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Gates and Karzai plan for a Kandahar offensive

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met here on Monday with President Hamid Karzai and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to review plans for a major U.S.-led offensive in the city of Kandahar, the spiritual heart and birthplace of the Taliban, an operation McChrystal indicated could get under way this summer.

McChrystal, the top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, declined to be more specific, but told reporters at a briefing in Kabul that it would be several more months before U.S., coalition and Afghan forces were at full strength around Kandahar, a city of 900,000 and the capital of Kandahar province.

The general said that while “Kandahar has not been under Taliban control, it’s been under a menacing Taliban presence, particularly in the districts around it.” He said he had already sent more troops to those districts, and more would be on the way.

By early summer, he said, “I think we’ll have enough Afghan forces,” adding that “our forces will be significantly increased around there.” At this point, only 6,000 of the 30,000 extra U.S. troops ordered by President Barack Obama have arrived.

Obama picks ex-intelligence officer to lead security agency

President Barack Obama has chosen a retired Army intelligence officer, Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harding, to lead the Transportation Security Administration, a job officials call the most important unfilled position in the administration.

The powerful position has been vacant for months. Obama’s first choice was Erroll G. Southers, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism supervisor for the Los Angeles airport police, who withdrew his name in January after it became clear that he faced a difficult confirmation battle.

In a statement about the new nominee, who rose in a 33-year Army career to become a top Pentagon intelligence officer, Obama said, “I am confident that Bob’s talent and expertise will make him a tremendous asset in our ongoing efforts to bolster security and screening measures at our airports.” Harding retired from the military in 2001.

The appointment comes at a time of heightened attention to the quality of government intelligence and transportation security after the attempted bombing on Dec. 25 of a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit from Amsterdam.

Experts urge keeping civilian and military options in terror

Leading congressional Republicans are arguing that getting tough on terrorism means trying all foreign terrorism suspects before military commissions. But national security officials who served in the Bush administration say that taking away the criminal justice option would weaken the government’s hand.

Former counterterrorism officials are warning that the political debate has lost touch with the pragmatic advantages of keeping both the civilian and military systems available.

“This rush to military commissions is based on premises that are not true,” said John B. Bellinger III, a top legal adviser to the National Security Council and the State Department under President George W. Bush. “I think it is neither appropriate nor necessary to limit terrorism cases to either military commissions alone or federal trials alone.”