How the heroin trade explains the US-UK failure in Afghanistan

The Guardian – After 16 years and $1tn spent, there is no end to the fighting – but western intervention has resulted in Afghanistan becoming the world’s first true narco-state.

Afghanistan: It’s Too Late

New York Review of Books – Ahmed Rashid says prospects for any sort of positive outcome to the war in Afghanistan are as remote as they have been in this sixteen-year war.

Vietnam Taking Long-Term Hard Line Toward China on Maritime Claims

VOA – Vietnam is lengthening a military runway on a tiny islet to help hold off a larger, more aggressive China for control in Asia’s widest-reaching sovereignty dispute as other claimants keep quiet or seek negotiations. The government in Hanoi is extending the runway on one of the Spratly Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, from 762 to 1,005 meters and building new hangars, according to the U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. The longer runway would allow easier access for the air force’s maritime surveillance aircraft, it said. Historic use of the sea, strong national pride and a history of deadly conflicts are motivating Vietnam to fortify more than two dozen islands in the chain.

Afghanistan – After Karzai

The Atlantic – Afghanistan’s outgoing president helped heal a shattered country. He also winked at corruption and ruled like a tribal chief. His successor will inherit a nation that’s in better shape than you might think—and a government with little power to keep it that way.

Afghanistan – How Is Hamid Karzai Still Standing?

New York Times Magazine – Enemies left, enemies right, and then there’s his family. Building an Afghan legacy is even more complicated than it appears.

US Marines – Helmand has become almost dull for Marines, with Afghans now leading combat

McClatchy – One statistic about the war in Afghanistan has stood out for weeks: the single U.S. Marine killed so far in 2013.

Afghanistan – Which Way Did the Taliban Go?

New York Times Magazine – Digging out roadside bombs, running into ambushes and dancing with deranged informants — a week in the life of an Afghan National Army battalion, on its own in the wilderness.

Geopolitics / Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s improving ways

Washington Post – David Ignatius’ interesting take on the future of Afghanistan – “Who can say what the future holds for Afghanistan? Surely, the country’s turmoil and suffering won’t end when U.S. troops depart; the situation may get much worse. But it’s a mistake to assume that nothing changed during America’s years of struggle there, or that many of those changes weren’t for the good.”

Afghanistan – Afghan security force’s rapid expansion comes at a cost as readiness lags

Washington Post – Top Pentagon leaders, White House advisers and members of Congress from both parties have long regarded the rapid expansion of Afghanistan’s army and police as a crucial element of the U.S. exit strategy. For years, they reasoned that generating a force of 352,000 soldiers and policemen would enable the Afghan government to keep fighting Taliban insurgents after U.S. and NATO troops end their combat mission. The U.S. military has nearly met its growth target for the Afghan forces, but they are nowhere near ready to assume control of the country. No Afghan army battalion is capable of operating without U.S. advisers. Many policemen spend more time shaking down people for bribes than patrolling. Front-line units often do not receive the fuel, food and spare parts they need to function. Intelligence, aviation and medical services remain embryonic. And perhaps most alarming, an increasing number of Afghan soldiers and policemen are turning their weapons on their U.S. and NATO partners. As a consequence, several U.S. officers and civilian specialists who have worked with those forces have started to question the wisdom of the 352,000 goal. To them, the obsession with size has been at the root of much that has gone wrong with the Afghan security services.

Afghanistan – Little America excerpt: Obama's troop increase for Afghan war was misdirected

Washington Post – An exceprt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book entitled “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan – An end to illusion

Financial Times – Anatol Lieven writes that among other flaws, it was the ignorance of local realities that led to the failure of the western project in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan – Echoes from a Distant Battlefield

Vanity Fair – When First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom was killed by Taliban fighters in 2008, while attempting a heroic rescue in a perilously isolated outpost, his war was over. His father’s war, to hold the U.S. Army accountable for Brostrom’s death, had just begun. And Lieutenant Colonel William Ostlund’s war—to defend his own record as commander—was yet to come. With three perspectives on the most scrutinized engagement of the Afghanistan conflict, one that shook the military to its foundations, Mark Bowden learns the true tragedy of the Battle of Wanat.

Afghanistan – Bad Guys vs. Worse Guys in Afghanistan

New York Times Magazine – Training Afghans to protect their homes and fight the Taliban seems to be working. The problem is that it’s also allowing them to fight their own personal wars.

Afghanistan – Putting Afghan Plan Into Action Proves Difficult

New York Times – C.J. Chivers writes that if the American-led fight against the Taliban was once a contest for influence in well-known and conventionally defined areas – the capital and large cities, main roads, the border with Pakistan, and a handful of prominent valleys and towns – today it has become something else. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the United States military has settled into a campaign for scattered villages and bits of terrain that few people beyond their immediate environs have heard of.