respects. The resemblances were regarding the selection of a hotel frequented by foreigners as a target and the use of a mix of modus operandi involving the use of explosive devices and hand-held weapons.

7. The important differences were that it was not a swarm tactics involving well orchestrated attacks on multiple targets located at different places by multiple teams of terrorists thereby forcing the security forces to scatter their resources. It was a single target attack by a single team of terrorists. Moreover, whereas in Mumbai there was a conscious attempt to take hostages in order to prolong the exchange of fire with the security forces, there was no such attempt in the Kabul attack.[...]
Raman's description of the circumstances of the death of a Spanish civilian in the hotel leaves unresolved at this point whether there had been hostage-taking:
10. [...] One of the attackers took shelter in a room. After an exchange of fire with the security forces, he blew himself up. As he did so, two policemen and a Spanish guest of the hotel, a commercial pilot, were killed.[...]
If the guest was in the room where the terrorist had taken refuge, that might represent hostage-taking.

I'll note here one other observation from Raman's analysis:
A part of the hotel was undergoing renovation involving employment of labour. Police suspect that the terrorists might have taken advantage of this to circumvent access control and gain access to the hotel.
That could suggest the attack was more a crime of opportunity than one designed with a specific date, event or hotel clientele in mind.

As to the most effective counter-swarm tactics, Arquilla, who teaches at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and is a proponent of replacing (or at least supplementing) the hierarchical U.S. military structure with a 'networked' one, advised in the same writing for the NYT:
[...] So how are swarms to be countered? The simplest way is to create many more units able to respond to simultaneous, small-scale attacks and spread them around the country. This means jettisoning the idea of overwhelming force in favor of small units that are not “elite” but rather “good enough” to tangle with terrorist teams. In dealing with swarms, economizing on force is essential.

We’ve actually had a good test case in Iraq over the past two years. Instead of responding to insurgent attacks by sending out large numbers of troops from distant operating bases, the military strategy is now based on hundreds of smaller outposts in which 40 or 50 American troops are permanently stationed and prepared to act swiftly against attackers. Indeed, their very presence in Iraqi communities is a big deterrent. It’s small surprise that overall violence across Iraq has dropped by about 80 percent in that period.

For the defense of American cities against terrorist swarms, the key would be to use local police officers as the first line of defense instead of relying on the military. The first step would be to create lots of small counterterrorism posts throughout urban areas instead of keeping police officers in large, centralized precinct houses. This is consistent with existing notions of community-based policing, and could even include an element of outreach to residents similar to that undertaken in the Sunni areas of Iraq — even if it were to mean taking the paradoxical turn of negotiating with gangs about security.

At the federal level, we should stop thinking in terms of moving thousands of troops across the country and instead distribute small response units far more widely. Cities, states and Washington should work out clear rules in advance for using military forces in a counterterrorist role, to avoid any bickering or delay during a crisis. Reserve and National Guard units should train and field many more units able to take on small teams of terrorist gunmen and bombers. Think of them as latter-day Minutemen.

Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen all responded to Qaeda attacks with similar “packetizing” initiatives involving the police and armed forces; and while that hasn’t eliminated swarm attacks, the terrorists have been far less effective and many lives have been saved.

As for Afghanistan, where the swarm has just arrived, there is still time to realize the merits of forming lots of small units and sprinkling them about in a countrywide network of outposts. As President Obama looks to send more troops to that war, let’s make sure the Pentagon does it the right way.

Yes, the swarm will be heading our way, too. We need to get smaller, closer and quicker. The sooner the better.

New Zealand special forces played key role in securing InterContinental Hotel in Kabul

Report from New Zealand's 'Stuff' website with combined AP and Reuters reports:
Kiwi Troops wounded in Kabul attack
Last updated 19:32 29/06/2011

Prime Minister John Key says two New Zealand soldiers who were injured during an attack that killed at least 10 Afghan civilians at a Kabul hotel played a “crucial part” in making the building safe.

Suicide bombers and heavily armed Taleban insurgents attacked the Intercontinental Hotel frequented by westerners in the Afghan capital about 10.30pm, local time.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) this evening confirmed New Zealand special operations forces, in support of the Afghan Police Crisis Response Unit, responded to the incident.

Key said a handful of Kiwi troops were initially at the scene in a mentoring role, but engaged when there was a sudden escalation.

The NZDF said throughout the operation, New Zealand soldiers faced small arms fire and explosions and an ISAF helicopter with a sniper team was utilised to confront the insurgents on the roof of the hotel.

Two soldiers received moderate injuries after taking an active role in the incident in making the building safe, Key said.

The soldiers’ families have since been notified.

Key, who this morning denied any Kiwi involvement, this evening said he was not aware of the incident earlier.

Ministers in New Zealand had been informed at 3.30pm and Key was told later.

Since the team had gone into the area in a mentoring capacity, the prime minister’s office was not informed, he said.

“Sometimes in these instances, the situation changes.”

The NZDF said at 3am local time, a fire started on the fifth floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, most likely as a result of explosives set off by insurgents.

By 6.30am, clearance of the hotel was completed with a number of insurgents killed.


"At least 10 civilians, including hotel staff, were killed when six suicide bombers attacked the Intercontinental," Mohammad Zahir, the head of the Kabul police crime unit, said.

Afghan officials said all the attackers appeared to have been killed. Associated Press reporters on the scene saw at least five bodies removed from the hotel, but could not say whether they were the attackers or their victims.

The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said the helicopters fired on the roof where militants had taken up positions. He said they killed three gunmen and that Afghan security forces clearing the Inter-Continental hotel worked their way up to the roof and engaged the remaining insurgents.

The helicopters attacked after four massive explosions rocked the hotel.

After the gunmen were killed, the hotel lights that had been blacked out during the attack came back on. Afghan security vehicles and ambulances were removing the dead and wounded from the area.


Some Afghan provincial governors were staying at the hotel, which is frequented by Afghan officials and foreign visitors.

Samoonyar Mohammad Zaman, a security officer for the Ministry of Interior, said there were 60 to 70 guests at the hotel at the time of the attack.

"I saw the bodies of two suicide bombers at the main entrance of the hotel," he said.

He said some of the provincial governors who were staying at the hotel had left. But some members of their entourages have remained inside.

"There have been some people who have escaped, but most of the guests are still inside," he said.

Zaman said the insurgents were armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. The were using grenade launchers, he said.

Afghan national security forces moved inside the blacked out hotel slowly as to not frighten or hurt any guests, he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said all the suicide bombers either blew themselves up or were killed while other gunmen continued to fire from the roof for a while.

"There are foreign and Afghan guests staying at the hotel," Sediqqi said before the Nato helicopters attacked. "We have reports that they are safe in their rooms, but still there is shooting."

Associated Press reporters at the scene said the two sides fought with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. They saw tracer rounds go up over the darkened hotel and saw shooting from the roof of the five-story building in the rare, night time attack in the Afghan capital.

Police ordered bystanders to lie on the ground for safety.


Taleban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to the AP.

Mujahid later issued a statement claiming that Taleban attackers killed guards at a gate and entered the hotel.

"One of our fighters called on a mobile phone and said: 'We have gotten onto all the hotel floors and the attack is going according to the plan. We have killed and wounded 50 foreign and local enemies. We are in the corridors of the hotel now taking guests out of their rooms - mostly foreigners. We broke down the doors and took them out one by one.'"

The Taleban often exaggerate casualties from their attacks. The statement did not disclose the number of attackers, but only said one suicide bomber had died.

A few hours into the clashes, an Afghan National Army commando unit arrived at the scene.

Initially, the US-led military coalition said the Afghan Ministry of Interior had not requested any assistance from foreign forces. But later, the Nato helicopters arrived on the scene at the hotel on a hill overlooking the capital.

A guest who was inside said he heard gunfire echoing throughout the heavily guarded building. The hotel sits on a hill overlooking the city and streets leading up to it were blocked. The scene was dark as electricity at the hotel and the surrounding area was out.

Azizullah, an Afghan police officer who uses only one name, told an Associated Press reporter at the scene that at least one bomber entered the hotel and detonated a vest of explosives. Another police officer, who would not disclose his name, said there were at least two suicide bombers.

Jawid, a guest at the hotel, said he jumped out a one-story window to flee the shooting.

"I was running with my family," he said. "There was shooting. The restaurant was full with guests."


Earlier, officials from the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan met in the capital to discuss prospects for making peace with Taleban insurgents to end the nearly decade-long war.

"The fact that we are discussing reconciliation in great detail is success and progress, but challenges remain and we are reminded of that on an almost daily basis by violence," Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister, said at a news conference. "The important thing is that we act and that we act urgently and try to do what we can to put an end to violence."

The attack occurred nearly a week after President Barack Obama announced he was withdrawing 33,000 US troops from Afghanistan and would end the American combat role by the end of 2014.

It took place the day before a conference was scheduled in Kabul to discuss plans for Afghan security forces to take the lead for securing an increasing number of areas of the country between now and 2014 when international forces are expected to move out of combat roles. Afghans across the country were in the city to attend, although it's not known if any where staying at the Inter-Continental.

The Inter-Continental - known widely as the "Inter-Con" opened in the late 1960s, was the nation's first international luxury hotel. It has at least 200 rooms and was once part of an international chain. But when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the hotel was left to fend for itself.

It was used by Western journalists during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

On November 23, 2003, a rocket exploded nearby, shattering windows but causing no casualties.

Twenty-two rockets hit the Inter-Con between 1992 and 1996, when factional fighting convulsed Kabul under the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani. All the windows were broken, water mains were damaged and the outside structure pockmarked. Some, but not all, of the damage was repaired during Taleban rule.


Attacks in the Afghan capital have been relatively rare, although violence has increased since the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Pakistan and the start of the Taleban's annual spring offensive.

On June 18, insurgents wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a police station near the presidential palace and opened fire on officers, killing nine.

Late last month, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan police uniform infiltrated the main Afghan military hospital, killing six medical students. A month before that, a suicide attacker in an army uniform sneaked past security at the Afghan Defence Ministry, killing three people.

Other hotels in the capital have also been targeted.

In January 2008, militants stormed Kabul's most popular luxury hotel, the Serena, hunting down Westerners who cowered in a gym during a coordinated assault that killed eight people. An American, a Norwegian journalist and a Philippine woman were among the dead.

A suicide car bomber in December 2009, struck near the home of a former Afghan vice president and a hotel frequented by Westerners, killing eight people and wounding nearly 40 in a neighbourhood considered one of Kabul's safest.

And in February 2010, insurgents struck two residential hotels in the heart of Kabul, killing 20 people including seven Indians, a French filmmaker and an Italian diplomat.

- Stuff, with AP and Reuters

Tuesday, June 28

Taliban claim attack on InterContinental Hotel in Kabul (UPDATED 6X)

UPDATE 5:00 PM EDT, June 29
Posted about a half hour ago AFP's report on the current death toll from the attack. Adds information that attackers avoided the road to the hotel compound and approached it by climbing wooded hillside.

This is the last update for this post; any other information I'll be passing along I'll place in a new post.

UPDATE 3:49 PM EDT, June 29
When I'd first posted about the attack on the InterContinental Hotel, which was while it was still in progress (see first entry below), I'd written that it seemed to be a 'swarm' attack. I was incorrect, but a discussion about the swarm tactic led me to review John Arquilla's advice on developing counter-swarm tactics, which I did in this Pundita post this afternoon, and which also quotes from B. Raman's informative analysis of the attack on the InterContinental.

And earlier today I posted a report from a New Zealand news site about the important role that New Zealand special forces played in securing the hotel. I found the report very interesting.

I'm not sure the reason cited in the Bloomberg report for the attack is the only one because reportedly there were high-value Afghan targets -- governors -- staying at the hotel ahead of the next day's conference. But here's the Bloomberg report, which contains details not mentioned in other reports I've included in the updates.

This will be my last update for the night.
Taliban Raid on Kabul Hotel Misses Targeted U.S. Diplomats

by Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul and Flavia Krause-Jackson in Washington
June 28, 2011, 7:45 PM EDT
Bloomberg wire service

Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, seeking to find and kill visiting American and Pakistani diplomats.

No U.S. diplomats were caught in the attack, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in an e-mailed statement. The U.S. government had no immediate information about private American citizens, she said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack as he returned to Washington from an event in Iowa.

The attack began at 10 p.m. yesterday and gunfire continued at the darkened hotel five hours later, as Afghan army units clashed with the Taliban gunmen. Two NATO helicopters killed three gunmen on the roof, the Associated Press reported, citing coalition spokesman Jason Waggoner.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said four suicide bombers either blew themselves up or were killed in the fighting, according to the AP.

Zabihullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban movement, said a “big group” of Taliban gunmen killed or wounded 50 people, mostly foreigners, at the landmark hotel in the capital. The attack was timed for a meeting of U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials with the intent of killing them, he said.

One bomber blew himself up at the start of the raid and a guard at the entrance of the hotel was killed, Mujahed said in a telephone interview. Once inside, the gunmen dispersed inside the hotel to seek foreigners on different floors, he said.

A U.S. delegation led by Ambassador Marc Grossman, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had left Kabul earlier and was en route to Washington during the attack, Nuland said.

“The United States strongly condemns the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, which once again demonstrates the terrorists’ complete disregard for human life,” Nuland said.
Wolf Blitzer reports on CNN TV at around 6:33 PM EDT (3:33 PM Kabul time) on Reuters report that NATO helicopters have just fired on and killed 3 terrorists on the hotel roof.

> Foreign jornalist Erin Cunningham on Skype to Wolf Blitzer CNN 3:30 AM Kabul -- she told Wolf:
> Right now, helicopters arriving to shoot at terrorists on hotel roof. [These must be the NATO
> She is now back at her home but about 15 minutes before she first spoke with Wolf she recounted that she and another reporter were standing about 500 meters from the hotel (as close as police would allow onlookers) and they were nearly knocked off their feet by three large explosions; the police didn't know the source of the explosions.
> Barbara Starr CNN Pentagon reporter - 6:36 PM EDT:
ISAF spokesperson confirms just now that 2 NATO helicopters did fire on terrorists on roof, killing an estimated 3 of them.
> Hotel, located on a hilltop, is 9 miles from Kabul international airport, about 2 miles from city center. Hotel has 5 stories, 300 rooms.

From FNC live report around 6:00 PM EDT from their Pentagon reporter Jennifer Griffin:
> Unconfirmed reports that there have been hostages taken in the hotel
> All State dept. personnel accounted for but State can't say whether there are any Americans in the hotel.
> Kabul police and/or commandos did not intially request help from ISAF.
In these updates I'm simply passing along entire reports from different news agencies because each report has different details. Still a fog of war situation at the hotel but I do have one question. An Afghan police official says in the CNN report that they've had no contact with people in the hotel because the phone lines are down. Blackberry, anyone?
Bombers attack luxury hotel in Kabul
By the CNN Wire Staff
June 28, 2011 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Fighters armed with bombs and small arms attacked Kabul's InterContinental Hotel, where they fought Tuesday with Afghan security forces, Chief of Criminal Investigation Mohammed Zahir told CNN.

Suicide bombers were among the attackers, he said.

Taliban bombers were responsible for the 10 p.m. attack on the hotel, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.

The hotel is popular among international guests.

Initial reports indicate that multiple suicide bombers, mostly likely wearing explosive vests, carried out the attack, a U.S. military official told CNN. There were no indications that U.S. military or diplomatic personnel were at the hotel, the official said.

Police Chief Lt. Gen. Ayoub Salangi said Kabul police were on the grounds of the hotel, but had not been able to communicate with anyone inside, since the phone lines were down. He could not confirm any casualties.

A news conference had been scheduled to take place Wednesday in the hotel to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces announced last week by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The hotel is on a hill on the outskirts of Kabul and is typically protected by heavy security. Three Taliban penetrated that security, and one of them detonated an explosion on the second floor, said Erin Cunningham, a journalist in Kabul for The National.

"We're continuing to hear small-arms fire right now," she told CNN from a vantage about 500 meters (a third of a mile) from the hotel. Several snipers were on the roof firing at Afghan security forces.

A few minutes beforehand, she said, rocket-propelled grenades were launched from the roof of the hotel toward the area of the first vice president's house. "Everyone is pretty nervous," she said. "A lot of people are fleeing the scene."

A few moments later, she said the hotel was rocked by three explosions, one of which knocked her off her feet. U.S. forces were on the scene, she said.

Members of the Afghan National Security Forces were on the scene, but the city police had the lead, International Security Assistance Force Maj. Jason Waggoner said in a statement.

He said ISAF forces were providing "some limited assistance."

Electricity around the hotel was shut off, said Jerome Starkey, a reporter for The Times.

The hotel was developed by the InterContinental Hotels Group and opened in 1969. But it has had no association with the group since the Soviet invasion in 1979, though it continues to use the name and logo without connection to the parent company.

The incident came on the same day that Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell announced that NATO and other members of the international community involved in Afghanistan have decided to increase the number of security forces in the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to 352,000.

The current number of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is about 300,000, the commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan and commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command told the Atlanta Press Club.

The increased number will be sufficient to give the Afghans security without coalition forces having to do it, he said.

CNN's Reza Sayah in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tom Watkins in Atlanta, Barbara Starr and Elise Labott in Washington and journalist Jonathan Boone [for the Guardian] in Kabul contributed to this story.
Kabul Bombing: Hotel Under Attack By Suicide Bombers in Afghanistan
By NICK SCHIFRIN (@nickschifrin) reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan
ABC News [USA]
June 28, 2011

In one of the most significant attacks in Afghanistan in the past few years, insurgents have hit a landmark Kabul hotel where Afghan officials had gathered for a conference with as many as 6 suicide bombers and gunmen, according to police.

At least one suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the Intercontinental Hotel, and the attack is still ongoing. At least four explosions have been heard and gunfire continues. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A police official says there are at least 3 attackers, but the number could be double that. An Afghan news agency is reporting that at least 10 people have died, but that figure has not been independently confirmed.

Afghan officials, including provincial governors, were staying at the Intercontinental because of a conference on transition that begins tomorrow. Afghan forces are scheduled to take charge of security in some areas of the country starting in July.

According to a State Dept. official, no American officials have been affected by the attack. It's not yet known if any other Americans have been killed or injured.

It's not known if there was a particular target staying at the hotel, which sits on a hill above the city, or if the target was the hotel itself. The attack occurred while guests were having dinner and power to the hotel and the entire surrounding neighborhood has now been cut. Police have cordoned off streets leading to the hotel. The U.S.-led international military force in Afghanistan says it has offered assistance to Afghan authorities.

The Intercontinental Hotel is the most famous hotel in Afghanistan and one of the icons of Kabul, where many Westerners and Afghan officials stay and hold meetings.

Afghanistan: Kabul's Intercontinental hotel attacked by Taliban militants
By Jon Boone in Kabul
The Guardian
Tuesday 28 June 2011 21.15 BST [British Summer Time 5 hours ahead of EDT]

Taliban militants with at least one suicide bomb attack popular Kabul hotel, with Afghan police reportedly locked in gun battles

A famous hotel in Kabul is under attack from a commando squad of Taliban militants armed with small arms, at least one suicide bomb and rocket propelled grenades.

The assault on the old Intercontinental, which is popular with Afghan politicians and foreign visitors, began late on Tuesday night when it is thought at least two receptions were taking place.

Although details about the ongoing assault are still unclear, a Taliban spokesman, contacted on the phone by journalists, was quick to claim credit for the assault.

A Kabul police chief, Mohammad Zahir, said the assault involved "several gunmen shooting", and that a "number" of police had been wounded.

According to a tweet by Bette Dam, a Dutch journalist at the scene, the attackers also appeared to be armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Dam reported seeing at least four RPGs being launched from the hotel into the nearby house belonging to Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one of Afghanistan's vice-presidents.

Reuters reported that a wedding party was in progress at the 1960s hotel, which is no longer part of the Intercontinental chain, at the time of the assault.

The attack on such a well-defended hotel, which is impossible to approach without going through at least two security checkpoints, is embarrassing for the Afghan government as it prepares to take responsibility for security in Kabul province, as part of much-vaunted "transition" strategy. Afghan authorities have already been nominally in charge of the capital city for some time.

Attacks in Kabul have been relatively rare, although violence has increased since the 2 May killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Pakistan, and since the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive.

On 18 June, insurgents wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a police station near the presidential palace and opened fire on officers, killing nine.

This seems to be a 'swarm' attack, of the kind launched against two major hotels in the seige of Mumbai in 2008 that also had a large foreign clientele. A Taliban spokesman claims that the attackers are going by floor by floor and room by in the hotel. No time stamp on the New York Times report, which appeared on Google News about a half hour ago; in any case the situation was unresolved at the time the report was filed. I'll try to see what I can find by way of updates to the situation:
Group of Attackers Storms Hotel in Afghan Capital
Published: June 28, 2011
The New York Times

KABUL — Several attackers stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Tuesday night, and witnesses said shooting and a loud explosion were heard as Afghan security forces rushed to the scene. Afghan security forces were still struggling to bring the situation under control, and the number of casualties was not immediately clear. But a Western security official said that early reports indicated that there were as many as six attackers — armed and believed to be wearing suicide vests — and that 10 people had been killed in the attack.

A police general, Mohammed Zahir, head of the Criminal Investigation Department, said at least three suicide bombers armed with light and heavy weapons had entered the Intercontinental Hotel.

“All the Afghan forces are near and around the hotel and the fighting is still going on and we are trying to kill them,” he said.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack saying they were targeting foreigners and Afghans, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman for the north and east, said in a statement.

“Our muj entered the hotel,” he said, referring to Taliban fighters, “and they’ve gone through several stories of the building and they are breaking into each room and they are targeting the 300 Afghans and foreigners who are staying.”

His claims could not be immediately confirmed.

The attack appeared to be in the style of previous assaults carried out by armed men in suicide vests in Afghanistan in recent years by the Taliban and its allies in the Haqqani network, a militant group based in Pakistan.

In October 2009 several suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a United Nations guest house in Kabul. By the end of the siege, at least five United Nations employees, two Afghan security officials and the brother-in-law of a prominent Afghan politician were dead, along with three attackers.

Similarly, in the summer of 2010 in the northern city of Kunduz six suicide bombers entered a guest house used by Development Alternatives Inc., a global development company under contract to the United States Agency for International Development. Four people were killed in that attack.

In January 2008 a suicide bombing at the Serena Hotel in Kabul killed at least six people.

On Pakistan, “Something’s got to give, something’s got to change.” (EDITED 1X)

In the first version of this post I commented that there were no surprises in Gen. Allen's confirmation testimony. According to a Fox News TV report a few minutes ago, Allen did drop a bombshell during the hearing by saying (or indicating) that the Pentagon didn't include the number that Obama decided on as within the range of troop drawdown options that the Pentagon had provided the White House. Previously I think everyone had assumed that the Pentagon had included the number in the range of options they provided the White House as part of their recommendations.

I'm looking for information to verify the Fox statement but in the meantime I've yanked my comment as well as my praise for the Washington Post journalist whose report I quote in this post because if Allen did indeed make such an explicit statement or even srong indication, it didn't show in the report -- even though the reporter quotes Allen as saying that Obama’s decision to withdraw 10,000 troops by December and 23,000 more troops by September “was a bit more aggressive than we anticipated.”

That's not quite as saying that Obama chose a number that wasn't within the Pentagon's range of recommendations. Fox might have simply read that inference into Allen's statement, however.
Note that powerful senators on both sides of the political aisle are in lockstep when it comes to the need for the U.S. to alter its approach to Pakistan.

See the Washington Post website for source links provided in the report:
Posted at 12:11 PM ET, 06/28/2011
Lt. Gen. John Allen falls in line on Afghanistan
By Craig Whitlock
for Washington Checkpoint (reporting on diplomacy, intelligence and military affairs)
The Washington Post

Lt. Gen. John R. Allen may be a Marine, but he also showed Tuesday that he knows how to be a good soldier, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports President Obama’s plan to draw down forces in Afghanistan.

Allen, whom Obama has nominated to become commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said he wasn’t involved in the deliberations over how many troops to pull out from Afghanistan. But he echoed other military commanders in saying that Obama’s decision to withdraw 10,000 troops by December and 23,000 more troops by September “was a bit more aggressive than we anticipated.”

At the same time, Allen said Obama’s timetable to wind down the war in Afghanistan sent a clear message to the government of President Hamid Karzai that it needs to assert itself and take more direct responsibility for fighting the Taliban.

“It sends a message of urgency to the Afghans that they must begin to take ownership of their security themselves,” Allen said.

Allen’s testimony came as the Senate panel considered a triple play of military nominations. In addition to Allen’s promotion to full general and the top commander in Afghanistan, the committee deliberated on the nomination of Vice Adm. William H. McRaven to become commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and Army Gen. James D. Thurman to become commander of U.S. forces in Korea.

Confirmation appeared to be a foregone conclusion in each case as effusive senators praised the patriotism and bravery of the nominees. The toughest questions for McRaven, the current head of the Joint Special Operations Command and the military official who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, concerned whether he thought he’d have enough forces and support to keep pursuing insurgent leaders in Afghanistan.

Allen had the more awkward task of persuading senators that he backed Obama’s troop drawdown plan even though it was an open secret that the Pentagon wanted the commander in chief to keep more forces in Afghanistan for a longer duration.

“This decision by the president can be accounted for in the current strategy,” Allen said, a bit delicately.

The former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, Allen also fielded skeptical questions about whether the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan could succeed regardless of how many U.S. forces stick around.

“I have for you a more fundamental question,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Is there any number of troops that can ensure a stable Afghanistan?”

She cited the existence of havens for insurgents in Pakistan and the lack of a functional government in Kabul “that is not plagued by corruption.”

Allen acknowledged that “there are challenges, significant challenges” but said those obstacles were not insurmountable.

McRaven was more forthright about the U.S. government’s inability to persuade Pakistan to eliminate havens for insurgents fighting in Afghanistan. Asked why Pakistan hadn’t cracked down on the Haqqani network, which is based in North Waziristan, McRaven said it was “both a capacity issue and potentially a willingness issue,” and added, “I don’t think it is likely to change” in the near term.

That assessment didn’t improve the mood of some senators, already irritated by what they view as a lack of support from Pakistan.

“Something’s got to give, something’s got to change,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-.S.C.) pressed the point on whether Pakistan was a reliable partner by asking McRaven if Pakistan had acted on U.S. requests to find Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, or to close down bomb factories operating on its territory.

McRaven acknowledged that U.S. officials had asked their Pakistani counterparts for help on both counts, but didn’t have much to show for it.

“I’m with Chairman Levin on this,” Graham said, citing a growing frustration with Pakistan. “This has got to stop.”

Levin said the committee would try to hold a confirmation vote for Allen and the others this week. Administration officials want to speed up plans to change commanders in Afghanistan so that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the current commander, has a bit of a breather before starting his new job, as expected, as director of the CIA.

Friday, June 24

Karzai surrounding himself with anti-US advisors as he realizes US military pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 will be total

June 23, 2011:
Karzai surrounding himself with anti-US advisers
By Kathy Gannon
Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai is increasingly isolated and has surrounded himself with an inner circle of advisers who are urging him to move closer to Iran and Pakistan as the U.S. draws down its role in Afghanistan, several friends and aides tell The Associated Press.

Their advice is echoed in Karzai's anti-West rhetoric, which has heightened both in his public speeches and in private. He met recently with Iran's defense minister, and constantly cautions against trusting the U.S. to have Afghanistan's best interests at heart.
"A lot of Afghans are very concerned about the direction the country is taking, moving away from the international community ... toward a more conservative practice in which the religious people and warlords have more power," Human Rights of Afghanistan Commissioner Nader Nadery said.

"Consistently his aides are pushing him toward Iran and Pakistan," Nadery said. "All those who are managing and controlling his schedule, providing appointments, all see the advantages of breaking with the international community."
In part, Nadery blamed Karzai's disappointment at not getting a strategic forces agreement with the United States that would allow for U.S. bases in Afghanistan as well as give the president protection and negotiation room with Washington. Instead, the document the U.S. gave to Karzai spoke only of a complete withdrawal, he said.

The United States has said it will have all its fighting forces out of Afghanistan by 2014 and that the security of Afghanistan will be turned over to Afghan forces. The U.S. has not asked for any bases or centers to remain under its control.

"I think the reality of their complete withdrawal has struck home," Nadery said. "Now he sees they may go and they don't want a (military) presence here, there were no bases that they requested and perhaps now he is thinking, `Who will protect me?' And he has turned to Hizb-i-Islami and conservative elements in the country like those on the Ulema (clerics) Council, former warlords, as well as getting closer to Pakistan and to Iran."
See also the Guardian's June 23 report, US pullout from Afghanistan signals new power struggle in fragile nation. The highlights:

• Fears peace talks will see Taliban return to power
• Pakistan, India, Russia and China jockey for position

And if anyone's interested in more of the Obama administration's blither about Pakistan:
June 23, 2011 -(Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Pakistan on Thursday that U.S. military aid could suffer if Islamabad failed to address rising U.S. doubts over its commitment to fighting Islamist militants.

Clinton told a Senate panel that the Obama administration viewed Pakistan as a crucial partner as it seeks to wind down the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan and vanquish al Qaeda and other militant groups.

But under skeptical questioning from U.S. lawmakers, Clinton said Washington remained concerned that Pakistan's actions were sometimes not lining up with its words -- and that it could affect the billions of dollars in annual U.S. aid to Pakistan.

"When it comes to our military aid, we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see some steps taken," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

She didn't specify the steps, but stressed it was time for the United States and Pakistan -- which saw relations deeply strained after U.S. special forces raided a Pakistani compound in May to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- to ensure they are on the same page.

"On one side of the ledger are a lot of actions that we really disapprove of and find inimical to our values and even our interests," Clinton said.

"Then on the other side of the ledger there are actions that are very much in line with what we are seeking and want. So we're constantly balancing and weighing that."[...]
The official, declared state policy of Pakistan is that terrorism is a legitimate tool of war.

The regime has repeatedly used the tool against unarmed civilians, repeatedly used it to fight undeclared wars, and used it as a foreign policy tool. So what does it say about the United States of America that instead of declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, in the face of overwhelming evidence going back decades that it does indeed use terrorism as a tool of war, the U.S. regime blithers about values and balancing a ledger?

Cell phone links bin Laden courier with militant Pakistani group that has close ties with ISI and Pak military

"Heeeere lizard lizard lizard"

"It is as if the Pakistani powers that be have had, ever since Al Qaeda's retreat from Afghanistan and their withdrawal into Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, a precise idea of where the chiefs of Al Qaeda could be found. It is as if Pakistan's formidable intelligence service, the ISI, had not only localized but kept these public enemies of the U.S. -- and theoretically of Pakistan -- under observation, handy for periodic culling.

It is as if these people were bargaining chips, with the Pakistanis drawing from their reserves of terrorists and cashing them in one by one, depending on the needs of their relationship with the great American 'friend.'

Optimists will be delighted to learn that there is a country where people know a little about the hiding places of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants, as well as about Bin Laden himself, perhaps."
-- Bernard-Henri Lévy, 2005

“The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in Bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the United States." -- Bruce Riedel, 2011
Seized Phone Offers Clues to Bin Laden’s Pakistani Links

By Carlotta Gall, Pir Zubair Shah and Eric Schmitt
June 23, 2011 - 11:00 PM EDT
The New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The cellphone of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier, which was recovered in the raid that killed both men in Pakistan last month, contained contacts to a militant group that is a longtime asset of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, senior American officials who have been briefed on the findings say.

The discovery indicates that Bin Laden used the group, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, as part of his support network inside the country, the officials and others said. But it also raised tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support Bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harakat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years, the officials and analysts said.

In tracing the calls on the cellphone, American analysts have determined that Harakat commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials, the senior American officials said. One said they had met. The officials added that the contacts were not necessarily about Bin Laden and his protection and that there was no “smoking gun” showing that Pakistan’s spy agency had protected Bin Laden.

But the cellphone numbers provide one of the most intriguing leads yet in the hunt for the answer to an urgent and vexing question for Washington: How was it that Bin Laden was able to live comfortably for years in Abbottabad, a town dominated by the Pakistani military and only a three-hour drive from Islamabad, the capital?

“It’s a serious lead,” said one American official, who has been briefed in broad terms on the cellphone analysis. “It’s an avenue we’re investigating.”
Harakat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of Al Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and the author of “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad.”

“The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in Bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the United States, Mr. Riedel added.

Indeed, suspicions abound that the ISI or parts of it sought to hide Bin Laden, perhaps to keep him as an eventual bargaining chip, or to ensure that billions of dollars in American military aid would flow to Pakistan as long as Bin Laden was alive.

Both the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Representative C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, said this month that they believed that some members of the ISI or the Pakistani Army, either retired or on active duty, were involved in harboring Bin Laden.

Bin Laden himself had a long history with the ISI, dating to the mujahedeen insurgency that the Americans and Pakistanis supported against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Two former militant commanders and one senior fighter who have received support from the ISI for years said they were convinced that the ISI played a part in sheltering Bin Laden. Because of their covert existence, they spoke on the condition that their names not be used.

One of the commanders belonged to Harakat. The other said he had fought as a guerrilla and trained others for 15 years while on the payroll of the Pakistani military, until he quit a few years ago. He said that he had met Bin Laden twice.
He and the other commander, who spent 10 years with Harakat, offered no proof of their belief that Bin Laden was under Pakistani military protection. But their views were informed by their years of work with the ISI and their knowledge of how the spy agency routinely handled militant leaders it considered assets — placing them under protective custody in cities, often close to military installations.

The treatment amounts to a kind of house arrest, to ensure both the security of the asset and his low profile to avoid embarrassment to his protectors.
Yes. That is how Pakistan's military was able to magically locate members of al Qaeda when they found it expedient.

There is much more to the Times report than I've quoted here, so I hope you'll read the entire piece at the Times site.

Thursday, June 23

Memo to Afghans: Who're ya gonna believe? Us or your lying eyes?

Ah. I see from this Wall Street Journal report that Afghans are worried Obama's drawdown speech means the United States is going to leave them at the mercy of the ISI again. Now would we do a thing like that?

For heaven's sake; we've already put them at the mercy of the ISI again. Or haven't Afghans noticed? It's just a matter of degree: once you're hanging from one thumb why complain about the prospect of hanging from two?
Wary Afghans Worry U.S. is Repeating History
June 23, 2011
The Wall Street Journal

KABUL—President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw one-third of U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the next 14 months conjured up uneasy memories for Afghans concerned that their American allies could leave the country before the job is done.

[...] Across the political spectrum, Afghan leaders expressed reservations about American intentions, saying they don't want to see U.S. policy makers repeat the patterns of the past by cutting off support for Afghanistan without making sure it had a stable government. They recalled the U.S. decision to dramatically scale back support for Afghanistan after Soviet forces were forced to withdraw in 1989. Afghanistan observers say withdrawal of American support for Afghan anti-Soviet fighters allowed Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency to secure its place as a central player in Afghanistan's political stability.

"Twenty years ago, they left Afghanistan after the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan and Afghanistan was controlled by the ISI," said Ghulam Haider Hamidi, mayor of Kandahar city. "We don't want to go back 20 years when they were making the decisions about Afghanistan."

President Obama's Speech on drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan: Long War Journal has the best analysis

The discussion at Long War Journal is a model of clarity, written by people who actually know what they're talking about -- a rare phenomenon in the world of Afghan War analysis:
Obama announces rapid drawdown of surge forces from Afghanistan
By Bill Roggio and Chris Radin
June 23, 2011
Long War Journal

President Barack Obama announced a swift drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan in a nationally televised speech [White House transcript] from the [White House East Room] last night. The announcement reflects an abandonment of a counterinsurgency-heavy strategy advocated by US military commanders and a shift to less manpower-intensive counterterrorism operations advocated by members of the Obama administration.

President Obama's drawdown plan calls for a reduction by 10,000 of the more than 100,000 US troops currently in country by the end of this year. Roughly a brigade of troops, estimated at 5,000, will be withdrawn beginning next month. A second brigade of 5,000 troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan by the beginning of 2012.

An additional 23,000 US soldiers will be withdrawn by the end of the summer of 2012. This will lower the number of troops in Afghanistan to 67,000, which is the same quantity present before the "surge" was deployed in accord with President Obama's announcement of a new strategy in a December 2009 speech. A steady reduction of US forces will continue though 2013 and 2014, until only a small residual force is left by the end of 2014.

A high-risk strategy

President Obama's plan indicates that the US and NATO transfer of control to Afghan security forces will be accelerated, forcing them to divert energy from building and training forces to actively assuming security responsibilities. This high-risk plan relies on the nascent Afghan security apparatus to battle the Taliban in areas outside of government control while negotiating a political settlement with the top levels of the Taliban movement. President Obama also indicated that he will continue to attempt to work with Pakistan to deal with terrorist sanctuaries there.

The US will likely remove the first batch of troops from the southern region, where the bulk of the 33,000 surge forces were deployed. Security in the south has improved since the surge began, and the US believes there are sufficient Afghan forces available to start taking over. The remaining US forces, while smaller in number, will be required to complete the remaining combat operations while transitioning a portion of their numbers to mentoring the Afghan security forces.

The quick drawdown means that the US and NATO will not have enough forces to address the problems that still exist in the east and the north, where the situation has either remained the same or, in some cases, worsened. President Obama's announcement means that troops freed from the south will not be redeployed to the east. They are being withdrawn altogether while the remain troops in the south will be kept busy completing the mission there before the final pullout in 2013-2014.

This means that the burden of securing the east and the north will fall on the Afghan security forces, without the support of surge forces. The Afghans will have a fight on their hands, one at least as tough as the conflict in the South. In order to prevail, Afghan security force will have to improve quickly and significantly, which is a capacity that has not been demonstrated thus far.

Under these conditions, it is not reasonable to expect Afghan security forces to be able to beat back the insurgency, specifically in the east, where the enemy is effective and the terrain is difficult. The east will continue to be a violent, unstable place for some time to come and the insurgency, with access to sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, will continue to threaten the stability of Afghanistan as a whole.

"It's the last place we will be fighting," a senior US military official told The Washington Post last week. "And the Afghans will be fighting there in perpetuity. It's a bad neighborhood."
The authors then present a summary of the achievements and failures of the troop surge that President Obama authorized in December 2009. They end with an assessment of the negative aspects of the shift to counterterrorism tactics and how the Taliban will use President Obama's speech.

Wednesday, June 22

Barring glitch in Allen's confirmation Petraeus out of Afghanistan in July

June 22, 2011
Officials: Petraeus to hand off Afghan command sooner than expected
By Kevin Baron
Stars and Stripes
Published: June 22, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon wants Gen. David Petraeus out of Afghanistan by mid-July, much sooner than the original September target date for his change of command, giving the general time for a break before he takes over as CIA director.

Defense Department and military officials confirm there are plans for Petraeus to leave immediately after his deputy and operational commander Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez ends his term in country. Rodriguez’s last day is expected to be July 11, with Petraeus tentatively scheduled to leave July 18.

Petraeus’ exit, however, depends on the Senate confirming his replacement, Central Command deputy Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen. That hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

“[Allen] needs to be confirmed to take the job, and NATO also has an approval process that must be met,” said Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Pentagon leaders want Petraeus to get a break in between jobs.


Rodriguez’s replacement, Lt. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, is scheduled to arrive Afghanistan by the end of the month before assuming command of the International Security Assistance Force’s joint operations, a key position as daily battlefield manager and right-hand man to the commanding general. The two also met this month at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state to prepare for the transition.

Bringing up baby Pakistan

Dear, he just needs a little tough love:
June 14 (Dawn): A US defence bill approved on Tuesday proposes withholding 75 percent of the $1.1 billion aid to Pakistan for the next fiscal year until the Obama administration reports to Congress on how it would spend the money.

The House Appropriations Committee also gave additional power to Congress to review US assistance to Pakistan. This would ensure that Islamabad cooperates with the Americans in the war against terror, as stipulated in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill.

The committee unanimously approved an amendment to create an independent panel of experts to examine the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation.[ ...]
Nonsense, dear, he just needs more understanding:
June 16 (RTT News) - EU To Increase Aid To Pakistan In Return For Reforms

European Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and German Development Minister Dirk Niebel arrived in Islamabad on Thursday for a joint visit to Pakistan.

Piebalgs will reaffirm the European Commission's plan to increase its development assistance to Pakistan by 50% - to 75 million euros ($106 million) a year -- for 2011-2013, the Commission said in a press release.

The aid programs will continue to focus on rural development, support for education and stronger governance.
Piebalgs said he will encourage the authorities to speed up the political and economic reform process, as it is the "only way Pakistan can move towards sustainable economic growth and stability."

He vowed that knowing that Pakistan faces multiple challenges today on the road to the eradication of poverty, the EU will continue to provide support to address the country's needs. The EU and Pakistan will also discuss the next steps towards an EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, including important economic aspects such as development and market access, progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, but also human rights, and peace-building issues.
John Batchelor featured the above still from the 1938 screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby, in the course of chortling about the return of screwball comic Keith Olbermann to television. But there, in one picture, is the story of the outside world's relationship with Pakistan, which learned over decades at the World Bank-IMF to play other governments like a fiddle.

So if not for all the victims of Pakistani terrorism the current NATO relationship with Pakistan would also qualify as screwball comedy.

Springtime for al Qaeda

June 22, 2011:
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Security officials say 57 militants, mostly from al-Qaeda, have escaped from a prison in southern Yemen.

They say the 57 were among 62 inmates from the Mukalla jail in the Hadarmout province who escaped Wednesday through an underground tunnel.

Bands of gunmen attacked the prison simultaneously, opening fire on the guards from outside to divert their attention away from the escape.

One guard was killed and another wounded in the attack, said the security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Wednesday's escape was the latest sign that Yemen's months-long upheaval has emboldened al-Qaeda militants to challenge authorities in the country's nearly lawless south.

The escapees included militants convicted on terror charges or held in protective custody pending trial, according to officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media,
Yemen's political crisis began when demonstrators inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia took to the streets in early February. The largely peaceful movement gave way to heavy street fighting when tribal militias took up arms in late May.

Sunday, June 19

The Republic, for laughs

June 18:
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner may be at odds over taxes, the debt ceiling and the conflict in Libya, but for today at least, they put aside their differences for a round of golf. Obama and Boehner took on Vice President Biden and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich in a game at Joint Base Andrews' golf course in Maryland.
"The foursome had great time and really enjoyed playing golf at Joint Base Andrews today," a statement from the White House said.[...]
WABC radio's John Batchelor is not amused.
Golfing Backwards for Laughs
By John Batchelor

The strange detail is that four government men make a peacock display of the game of golf in order to show common purpose with regard the fragile state of the US economy and the overbearing Federal debt load that threatens the nationals ecurity.
What do we learn from the theatrical exercise? These four government men are not in the same economy as the rest of us working fellows: they take the Treasury's check, and we pay the Treasury's bills.

Stats show there are 30 million American males working full time between the ages of 15 and 45. There are 15 million American men working full time between the ages of 46 and 65. The younger, larger group is frustrated and stuck.

Spoke with Mike Dorning, Bloomberg, to learn that one million fewer men and women are changing jobs each month now than before the Great Recession; that is a reflection of fear, caution, lack of choice, frustration, drift, underemployment.

In addition there are nearly 14 million unemployed; in addition hourly wages year over year (2010-2011) have retreated 1.6%.

In sum, the youngest workers are going backward in the same job.

All this adds up to tens of millions of men and women who do not have the leisure, cash, temperament or desire to play golf on a Saturday in June.
So what to conclude from the golf summit? These four government men have too much down time and not enough anecdotal information to realize that the US is in existential trouble.

What happened in the Great Recession of 2007, 2008 and 2009 is that the US government took money from taxpayers and gave it to the bankers and sharpies who crashed the economy with gambling dens and fraudulent markets.

TARP was theft from a generation of working men and women. The US government (Bush approved and signed: Obama and Biden and Boehner voted Yes; Kasich was out of office) colluded to take $1 trillion of TARP for the bankers and whatever else struck their fancy and whined loudly. TARP was theft from a generation.

Now the TARP thieves can golf together to demonstrate purpose? A golf ball on grass is meaningful? This is the Republic for laughs?
The podcast for John's ten-minute discussion with Mike Dorning is here (second interview).

The following chart backs up Dorning's observations. Yet what is doesn't show is how many of the employed males work in civilian government and in the military. Nor does it show how many of the males work as hamburger flippers in fast food franchises or in other menial jobs. Remove all three sets of workers from the tally and the true measure of how far and fast America is pedaling backward would come into sharper focus.

U.S. government still making excuses for Pakistan military's support for terrorists who kill NATO troops

Aren't such excuses supposed to be called treason? Or is that interpretation a childish reading of facts?
AP sources: Pakistanis tip off militants again
By KIMBERLY DOZIER, AP Intelligence Writer – 12 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials say Pakistan has apparently tipped off militants at two more bomb-building factories in its tribal areas, giving the terror suspects time to flee, after U.S. intelligence shared the locations with the Pakistani government.

Those officials believe Pakistan's insistence on seeking local tribal elders' permission before raiding the areas may have most directly contributed to the militants' flight. U.S. officials have pushed for Pakistan to keep the location of such targets secret prior to the operations, but the Pakistanis say their troops cannot enter the lawless regions without giving the locals notice.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The latest incidents bring to a total of four bomb-making sites that the U.S. has shared with Pakistan only to have the terrorist suspects flee before the Pakistani military arrived much later. The report does not bode well for attempts by both sides to mend relations and rebuild trust after the U.S. raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a Pakistani army town only 35 miles (56.32 kilometers) from the capital Islamabad.

Saturday, June 18

U.S. government thinks new Qaeda chief continues to hide in Pakistan

June 17:
US believes Zawahiri in Pakistan
by Amir Mir
The News [Pakistan]

LAHORE: With the elevation of Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri as the new al-Qaeda chief, Pakistan is likely to come under renewed American pressure for intelligence sharing about his possible whereabouts because the American intelligence community strongly believes he may be hiding somewhere in an urban locality of Pakistan, most likely in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as had been the case with Osama bin Laden.
General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, told John King on CNN on May 3, 2011, a day after bin Laden was killed in Pakistan that Zawahiri was “somewhere along the Pak-Afghan border.”

Then, the US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on May 15, 2011 that Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri was most likely hiding in Pakistan. In an interview to an American television channel, Congressman Rogers said that the US has known for years that the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders are living inside Pakistan. Rogers said he knows that the Pakistanis have disclosed US operations and held back information, but believes the killing of bin Laden may lead to more cooperation. “I hope they see this as an opportunity to be more cooperative, to be more open, to help us with other targets that we have in Pakistan that we are very interested in having apprehended and brought to justice. Zawahiri is a great example and I believe he is in Pakistan,” the US House Intelligence Committee chairman added.

According to well-informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad, the computer files and documents recovered during the bloody raid that culminated in the death of Osama revealed that he was vigorously pursuing his anti-US agenda from his Abbottabad hideout where he used to see key al-Qaeda leaders to plan and direct terrorist attacks across the globe. The scanning of the seized material further revealed that bin Laden was in regular touch with his top aides, especially Dr Zawahiri. The documents, which included a handwritten notebook of February 2010, indicated that Osama and Zawahiri were planning yet another major terrorist attack on the American soil on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, falling on September 11, 2011. He has served as the public face of al-Qaeda over the past decade, appearing in numerous propaganda tapes and even hosting an online question and answer session.

Therefore, the CIA has already marked Zawahiri as its next target and is vigorously pursuing its Pakistani counterparts to share intelligence that could help them hunt him down. A trusted aide of Osama for almost 20 years till his demise, Zawahiri is also believed to be hiding in an urban locality of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. US intelligence sleuths believe Zawahiri had shifted from his hideout in Fata to some urban locality after having escaped a US drone strike on January 13, 2006 targeting Damadola village of Bajaur Agency in Fata that killed 18 people.

The drone attack was carried out on the basis of human intelligence provided by some former Pakistani intelligence sleuths, believed to be part of the Spider Group, which is being run by the CIA in Fata, primarily to gather intelligence information about the fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders as well as their activities. But Zawahiri was lucky enough to have survived the strike as he had already left the targeted building much before it was hit.

In an audio message released later, Zawahiri confirmed his presence in Bajaur Agency at the time of the missile strike: “US planes launched the assault under the pretext of wanting to kill my frail self and four of my companions. However, all of us have survived the attack by the grace of Allah Almighty.”

However, believable indications of his presence in Pakistan came in the aftermath of the bloody Operation Silence, carried out by the Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army in July 2007 in Islamabad against the clerics of Lal Masjid. As Pakistani security forces took control of the Red Mosque after a fierce gunbattle, they were astonished to discover letters written by Dr Zawahiri to Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric brothers who ran the mosque and adjacent madrassa, directing them to conduct an armed revolt. Zawahiri’s Lal Masjid connection was confirmed on July 11, almost a week after the military operation was conducted, when he issued a videotape, asking Pakistanis to join jehad in revenge for the Lal Masjid “bloodshed”.

Zawahri’s four-minute address was titled “The aggression against Lal Masjid”. The video was released by al-Qaeda’s media wing, as-Sahab and subtitled in English. On August 1, 2008, CBS News reported that it had obtained a copy of an intercepted letter dated July 29, 2008, which urgently requested a doctor to treat Zawahiri. The letter indicated that Zawahiri was injured in a US missile strike at Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan on July 28.
In his latest video appearance on June 8, 2011, Zawahiri vowed to avenge the death of Osama “blood for blood”. The 28-minute video was the first statement from him to acknowledge the death of bin Laden. Looking aged, and at times angry, Zawahiri used a chopping motion with his hands and urged his followers to remember the 9/11 attacks against Americans and made a point to recall the deaths of US military personnel at the Pentagon.

He urged the youth of Pakistan to follow the lead of the youth of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria and seek to overthrow the government. The statement also said the group will not shift its policy and pledged its support to, among others, the Afghan Taliban chief Mulla Mohammad Omar.

With the death of bin Laden, who was also one of the original 22 people on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists released in October 2001, Zawahiri is now the world’s most-wanted living terrorist. Zawahiri was wanted by the US even before the 2001 attacks targeting New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. He was indicted in absentia in 1999 for the August 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, and was also considered the mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. Zawahiri went into hiding after the US-led allied forces overthrew the Taliban regime in October 2001, in the remote region along the Pak-Afghan border [...]

Friday, June 17

Americans, who are you?

At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with over 310 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and the third largest both by land area and population. (Wikipedia)

The following is from a discussion I wrote for the comment section at Zenpundit blog, which had linked to my post "Hollowed out” Mexico and hollowed-out USA.

Visit the comment section at the Zenpundit post for background on my discussion, which was to reply to blogger Joseph Fouche's critical views on how Americans act toward others and to elaborate on what I had meant by "hollowed-out America."

I'll add here that in a response to my discussion another blogger, Madhu, made the telling observation that Americans don’t understand Europe very well so they turn to 'experts' for guidance when talking about themselves. (Zenpundit is a 'blogger's blog.' I'd say many if not most of the best bloggers in the American diplo-defense part of the blogosphere read Zenpundit.)

I agree with Madhu; outside Washington and the international trade/finance sectors many Americans don't know much about European politics and know virtually nothing about European Union policies. So they don't recognize the profound impact that EU policies are having on Washington's policies -- a point I made in my recent post about "Euism," and which I've made many times over the years on this blog.


[B]y ‘hollowing out’ of American society I was referring to what we’ve done to ourselves rather than how we’ve ’operated’ on those outside our shores. But there is one aspect of Washington’s interactions with peoples who are unfamiliar with American history that can’t be emphasized enough: Yes, Washington thinks "they’re just like us" EXCEPT when it comes to assuming they’re human.

Thus, Americans in Afghanistan can go on at great length to a Pashtun tribal leader about the need for rout out corruption in government but they can’t describe the Battle of Trenton or the Battle of Valley Forge. Yet they’re dealing with people whose lives are circumscribed by battles to maintain their independence — battles going back thousands of years and which they can describe in great detail.

And Americans can talk endlessly about the importance of democracy, but they never thought to explain to the chiefs why they came back to Afghanistan. They arrived with suitcases full of cash to buy help – but they never told the chiefs that they were there because the way al Qaeda attacked the US on 9/11 meant that many Americans couldn’t find so much as a fingernail of their massacred relatives to bury because the bodies were ground to dust.

Not to be able to bury one’s dead or even a piece of one’s dead — knowing THAT would have meant a great deal to the chiefs and those in their tribes. But the Americans never explained, never even cried, never showed emotion. THEY NEVER ACTED HUMAN; they never interacted with the Afghans in ways that are the same for all — not only all humans but all mammalian creatures. In other words, they displayed not a whit of common sense.

What do you talk about when you first sit down with a man whose life has been circumscribed by war and who knows nothing about you and your tribe? The answer is you tell me of your battles, I’ll tell you of mine and in this way we establish a commonality of experience.

You transform the rug or patch of sand you’re sitting on into the terrain of the battle, and you use sticks and stones or teacups as place markers for the troops to show how the battle was fought. In this way, you demonstrate that the battle is truly in your heart, that it means enough to you that you can bring it alive for another.

If you don’t show what’s in your heart, then you haven’t established a basis for developing a mutual understanding, so then there is no way to move off the dime. Only when you’ve demonstrated by your stories of war that your tribe also shed much blood for independence, can you move on to explaining stuff about government. You can explain that you were losing too many of your sons in battle so you devised a type of government that would help defend your freedoms and with less bloodshed. And so on.

But the history of America is one that shows a great willingness to do battle if there seemed no other option to defend Americans’ freedom. So actually Americans do have much in common with the Afghans – and it’s a key commonality. Yet it’s one we never revealed to them.

Well, I see I’ve gone on at some length and not yet gotten to the part about hollowing out. So in brief: All of Europe can fit 2-1/2 times into the continental United States. Yet one wouldn’t know that from listening to American foreign policy experts, who view the USA as if it’s a Mittel European country than can be traversed by car in an hour. Heck, one can’t even drive across Texas in a day.

America is a giant dreaming it’s a midget — and here I’m speaking of land mass and population size, not ‘civilization.’ Of course Americans owe a great deal to European civilization, but two world wars and Nato, along with a huge influx of Europeans to American universities and Washington after WW1, meant that U.S. defense/foreign policy began to reflect the strategies and tactics of the middle child in a large family — which is how small European nations have had to survive each other.

The upshot is that we have not created a distinctly American defense/foreign policy. For a generation we had a Natoist policy, but once the European Union rose up, we became a minority of one (the Canadians had the Commonwealth) at Nato despite our superior military power and wealth. So then the thinking of U.S. policymakers came to reflect the views of the European Union, which is where we are today.

I made a pass at discussing what I term ‘Euism’ [as in "EU"] in a recent post but the point is that when Americans talk of "we" in relation to the rest of the world — how can we do that, when we don’t know who we are?

Who we are has been hollowed out — not by the Europeans or any other external factor but by our own thinking, by our refusal to see ourselves as we actually are. This, despite all our talk of American exceptionalism.

The best explanation of American exceptionalism I ever heard came from a Japanese. He asked for a leave of absence from work after he was picked to manage a plant in the USA. He’d been raised on American movies but had never been to America; he wanted to see for himself what the country was like so he could better interact with his American employees. So he rented a car and drove the length and breadth of the continental USA.

He returned to Japan in a state of shock. All he could say for days was, "America is so big. It’s so big."

Yeah. But don’t tell that to Fareed Zakaria, who ended a segment on his recent CNN show about how to stimulate innovation in America by saying, 'In the next part we’ll see how America measures up to other countries in terms of innovation.'

It’s unfair to other countries to measure America against them. That’s because we’re so big. Even on our knees, we’re such a giant that if we sneeze the rest of the world catches a cold.

We’re a giant not only in terms of land mass but also population size. Americans are one of the very few peoples in the world who could maintain a good standard of living if we only traded with each other. That’s a little secret that Brussels and Whitehall would rather the American bumpkins didn’t know. That’s because it works to their advantage to have a giant dreaming it’s a midget at their beck and call.

But the "you gotta have a gang" mentality that led to Washington creating the United Nations and other multilateral institutions that came back to bite us was never necessary for the United States. That’s because we’re so big we’re a gang unto ourselves.

And it’s from that exceptional fact of our lives that we should conduct our foreign relations and build our defense policy. And we should lead the world by example, not by forming gangs of nations. [The more polite if somewhat dated term is 'multilateral approaches' which has morphed into the 'consensus of the international community.']

At the end of WW2 the vast majority of peoples in the world saw Americans in the role of The Perfect Son, not the role of The Boss [or Leader of the Pack]. Since then we’ve done everything to spurn the role we were given — a role, I might add, that is the highest honor that can be bestowed by men; it’s saying, ‘I am so proud of you, I see you as my son.’

Yet wisdom in foreign relations, as in one’s personal life, is knowing one’s role and playing it to the hilt.