Carnage at the market
A 300 pound suicide car bomb killed at least 25 on Friday morning in a mostly Shiite marketplace in Kohat, a town in the Northwest Frontier Province about 30 miles south of Peshawar, as families shopped for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan (New York Times and The Nation Pakistan). Kohat is mostly Sunni with pockets of Shia neighborhoods, and sectarian violence there has been chronic and deadly. A militant group calling itself Lahskar-e-Jhangvi al Almi has taken responsibility for the attack, and BBC correspondents say it is likely linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group with ties to the Taliban (BBC and AFP).
Of stern justice
Pakistani police say they they have filed a fresh legal case against and are planning to arrest Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a hardline Islamist cleric who heads Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political front for the extremist organization accused of being behind the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, Lashkar-e-Taiba (AP). It’s not clear whether Saeed, who has avoided prosecution in the past and who India believes is protected by Pakistani intelligence services, can similarly evade it again; he is charged with “delivering a speech against the government” and “arranging an unlawful congregation” because of a reported fundraising meeting with his suspected supporters in Faisalabad (Dawn and New York Times).
Taliban militants have seized and reportedly killed several of their own, relatives of the erstwhile Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud suspected of spying and providing information about Baitullah’s whereabouts before his death in a U.S. drone strike in South Waziristan last month (BBC).
Pakistan’s army is experimenting with using civilian militias, or lashkars, to combat Taliban militancy in the Swat Valley, site of a spring army offensive that weakened extremists in the area (Christian Science Monitor). But lashkars have had limited success in the past, and some analysts are worried that the military will not fully support the group members, of which there are about 8,000 and growing, or that they could turn on each other, newly armed, to settle personal scores.
A certain convocation of politic
After yesterday’s suicide car bombing in Kabul killed six Italian soldiers, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters that his nation had begun planning to “bring our young men home as soon as possible,” though he reiterated that Italy would not undertake any unilateral action (Financial Times, AP, New York Times). Italy has some 3,100 troops in Afghanistan (Reuters).
In the past two days, one U.S. and three British generals have given policy speeches on the war in Afghanistan, with Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, telling a think tank in the U.K. that the Taliban have “without question expanded their strength and influence, particularly in place which lack Afghan security forces” (Reuters, BBC, and Telegraph). And Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb, a counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus who focuses on militant reconciliation, told the Independent that many low-level members of the Taliban feel a sense of “anger and grievances which have not been addressed” (Independent).
The new head of the British Army, Gen. Sir David Richards, said yesterday that defeat for the allied forces in Afghanistan would have an “intoxicating impact” on extremists around the world and an “alienating and potentially catalytic effect” on millions of Afghans (BBC). And Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, soon to be head of Britain’s some 9,000 soldiers in southern Afghanistan, told BBC Radio that “time is not on our side” in the country (Reuters and Telegraph).
As a part of the alliance’s strategy of boosting Afghan security forces, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday that he has ordered an additional 3,000 “enablers” — support troops as opposed to combat units — to Afghanistan to meet a request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country (Washington Post). These troops are not part of the 21,000 additional soldiers that U.S. President Barack Obama ordered deployed earlier this year, and include personnel trained to deal with roadside bombs, which are the leading cause of death among U.S. forces in the country.
The election that keeps on giving
The drama with Afghanistan’s fraud-riddled August 20 presidential election goes on, as incumbent President Hamid Karzai admitted yesterday that some election officials were “partial” toward him, but maintained that accounts of widespread corruption were overblown (Telegraph and Wall Street Journal). Members of the Obama administration are growing increasingly worried that a runoff election between Karzai and his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah could be put off until the brutal Afghan winter passes, throwing U.S. policies into disarray as the domestic political clock keeps ticking (New York Times and AP). Karzai has yet to declare an official victory in the campaign.
Afghanistan’s agricultural ministry in the central province of Panjshir has provided 450 families with training and materials to operate their own honey production businesses (Armed Forces Press Services). It is unknown whether the bees, whose honey can add about $42 per year to the average Afghan farmer’s annual income of around $400, can be trained to sting militants in the region.
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Combined Joint Task Force-82, Panjshir province, Afghanistan