Karzai and Kimchi
The explosive increase in allied air strikes against the Taliban is aimed at moving a "parallel" U.S.-led diplomatic initiative to bring insurgents to the negotiating table, Dexter Filkins reports in a front-page story for the New York Times. And there's no doubt NATO and U.S. forces are on the offensive—according to the article, air strikes are up 50 percent, with the number sorties flown through September already surpassing all of last year; Special Operations forces "have been unleashed with particular ferocity"; and allied troops are on the warpath in Kandahar.
But most of Filkins's piece is about how the dual-track strategy has yet to produce results, noting that "some Afghan experts" (but quoting only independent analyst Matt Waldman) think the approach is flawed. The Wall Street Journal and Times correspondents Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker follow up from Brussles with more details on the diplomatic side, focusing on recent remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. And the Washington Post quotes the head of Afghanistan's "peace council," former–Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, saying that some militants have already expressed a willingness to make peace.
Fred Kaplan of Slate has more details on the kinetic track. He says the uptick in offensive operations is "not a subtle matter," but "is altering the character of this war," but he seems cautiously optimistic about the effect the strategy is having. One potential problem, Kaplan reports—and Matt Yglesias highlights—is that the non-Pashtun elements of the Afghan government might object to reconciliation talks between the Pashtun Taliban and their fellow Pashtun, President Hamid Karzai.
Over at Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman details a new weapon on its way to Afghanistan that might help the "search and destroy" aspect of the conflict—a new "smart" grenade launcher with a guidance system that soldiers can calibrate to fire to precise distances, capable of exploding a grenade right above the target's head. On the other hand, Max Boot thinks technology has its limits in counterinsurgency since it can't teach cultural awareness, one example being the 5th Stryker Brigade soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport.
Other bloggers with some things to say on Afghanistan: Stephen Walt sees lessons to be learned from the U.S. government's fight against the Comanche; Jonathan Horowitz is concerned about an alternate, smaller detention site at Bagram Air Base; and Paul Miller thinks President Obama is making the same mistakes as George W. Bush by "tailoring the mission to meet the resources rather than the other way around."
Moving east, the Korean Peninsula is having some trouble. South Koreans are wrestling with the Japanese over their currency, the won, and getting antsy over rising kimchi prices. And former–Bush administration official Victor Cha says North Koreans shouldn't expect things to get any better, despite the rise to power of Kim Jong Il's youngest son.