US Forces Increase in Prelude to Kandahar

US Special Forces have increased their activity in Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban, in advance of what will be a larger push to take the city and implement a local, democratic government.  Kandahar is the largest city in southern Afghanistan, and the battle for the city is rapidly becoming the benchmark for the Obama Administration’s strategy in Afghanistan.  The success of the Obama Administration in the region will turn on whether US military force can aid local resistance efforts in winning over the populace while overcoming a distrust of foreign forces and lack of cooperation among local tribes.

The push for Kandahar has already been set in motion, and it will continue over a period of time with a gradual increase in military activity.  The offensive began in the area of Marja but will face continued obstacles in Kandahar, as it is a much larger and more complex urban area.  In response to the military activity in Marja, the Taliban have increased their attacks on moderate city officials and local spiritual leaders as a warning to tribal leaders for cooperating with the US offensive.  Indeed, US forces are dependent on the willful cooperation of these local tribal leaders to be the face of the offensive on the ground.  In fact, the majority of US involvement within Kandahar will be limited to covert Special Forces teams.  Conventional troops have begun operations outside of Kandahar in order to shape the offensive in a series of provinces that surround the city; however, the driving force within the city is designed to come from a local resistance.

As outlined, the Kandahar offensive is strikingly similar to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq which aimed to secure Baghdad and the Anbar province.  Not only has there been an increase in allied forces, but there has been heavy focus in gaining the trust of and allying together the local tribes in return for economic incentives to assist local development.  Concurrent with the increased military involvement, the strategy also includes Afghan-styled town hall meetings between government officials and local tribal leaders.  The aim of these meetings is to show the local tribal leaders how they would be better off without the Taliban Administration.  To read more on the strategy and its developments, click here.

Obama Administration Hosts Nuclear Security Summit

The Obama Administration is hosting a two-day summit on nuclear security beginning today in Washington, DC.  The summit is the largest meeting of world leaders since World War II and hopes to foster an international dialogue on controlling the spread of nuclear weapons and technology.  In particular, the administration has labeled the acquisition of nuclear material by a terrorist organization as “. . . the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both [sic] short term, medium term and long term . . . .”

At the onset of the summit, President Obama will meet with the leaders of the four other voting members of the UN Security Council to discuss Iranian sanctions and the countries current levels of uranium enrichment.  The summit takes place in the wake  renewed US-Russia bilateral agreements to reduce current stockpiles of nuclear weapons in both countries.  The administration has voiced particular concerns over the nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet block which are not currently safeguarded to international standards and will discuss increasing those safeguards during the two-day summit.  The summit will aim to shift the focus of safeguards from a bilateral concern to an international concern.

The nations participating in the summit include Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Vietnam.  The European Union, United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Agency will also be represented.

The administration has moved nuclear security to the forefront of its international agenda and has been criticized as “too weak” by Republicans in light of the current situations with North Korea and Iran.  Additionally, Iran’s state news agency recently quoted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying that the Obama administration “poses a threat to international peace” and is “wicked and untrustworthy.” For more information on the summit, click here, here, and here.

Taliban Claim Attack on US Consulate in Peshawar

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militant group claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack on the US Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack included a vehicular suicide bomber and two attackers who tried to enter the compound using grenades. All US citizens were accounted for; some suffered minor injuries. At least six were killed, including two Pakistani consulate employees.

US and Pakistani governments have released statements condemning the attacks which followed hours after a separate suicide bomber detonated in another part of the North West Frontier Province killing over 30 people. The Pakistani Taliban also claimed credit for this attack. Embassy officials and security forces have restored order around the consulate, noting that the attack was well armed and coordinated.

Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told Reuters news service that “Americans are our enemies. We carried out the attack on their consulate in Peshawar. We plan more such attacks.” The attack on the consulate was the first attack against a US target in four years; in 2006, a US diplomat was killed by a vehicle suicide bomber near the US consulate in Karachi.

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U.S. Hacker Sentenced to 20 Years

U.S. hacker Albert Gonzales was convicted of three counts of computer fraud and will serve 20 years in prison.  Gonzales was a part of a trio of hackers who stole more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers by hacking into retailers’ payment systems and payment processing services.  One judge referred to the attack as “. . . the largest and most costly example of computer hacking in US history.”

Gonzales was initially accused last August along with two Russian co-conspirators.  As part of his plea agreement, Gonzales turned over over $1 million in cash, a condo in Miami, a car, a diamond ring, and several high-end watches.  Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Department of Justice noted that these types of attacks are attempted on a daily basis by cyber criminals, and the credit card numbers of unsuspecting American consumers are the likely targets.  As such, Bruer stated that “[t]hese sentences – some of the longest ever imposed for hacking crimes – send a powerful message to hackers around the globe that U.S. law enforcement will not allow [hackers] to breach American computer networks and payment systems, or illegally obtain identities.” Read more here.

The frequency and complexity of hacking crime rings and identity theft has increase over the last 12 months.  For a similar story from late 2009 click here.

Afghan Insurgents Begin Talks with Karzai

A delegation from the Hezb-e-Islami group has initiated talks with President Karzai in Kabul in what is now the first confirmed direct contact between the group and Afghan leadership.  The Hezb-e-Islami group is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and has been known to have contacts with the Taliban; although, the two groups have recently come into conflict.  Hekmatyar, who is currently wanted by the U.S., leads a the large concentration of forces in north-eastern Afghanistan.

The delegation is led by Hekmatyar’s deputy, Qutbuddin Helal; both men are former prime ministers.  The delegation came to the talks with a list of demands, which included a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan by this coming summer-a year ahead of President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawal.  The group also demanded new elections in the coming year and a new constitution.  A spokesman for Hekmatyar said, “[t]he main condition is the empowerment of President Karzai to . . . make decisions.”

Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami group-along with the Taliban-has been the source of much of the insurgent violence in the country.  The two groups had be allied in their opposition to the presence of foreign forces and the country’s central government.  However, earlier this month, at least sixty insurgents were killed during in-fighting in northern Afghanistan.  Hekmatyar received US military aid during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; however, he was later shunned for his part in the mutiny among the mujahideen which resulted in the death of more than 25,000 civilians.  In 2003, Hekmatyar was labeled a terrorist by the U.S. for his connections to al-Qaeda.

Read more here.