Model of Shadow surveillance drone at the US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL. (photo: Wayne Hsieh on Flickr)

After David Petraeus was burned by transporting a Taliban impostor to “peace talks”, a new round of peace talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan with the Taliban’s participation appears to be underway. This time, there is no mention of US participation. Instead of joining peace talks, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is planning to send up to 3000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan, fearing a spring offensive from the Taliban that would wipe out claimed US progress.

The peace talks were described in an AFP article in Dawn (and what’s up with the creepy “security verification” screen at Dawn.com?):

Pakistan and a visiting delegation of Afghan officials charged with trying to broker peace with the Taliban have agreed to hold a peace “jirga” between the two countries, Islamabad said Thursday.

/snip/

Basit said both sides discussed the opening of an Afghan Taliban representative office in Turkey, an idea recently floated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to kick-start stalled negotiations with the rebels.

/snip/

Since arriving in Islamabad on Tuesday, [former Afghan premier Burhanuddin] Rabbani has held talks with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and the governor of Pakistan’s northwest border province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Owais Ahmed Ghani.

He is expected to meet with President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday before returning to Kabul, said Basit.

Given the embarrassing outcome when Petraeus was involved in “helping” previous peace talks by transporting a fake Taliban figure, perhaps it is for the best that this article does not mention any US participation in the current talks.

Instead of participating in the peace talks, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is instead planning to send up to 3000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan. From the Wall Street Journal:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to send an additional 1,400 Marine combat forces to Afghanistan, officials said, in a surprise move ahead of the spring fighting season to try to cement tentative security gains before White House-mandated troop reductions begin in July.

/snip/

Commanders are examining other proposals to temporarily boost the number of combat troops in Afghanistan in addition to the Marines authorized Wednesday. If the plans are approved, the front-line fighting force could be increased in total by as many as 3,000 troops.

And demonstrating once again that our Defense Department only understands “more, more, more” when it comes to war, the explanation for this enhancement to the “surge” is priceless:

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan face intense pressure to show sustainable security gains in the first half of 2011. Military officials fear an upswing in attacks by the Taliban in the spring could convince the White House that the Pentagon’s war strategy is flawed and that the troop pullout—the details of which have yet to be ironed out—should be accelerated.

So, the military knows that their strategy has failed and that once the snow melts and the Taliban re-asserts itself in the spring, the US will be forced to accelerate its planned withdrawal. So, to get in the maximum amount of killing, the Pentagon has come up with the brilliant ploy to send in even more combat troops now. In addition, the Journal article describes a number of steps that the Pentagon will be taking to remove “support” personnel and replace them with combat troops. Of course, more combat troops require more support, not less, so my interpretation is that the “shortfall” in military support personnel will be picked up by private contractors who will be excluded from this fuzzy math.

One more story coming out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is worth considering. On the Reuters India website (carried also by Dawn.com but not on the main Reuters website, strangely enough), we see that the US “offer” to provide Pakistan with its own surveillance drones has not been easy to consummate:

A U.S. offer to supply Pakistan with its own fleet of surveillance drone aircraft delighted Islamabad a year ago but now threatens to turn into another source of friction between the two nations.

The offer was made by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a trip to Islamabad in January 2010 but talks have failed to gain traction, with Pakistan privately voicing concern about what it says are exorbitant prices and a snail-pace delivery timeline.

Although the Pakistan officials Reuters spoke with want drones with attack capability, it appears that the US wants to supply models that only provide surveillance (and it is interesting to remember that the US is soon going to deploy an “advanced” version of its own surveillance drones, so perhaps Pakistan is the dumping ground for overstocked old ones?):

Gates offered Pakistan 12 Shadow drones, manufactured by AAI Corporation, a unit of Textron Systems. They are not the weaponized versions being used by the CIA to track and kill al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in Pakistan but are used strictly for surveillance and intelligence gathering.

The article states that the initial expectation, when these talks started a year ago, was that Pakistan would have the drones within a year. Now it appears that it would be at least three more years at best before delivery. How’s that for smooth operations between countries who claim to be working together to end terrorism?  It’s hard to get the impression that Gates and the US military want anything other than a never-ending war.