Taliban warn Obama: Leave Afghanistan

Analysts say the war will be one of the new president's toughest challenges.

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As President Barack Obama steps into the White House and into history, the Taliban have a message for him: Leave Afghanistan.

"The insurgent Taliban said Wednesday that US President Barack Obama should learn from the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and pull his troops out of the country to allow Afghans to decide their own fate," reports The News, a popular English-language daily in Pakistan.

"We have no problem with Obama," a spokesman for the extremist Islamist movement [said] after the inauguration of the new US president. However, "he must learn lessons from [former US president George W. Bush] and before that the Soviets," Yousuf Ahmadi said by telephone.

Their remarks come as militants in neighboring Pakistan widened a bloody campaign in the country's North West Frontier Province, blowing up girls' schools and engaging in pitched battles with Pakistani military forces.

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As President Obama officially enters the White House, some analysts say the fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be his toughest international challenge, reports ABC News.

Now the hard part begins, and there may be no harder spot on the planet for President Barack Obama than Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The unreliable border between those two countries will help determine whether some of the tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan will come home in body bags; whether al Qaeda can launch another attack; and whether the Taliban can continue to destabilize both countries economically and politically.

The Boston Globe adds that a "record 151 American forces died in Afghanistan in 2008, compared with 111 the previous year. It was the deadliest year yet in a seven-year war that military officials say is likely to get even bloodier this year, as thousands more American troops pour into the country."

Responding to the challenge, the new Obama team has outlined a diplomatic as well as military approach to fighting the Taliban, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported yesterday.

Despite plans to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan to boost stability, the Obama administration seems to be heeding expert advice that no military solution is possible over the long term.

Hillary Clinton, Obama's pick for secretary of state, last week omitted mention of the idea of a military victory….
"We will use all the elements of our power -- diplomacy, development, and defense -- to work with those in Afghanistan and Pakistan who want to root out Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other violent extremists," Clinton said.

The challenges Obama faces were crystallized in violence in neighboring Pakistan.

Pakistani forces have been fighting Taliban militants up and down the Afghan border, and claim to have killed more than 1,500 in the last 17 months, according to AFP.

Some 60 militants were killed in the latest round of fighting on Tuesday, reports The News.

Twenty-two militants, including several local commanders, and two civilians were killed and several others sustained injuries as fighter planes and gunship helicopters blitzed different areas of Pandyalai and Lakaro Tehsils of the troubled Mohmand Agency on Tuesday. A press release of the Frontier Corps, however, claimed killing 60 militants in the ongoing operation besides securing a number of militant-held areas.

In the neighboring Swat district, the Taliban blew up five schools for girls in a growing effort to stop female education, according to Dawn, a leading English-language daily based in Karachi, Pakistan. "Swat District Coordination Officer Shaukat Khan Yousafzai said 182 schools, most of them for girls, had been destroyed by militants, affecting over 100,000 primary- to college-level students," it reported.

The violence comes as Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in the Middle East, wraps up meetings with Afghan and Pakistani leaders. In Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari told General Petraeus that the US should halt the predator drone attacks it has increasingly used to target Al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistani territory, reports The News.

Pakistan on Tuesday stressed the need for halting the drone strikes and urged its key ally, the United States, to enhance intelligence-sharing with Islamabad....
President Zardari said the drone attacks in the tribal areas were weakening the writ of the government and destabilising the political process, according to sources.
The sources said the president was of the view that the ongoing war on terror had badly affected Pakistan's economy and that the world should help Pakistan tackle the economic challenges.

Petraeus is scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday, where he will attend Obama's first official meeting with military commanders, reports the Associated Press.

Obama will begin to put his imprint on the nation's war strategy in his first full day in office, gathering his top military and national security advisers at the White House for what is expected to be the start of the new commander in chief's shift in emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan.

According to officials, Obama will conduct a video teleconference late Wednesday afternoon with members of the National Security Council as well as the US military commanders in the two war zones.

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