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Entries in Rajiv Chandrasekaran (7)


US Feature: General Petraeus and the Kagans --- How "Private Analysts" Become "De Facto Military Advisors"

Kimberly Kagan backs increased US military forces in Afghanistan, June 2010: "We can reverse the Taliban's momentum"

Petraeus allowed his biographer-turned-paramour, Paula Broadwell, to read sensitive documents and accompany him on trips. But the entree granted the Kagans, whose think-tank work has been embraced by Republican politicians, went even further. The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.

The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.

The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple.

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Afghanistan Opinion: Let's Be Clear --- "The Surge" Was A Failure of US Strategy and Policy (Cohen)

Rajiv Chandrasekaran's newly-released book, Little America: The War Within The War for Afghanistan (see extract in separate EA feature) has prompted soul-searching amongst US analysts about what went wrong, more than a decade after the situation was supposedly resolved with the ousting of the Taliban.

Michael Cohen's comment for The Progressive Realist resonates, in part because it returns to the key period in 2009 --- covered extensively by EA at the time --- when the US military bounced President Obama into an expanded intervention. Ostensibly, this was for development and political resolution as well as the vanquishing of the Taliban; in practice, the development and political resolution never followed the additional boots on the ground.

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Afghanistan Feature: How Obama Administration Sabotaged Its Envoy, Richard Holbrooke (Chandrasekaran)

President Obama's eulogy at a memorial for Richard Holbrooke, January 2011

In late March 2010, President Obama’s national security adviser, James L. Jones, summoned Richard C. Holbrooke to the White House for a late-afternoon conversation. The two men rarely had one-on-one meetings, even though Holbrooke, the State Department’s point man for Afghanistan, was a key member of Obama’s war cabinet.

As Holbrooke entered Jones’s West Wing office, he sensed that the discussion was not going to be about policy, but about him. Holbrooke believed his principal mission was to accomplish what he thought Obama wanted: a peace deal with the Taliban. The challenge energized Holbrooke, who had more experience with ending wars than anyone in the administration. In 1968, he served on the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam. And in 1995, he forged a deal in the former Yugoslavia to end three years of bloody sectarian fighting.

The discussion quickly wound to Jones’s main point: He told Holbrooke that he should start considering his “exit strategy” from the administration.

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After Bin Laden: The Administration Battle over Troops in Afghanistan (Part 2)

On Tuesday, we wrote of the rapid mobilisation of Administration officials who did not want the death of Bin Laden to be any reason to pull American troops from Afghanistan in the near-future. As one "senior Administration official" primed The New York Times, "I hope people are going to feel, on a bipartisan basis, that when you move the ball this far it’s crazy to walk off the field.”

It did not take long for a counter-attack from those within the Administration --- read White House and State Department --- who want at least some fulfillment of President Obama's promise to begin withdrawal in July. They chose Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post as their broadcaster.:

“Bin Laden’s death is the beginning of the endgame in Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “It changes everything.”

Another senior official involved in Afghanistan policy said the killing “presents an opportunity for reconciliation that didn’t exist before.” Those officials and others have engaged in urgent discussions and strategy sessions over the past two days about how to leverage the death into a spark that ignites peace talks.

The officials put out the line that the killing of bin Laden will encourage the Afghan Taliban to talk, and they are putting forth an alternative that maintains the image of US strength while maintaining Obama's July pledge: "a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government that will endorse the long-term presence of a modest number of U.S. troops in the country to continue to train Afghan security forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations".

Another "senior official" summarised --- in words that could apply both to the Taliban and to his Administration opponents who want no talk of withdrawal --- “We know where we want to go, but getting there won’t be easy. There’s a long and complicated path ahead.”


Afghanistan Feature: The US Military, Politics, and "Indications of Progress", Part 358 (Chandrasekaran)

Writing in The Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran offers the latest article proclaiming progress in the US military campaign in southern Afghanistan.

To be fair, this is more than the common cheerleading piece for American commanders. Chandresekaran cautions that there might be a violent summer in the south and, even more interesting, refers in the middle of the story to "deterioration of security in eastern Afghanistan" and the belief of some US military and diplomats that "the transformation [to Afghan security forces is] unsustainable".

All of this raises the question as to whether the US military are carrying out a high-wire PR balancing act --- we're winning, but to keep on winning, we have to stay far beyond President Obama's proposed withdrawal beginning in July.

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Afghanistan: Holbrooke Death Overtakes Analysis of "No Decisive Victory"

The headline news in Washington is the death of Richard Holbrooke, the senior US diplomat involved in attempted resolution of conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan. The coverage is exemplified by this final sentence from a long profile in The Washington Post:

As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

The tributes are likely to swamp any coverage of the current situation. On Sunday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran --- who wrote the Post eulogy for Holbrooke --- had published a long article on the tensions between US officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

And last night Deb Reichmann of the Associated Press wrote an incisive and significant-analysis which is likely to disappear today:

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Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai --- America's "Question Mark" (Chandrasekaran)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had heard enough.

For more than an hour, Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and other top Western officials in Kabul urged Karzai to delay implementing a ban on private security firms. Reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars would have to be shuttered, they maintained, if foreign guards were evicted.

Sitting at the head of a glass-topped, U-shaped table in his conference room, Karzai refused to budge, according to two people with direct knowledge of the late October meeting. He insisted that Afghan police and soldiers could protect the reconstruction workers, and he dismissed pleas for a delay.

As he spoke, he grew agitated, then enraged. He told them that he now has three "main enemies" --- the Taliban, the United States and the international community.

"If I had to choose sides today, I'd choose the Taliban," he fumed.

After a few more parting shots, he got up and walked out of the wood-paneled room.

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