Taliban in Kabul

There’s been some back and forth lately about how much talking is taking place between Kabul and the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said talks are happening. U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke warned not to exaggerate the discussions. The Taliban itself said no such meetings were taking place. Now NATO and Holbrooke are shedding some light on the situation. Yesterday, NATO confirmed that ISAF forces are guaranteeing safe passage for top Taliban leaders heading to Kabul to talk to Karzai. Today, General David Petraeus, commander of forces in Afghanistan, offered up a bit more information. He acknowledged that NATO had helped a senior Taliban commander get to Kabul, but his delivery was a bit indirect, and he didn’t have much to add on the subject: “needless to say it would not be the easiest of tasks for a senior Taliban commander to enter Afghanistan and make his way to Kabul if ISAF were not . . . aware of it and therefore allows it to take place.” Holbrooke stressed that the talks shouldn’t be considered formal negotiations. The special envoy noted that as military pressure has ramped up, “There have been an increasing number of people associated with the Taliban who've reached out and said: 'We want to talk about an alternative to the war.’” He also kept relatively quiet because he thinks constant speculation is foolish.

Holbrooke is in Brussels today for a “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” meeting to discuss post-flood recovery and other aid issues. He, along with General Petraeus, will travel to Italy on Monday to have a sitdown with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. The pair, along with other top diplomats, will take part in a meeting of the International Contact Group to discuss Afghan strategy.

Last month, an American man was shot while jet skiing on a lake that straddles the border between the United States and Mexico. In an interview on ABC yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her displeasure with the ongoing tumult in the country. She said she was “sickened” by the violence, and extended her ire to the rest of the world as well: “The absolute barbarity that we're seeing by criminals and terrorists in the world today should shock the conscience and require a concerted effort to defeat these violent, terrible actors.”

And the Justice Department asked California District Judge Virginia Phillips to stay her don’t ask, don’t tell ruling. She ordered that the military stop enforcing the ban on gays serving openly in the military. The filing noted that while President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are supporters of the repeal, the Pentagon is already engaged in a study of the policy and going through with the judge’s ruling would “disrupt this review.”