Editor's note: Foreign Policy Magazine has published a new ebook by war correspondent Anna Badkhen entitled Afghanistan by Donkey, which chronicles Badkhen's fascinating year spent embedded with local Afghans, and features an introduction by our own Peter Bergen (FP).
Speeding things up: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday in a speech in the capital city of Canberra that the country's 1,550 troops could withdraw completely from Afghanistan in 2013, a year ahead of schedule, citing improved security on the ground as well as pointing out that "the peoples of the world's democracies are weary of this war" (NYT, LAT, Reuters, AP, CNN, BBC, AJE). Gillard said the withdrawal could begin as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announces that Afghan forces are capable of taking over security operations in Uruzgan Province, where most Australian troops are stationed, a move he is expected to make this month.
Gillard's remarks came just a day before top defense officials from NATO member states met in Brussels to map out plans to hand over combat operations in Afghanistan, and to support the fragile government and military that will likely emerge after 2014 when all foreign troops are gone (AP, CNN). Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Wednesday that the Afghan Army has reached its target of 195,000 troops, and is on track to take the lead on combat operations by the end of 2013 (AP). Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has in the past criticized President Barack Obama's setting of timelines for withdrawal from Afghanistan as a signal to the Taliban that they can wait until there are fewer international troops on the ground to launch a more forceful attack on the Afghan government (NYT). Romney has yet to detail his own strategy for Afghanistan, something he is likely finding difficult as he balances the need to differentiate his plans from those of Obama with the growing unpopularity of the war within the American public.
The experience of one NATO member country, Canada, has reportedly caused a drastic change in the relationship the public and government have with the nation's military (WSJ). The Canadian government is now advocating a greater international presence for the historically small military, and regularly praises their sacrifices in battle.
Around 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday in the northern province of Takhar after drinking water likely contaminated by extremists opposed to girls' education, according to local officials (Reuters, CNN, BBC, AFP, CNN).
Osama bin Laden's three widows and nine of his children were expected to be deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia around midnight on Tuesday, but bureaucratic delays held up their scheduled departure, according to the family's lawyer (AP, ET/AFP).
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the Gayari army base at Siachen glacier to show solidarity with the armed forces, who lost 128 comrades in a massive avalanche on April 7 (ET, Dawn). And Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has reportedly ordered his son to return to Pakistan to face accusations over his involvement in an alleged drug scandal (ET).
Pakistan's Supreme Court decided Wednesday to allow three Hindu women, whose families have alleged they were forced to convert to Islam, to decide on their own which religion they would like to follow (ET, Dawn, The News).
Cash rules everything around me
In Paktika Province last week, mid-level Taliban commander Mohammad Ashan walked right up to a police checkpoint holding his own wanted poster, which offered a reward of $100 for his location (Post). A U.S. soldier who arrived to confirm Ashan's identity said the militant leader himself confirmed, "Yes, yes, that's me! Can I get my award now?
-- Jennifer Rowland