Reports indicate that NATO officials are considering keeping the current 352,000-strong Afghan security force through 2018, instead of adhering to an agreement made last year to reduce the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 after the NATO combat missions ends in December 2014 (NYT). If implemented, the more ambitious plan would be more costly to NATO member countries, but would help ensure Afghanistan's stability after the majority of Western troops leave, and send a signal to the Afghan people that Western support is there to stay.
At a farewell dinner in Washington on Wednesday, the outgoing commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, reflected on the sacrifices made by American soldiers and their families, and said "the Afghan campaign is on track" (NYT).
The White House is reportedly refusing to hand Congress the full documents that provide the government's justification for targeted killings with drones, but will try to mitigate the risk that poses to John Brennan's confirmation as Director of the CIA by giving Republican Senators more information on the attack in Benghazi Libya that killed four Americans last year (NYT). And reports this week that China considered using a drone strike to take out a drug lord in Myanmar accused of killing 13 Chinese soldiers indicate the quick international proliferation and development of lethal drone technology (NYT).
Talkin' about the Taliban
Pakistani authorities requested on Thursday that Afghanistan hand over Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the former second-in-command of the Pakistani Taliban who was detained by Afghan forces earlier this week in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar (The News, AJE, Dawn). A few hours after the request was made, Afghan officials rejected it, saying that no agreement exists between the two countries for the extradition of prisoners (ET).
At least half of the Afghan Taliban prisoners freed by the Pakistani government have returned to the battlefield, according to a Pakistani intelligence official, raising serious questions about the efficacy of their release (AP). The Taliban members had been released as a gesture of goodwill intended to help restart stalled peace talks between the insurgent group and the Afghan government.
A Pakistani businessman has filed a report with the Supreme Court accusing Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman of blasphemy for remarks she made on a Pakistani talk show in 2010 criticizing the country's strict blasphemy laws (Reuters). A conviction of blasphemy carries the death sentence in Pakistan. And an Iranian newspaper reported Thursday that Iran is planning to build an oil refinery in Pakistan, in an effort to ease the pressure placed on Iran's oil industry by international sanctions (AP). Iran will reportedly barter products from the refinery to Pakistan for food, particularly wheat, meat, and rice.
Buzkashi Boys, a film set in Afghanistan that depicts two street kids who dream of playing buzkashi, Afghanistan's national sport, when they grow up has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Live Action short category (ABC). But the real life story of 14-year-old star Fawad Mohammadi is even more remarkable than his adventures in the hit movie; he has been selling maps and magazines on a busy street in Kabul since he was seven years old to support his mother and four siblings after their father passed away. This weekend, he will be on the red carpet in Los Angeles.
-- Jennifer Rowland