The Envoy
  • Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller (left) testified before the House Armed Services panel March 20, 2012.J. Scott Applewhite/AP)Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told sometimes skeptical lawmakers Tuesday that the United States is "on track" to achieve its goals for stabilizing Afghanistan and preventing it from becoming a haven for terrorism. International forces are still planning to withdraw over the next two years, despite numerous high profile setbacks that have rattled confidence in the mission these past few weeks.

    "We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for al-Qaida and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban," Allen, the Marine Corps general who oversees the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

    "To be sure, the last couple months have been trying," Allen acknowledged, pointing to the recent Quran burnings episode, the subsequent attacks by Afghan security forces that killed 13 foreign troops, and the massacre early last week of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. soldier. "Each of these events is heart wrenching."

    But, Allen assured lawmakers, the overall relationship between foreign and Afghan forces remains solid. The international coalition is "well along" in making progress in the transition plan, which calls for training Afghan national security forces to take the lead in securing their own country by the end of 2014.

    Lawmakers raised numerous questions about the transition plan, with some voicing growing impatience with the United States still being in Afghanistan at all.

    "Why are we still there?" an exasperated Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) asked Allen, who testified to the panel with the top Pentagon civilian policy adviser, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller. "We're spending $10 billion a month we can't even pay for. ... When does Congress [hear] testimony, 'We have done all we can do? Bin Laden is dead.'"

    But Allen held his ground. Under the current transition plan under way, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) "will move to the front," Allen responded. "If I think that [plan] is coming off the rails, Congressman, I will let you know that."

    Read More »from U.S. commander John Allen says Afghanistan transition plan is ‘on track’
  • Top U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey met with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in Washington March 19, 2012 (CJCS Dempsey Facebook page, Defense Department)A classified Pentagon war game this month forecast that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would likely draw the United States into a wider regional war in which hundreds of American forces could be killed, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

    The war games' results have "raised fears among top American planners that it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran," the Times Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker wrote.

    Defense experts said the reported war games results are another attempted warning signal to Israel not to go it alone or risk harming relations with the United States.

    "The apparent results of the war game reported by the Times suggest that it will be much more difficult than Israeli leaders assume to keep the United States out of the conflict," former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl told Yahoo News by email. "In the retaliatory spasm following an Israeli strike, the odds that Iranian actions and miscalculations could drag the United States military are substantial."

    The two-week war simulation exercise—dubbed "Internal Look"—took place from Feb. 26 -March 3 at U.S. Central Command's headquarters at MacDill Air Force base, near Tampa, Florida, and at some overseas locations, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said Tuesday. It was designed to "refine the command's battle rhythm and assess the staff's ability to coordinate and communicate on a modern battlefield," U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. John Robinson told Yahoo News in an email Tuesday.

    The war game posited a scenario in which an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities led to Iran retaliating by striking a U.S. "Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans," thus drawing the United States into the war, the Times' report said.

    But some former officials urged caution when interpreting the war games' reported results. "It's clear the administration believes an Israeli strike on Iran would be extremely problematic," Ken Pollack, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East studies and a former director for Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council, told Yahoo News in a telephone interview Tuesday. "But it is not at all clear that the game demonstrates that an Israeli strike could produce American casualties." Pollack, who has designed and directed many such war games, explained that the designers of the game could simply have created an Iranian attack on the U.S. Navy ship as a method for testing America's control system to see if it could handle it.

    Read More »from Pentagon war game forecasts U.S. would be pulled into a new war if Israel strikes Iran

  • A massive manhunt was underway in France on Monday to find the perpetrator of the fatal shootings of three children and their teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse, in southwest France.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who flew to Toulouse where the sniper attacks on Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school occurred, called the killings a "national tragedy," the BBC reported. He has raised the state of alert for terrorism attacks in the southwest of the country to the highest level.

    The violence—reportedly carried out by a gunmen on a black Yamaha motorcycle—occurred as parents were dropping off their children at the school Monday morning.

    "Witnesses said the gunman pulled up on a black scooter and began shooting at an area which serves as the drop-off point for the school's nursery- and primary-age children," the BBC report said. Killed were Jonathan Sandler, a teacher at the school, his two sons, ages 3 and 6, and an 8-year-old girl, daughter of the head teacher. The sniper also wounded a fifth person, a 17-year-old boy.

    French police have said the gun used in the attack Monday is the same one used in shooting attacks that killed three French soldiers of North African descent in two separate incidents in the area last week.

    French police are searching for three former French soldiers who were kicked out of the force in 2008 over alleged neo-Nazi ties, France's LePoint reported, believing they might be connected to the attacks, which seemingly have been targeting France's Jewish and North African communities.

    "The police remain convinced that [the attacker] is military (still active or not), given his modus operandi, his way of moving and his use of his weapon," a translation of the report said.

    Read More »from French police hunt for gunman after four killed at Jewish school in Toulouse

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