US ambassador's opposition to troop increases in Afghanistan revealed

The US Ambassador to Kabul cables the Whitehouse expressing his reservations about troop increases. President Obama faces diplomatic hurdles in his visit to Japan. Saudi Arabia evacuates villages and closes schools in response to escalating violence in Yemen. All this and more, in today’s security update.
Oliver Scanlan
13 November 2009

On Wednesday, senior US officials disclosed that the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, had cabled the White House last week expressing reservations regarding proposed troop increases. In a meeting held on Wednesday to discuss future US strategy in Afghanistan, in which Eikenberry participated via video link, the president discussed the cable with theaAmbassador. The White House is reportedly considering four policy options, ranging from a moderate troop increase of 10-15,000, to the full 40,000 troops requested by the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

Two days after the revelations, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told BBC radio that he was engaged in discussions with allies both within and outside Europe to commit an additional 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. Saying on Friday that he was asking allies to support a strategy of ‘partnering the Afghan forces, mentoring the Afghan forces,’ he appeared to suggest that these additional troops would be primarily concerned with the urgent task of building the capacity of Afghan security forces, rather than engaging in front line combat.

This ‘Afghanisation’ effort, designed to allow ISAF troops to gradually withdraw as indigenous Afghan army and police units become sufficiently well trained and equipped to take over counter insurgency duties, is also likely to featue heavily in the new strategy for the Afghan war due to be unveiled by the Obama administration before the end of the year.

Also on Wednesday, a suicide bomber struck an American military convey outside Camp Phoenix near Kabul. Gen. Sayed Ghafar Sayedzada, the head of Kabul’s criminal investigations division, said that the attack injured three Afghan civilians. A NATO spokesman said there had been no military fatalities.

The openSecurity verdict: Analysts point to the joint civilian and military strategy implemented by the partnership of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker as being a key reason for the sharp decline in violence in Iraq in recent years. The military and civilian alignment of views in Iraq contrasts sharply with what appears to be the diametrically opposed views of Eikenberry and McChrystal on how the US should move forward. The two men reportedly clashed before, when McChrystal was commander Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Afghanistan while Eikenberry, then a serving lieutenant general, was commander of the Combined Forces Command. Whatever decision is finally made by the Obama administration, the clear ideological divide between the top US civilian official in Afghanistan and his military counterpart calls into question America’s ability to smoothly implement their new strategy.

The final strategy will most likely call for a troop increase of 30,000 to support the ambitious counterinsurgency approach endorsed by McChrystal. On the basis of this increased US commitment, the UK will probably send an additional 500 troops, with the strong possibility that other allies, both inside and outside of NATO, will reciprocate. Despite Eikenberry’s concerns, shared by many analysts and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, the Afghan conflict seems set on a path of increasing militarisation, with untold consequences for the civilian population.     

Obama faces troubled negotiations with Japan

On Friday, US President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on the first leg of a tour of Asia which will include China, Singapore, South Korea and an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit. On Friday he will be meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for what could be uneasy discussions of US-Japan relations. In particular, the ongoing dispute over basing rights on the islands of Okinawa, which hosts the majority of America’s 47,000 strong United States Forces Japan (USJF), may prove contentious. Prime Minister Hatoyama has also pledged to end the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force's refuelling missions in the Indian Ocean which support ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

Hatoyama came to power in August when the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) swept the ruling Liberal Democratic Party from power. This is only the second time in Japan’s post-war history that the LDP has not been in government. Shortly before the election, Hatoyama wrote an editorial which was published in The New York Times outlining his vision for Japan’s role in the coming decade. Entitled ‘A New Path for Japan’, the article was scathing of ‘US-led’ globalisation and neo-liberal economics, it questioned the permanence of US dominance, the viability of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and suggested that Japan should refocus its priorities on east Asia.

It remains to be seen whether these views will translate into a policy position now he faces the pressures of government. If they do, a fundamental shift in the US-Japan alliance is likely and, as a consequence, the US may be forced to review its entire posture in East Asia. Although Hatoyama may say that the relationship with the US will remain the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy, the truth is that in an era of US decline, Tokyo’s relationships with Beijing, Seoul and other east Asian capitals will rapidly eclipse its ties with Washington.

Saudi Arabia evacuates 240 villages in response to Yemen violence

UNICEF has reported that Saudia Arabia has evacuated 240 villages and closed 50 schools in response to the escalating violence in North Yemen. UNICEF's regional director for the middle east and north Africa, Sigrid Kaag, also raised deep concerns regarding the humanitarian impact of the ongoing conflict, saying in a statement released on Friday that several child deaths had resulted from malnutrition in the Al-Mazraq refugee camp, where 600 children are currently being treated for malnutrition.

On Thursday, the Saudi government announced that it was using artillery fire and airstrikes to enforce a cordon sanitaire extending ten kilometres into Yemen to prevent Sa’da militants from making incursions into the kingdom. Violence between the Yemen government and the Al-Houthi Sa’da insurgency has flared periodically since 2004. The United Nations estimates that the current bout of hostilities has displaced 175,000 people.

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