World leaders meeting in London Thursday agreed to a timetable for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. The exit could start as early as the end of this year.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has stated that it could take up to 10 years before his forces can properly secure the country. He has proposed a policy of outreach to the Taliban for the interim; however, it is unknown if engagement with the Taliban is even possible. Just planning Taliban overtures is a problematic gamble, because it raises questions of which factions to pursue, where to stop in the Taliban chain of command, and how to bargain with political dissidents who crave exerting state authority and control.

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Militant insurgents bombed several hotels and an office of the ministry over the course of this week in Bagdad, Iraq.

On Monday, there was a coordinated attack in Bagdad in which three bombs in 10 minutes were targeted at hotels known for serving foreign reporters, soon these hotels were to house foreign observers for the March 7th Iraqi elections. An article in the New York Times by Anthony Shadid and John Leland said that these attacks are “underscoring the uncertainty of the political landscape weeks before parliamentary elections.”

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United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Pakistan for talks on combating the Taliban. Upon his arrival, the Pakistani army said that it wont launch any new offensives against militants for six months to a year so that the army can have time to stabilize existing gains.

The political, cultural, and economic problems in Pakistan are overshadowed by the security situation. While the neighboring Afghani Taliban’s struggle against the West remains highly popular among average Pakistan citizens, the Pakistani Taliban has lost much of it’s former credence. However, the Pakistani Taliban still benefits from emulating the fighters in the Afghan campaign. While the average Pakistani worries that the Pakistani Taliban may be too violent, many within Pakistan welcome the idea of Taliban-style cultural practices such as their enforced dress codes, and swift justice. Such attractions reflect Pakistan’s Deobandi sensibilities.

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Iranian Physics professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by a bomb blast outside his home on Tuesday.

The Iranian government has accused the United States and Israel of being behind the killing. The bomb, which was placed on Mohammadi’s motorcycle, detonated by remote control when he approached. It is worth noting that Mohammadi has been tied to the Iranian regime’s opposition movement. There has been speculation that the Iranian government was secretly behind the assassination.

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Jihadi Cool

January 12, 2010

Al Qaeda’s dissemination of jihadi ideology has become more sophisticated over the last few years. Al Qaeda is investing large amounts of capital into creating books, magazines, and music videos that are designed to appeal to Muslims under 30 years of age. Language and graphics are designed with specific local audiences in mind so that al Qaeda can properly target young Muslims in a desired area. Al Qaeda is paying close attention to what material their desired demographics respond to and connect with.

Al Qaeda is expanding into cyberspace

Al Qaeda’s reach in Cyberspace is multifaceted, because the network has a variety of different messages available on the internet that are designed to resonate with different groups. The regional arms and affiliates of al Qaeda, like the one in Yemen that I posted about yesterday, tend to focus on local issues that affect a particular local population. However, the traditional centralized body of al Qaeda, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, tends to disseminate messages that are more global in scope.

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In April 2009, the Pakistani government launched its largest offensive yet against Islamist militants in the region known as Swat Valley.

A few hours drive north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Swat was once Pakistan’s most appealing tourist destination. Residents lived under a mix of tribal and sharia law augmented with rudimentary military control that was first established by the British. The leading member of the valley’s most powerful family was effectively a regional tribal king that enjoyed the title of Wali. Wali rule ended at the time of Pakistani independence in 1947, when Swat acquiesced to Pakistan. However, Swat didn’t become completely integrated into Pakistan until 1969 when the last Wali officially retired his authority.

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Al Qaeda’s Growing Reach

January 11, 2010

An al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a passenger plane en route to the United States from Amsterdam. In a statement posted on several online forums, the group said it planned the attack “to avenge U.S. attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen.” The group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasted of supplying Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab with explosives. The Yemeni group and its failed attack over American soil has drawn worldwide attention to the spread of al Qaeda.

The ongoing threat of terrorism by al Qaeda presents a different pattern from what has been seen in the past. Leadership of the network appears to have evolved from a centralized body to being a loose aggregation of groups. Plots are now emanating from African countries such as Yemen whereas before they exclusively emerged out of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq. One reason for this new development is that al Qaeda relies heavily on geographical safe havens. These are areas of the world where al Qaeda has the ability to set up training camps and meeting places without fear of interference or interruption.

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