Obama changes direction in Afghanistan; Australian bush fires rage; North Korea on alert; Mohammad Khatami to run in Iran; France wants bigger role in NATO
TOP OF THE AGENDA: ‘New Realism’ for Afghanistan
After seven years of war, the Obama administration is changing direction in Afghanistan (Independent) in an effort to bring stability to a fight that has long spiraled out of control. During briefings in Munich on Sunday, senior American officials-including Vice President Joe Biden-told European partners that the U.S. approach in Afghanistan will now focus on attainable goals matched by adequate resources. The shift in priorities will mean Washington will focus more on providing basic services than establishing democracy, officials said. "The new policy will be not just winning hearts and minds, but winning hearts, minds, and stomachs," one senior diplomat in Kabul told the Guardian.
The tactical changes come amid a string of dire assessments of the American-led war effort. Washington's new special representative to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, told NATO partners that he has "never seen anything like the mess we have inherited" and that winning will be "much tougher" than in Iraq (BBC). War planners, meanwhile, say more American and NATO troops are urgently needed to counter an increasingly powerful Taliban, and secure the country for civilian aid programs to take hold (NYT).
Yet a major wild card in the revamped U.S. strategy is the capacity of Afghanistan's civilian central government, including President Hamid Karzai, whom senior American officials now regard as unreliable, ineffective, and even corrupt (NYT). A new BBC/ABC poll finds that the Afghan public is loosing confidence in its leaders, and has diminished confidence in the direction their country is heading.
- In a January report to Congress, the Special Inspector General to Afghanistan examines reconstruction spending in the country.
- A new CFR Backgrounder examines Iran's role in a regional solution to the Afghan crisis.
PACIFIC RIM: Australian Wildfire Rage
The death toll from this weekend's bush fires in Southern Australia has surpassed 130, as Australian authorities begin an investigation into the cause of the blaze. The Associated Press reports that suspicion is growing the fires, the worst in Australia's history, may have been deliberately set. The Australian reports the death toll could hit 230 in coming days.
Warning to North Korea: The top commander of U.S. forces in South Korea refused to rule out a military strike (BBC) against the North if Pyongyang continues with what appears to be preparations for a long-range missile test. The South Korean media has reported that spy photos show a cylindrical object being moved into position at North Korea's long-range missile site.