The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: U.N. evacuates more than half of international workers from Afghanistan

Daily brief: U.N. evacuates more than half of international workers from Afghanistan

Event notice: The New America Foundation is screening a powerful new film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Andy Worthington, attorneys Tom Wilner and David Cynamon, and AfPak Channel editor Peter Bergen, on Monday November 9 in Washington, DC. See here for details and RSVP.

Rendered

In a landmark legal ruling, an Italian judge yesterday convicted 23 Americans, most of them CIA agents, on charges related to the 2003 rendition of a Muslim cleric from the streets of Milan to Egypt, where Abu Omar claims he was tortured (New York Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Financial Times, ABC). The trial, which began back in 2007, is the first involving the CIA’s alleged ‘extraordinary rendition’ program, and the CIA’s Milan station chief at the time, Robert Lady, was sentenced to eight years in prison while the other 22 Americans convicted each received five years (BBC).

During the three-year trial, the CIA refused to comment on the case or provide lawyers for the accused agents, who are not in custody and were tried in absentia (CNN, Telegraph, Los Angeles Times). A State Department spokesman said the U.S. was “disappointed” by the verdicts, which are likely to be appealed (New York Times, Bloomberg).

Strikes from the skies

As the Pakistani military’s anti-Taliban offensive rages nearby, suspected U.S. drones reportedly fired several missiles at the house of a local tribesman in the Norak village of North Waziristan, killing a handful of alleged militants who were using the compound (AFP, Geo TV, Dawn, CNN, AP, Reuters). The Obama administration has already authorized more drone strikes than occurred in the Bush administration’s last three years in office. Pakistani security forces claim to have killed 28 militants in the last 24 hours, though independent verification of claims is impossible because journalists and aid workers are barred from the region (AFP, Dawn).

Militants blew up a girls’ school in the northwestern Pakistani tribal district of Khyber earlier today, the second such attack in the last four days, demonstrating ongoing militant commitment to attacking education in the country (AFP, Dawn, Pajhwok). There were no reports of casualties in the attack (PTI). And Karachi police reportedly arrested a Taliban commander from Malakand, a northwestern district of Pakistan, earlier today (Dawn).

Moving out

The United Nations announced today that it is relocating more than half of its international staff in Afghanistan after last week’s militant attack on a U.N. guest house in Kabul killed five staffers (New York Times, Reuters, AP, BBC, Al Jazeera, Pajhwok). The move, affecting about 600 of the U.N.’s roughly 1,100 international workers in the country, shows the organization’s growing concern about security threats and underlines the difficulty of Western efforts to stabilize the country.

Afghan villagers claim an air strike in Helmand last night by international forces killed nine civilians, including three children, though Afghan officials say they had no reports about civilian casualties (AP, Reuters, Pajhwok). The incident, highlighting the confusion that regularly results from night time raids and air strikes, sparked some 300 Afghans to take to the streets of Lashkar Gah in protest.

The air strike in Helmand, not reportedly related, comes the day after a rogue Afghan policeman turned on British soldiers with whom he was working and killed five, unleashing an outcry in the U.K. and raising fears about possible Taliban infiltration into Afghan security forces (New York Times, Guardian, Independent, Washington Post). And yesterday U.S. troops fought a four-hour firefight with militants in the eastern Afghan village of Qatar Kala, killing up to five Taliban (AP).

Comparisons

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen yesterday said it was “reasonable” to look at the 2007 troop ‘surge’ in Iraq as a model for the possibility of a draw-down of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, though he added a word of caution about direct comparisons between the two countries (AFP). Adm. Mullen also commented that re-elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s legitimacy is “at best, in question right now and, at worst, doesn’t exist,” saying Karzai should spearhead an anti-corruption housecleaning effort (Reuters). And in an unusually candid assessment, the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a small group of reporters earlier today that “Karzai is corrupt, O.K.,” but “he is our guy” in Afghanistan and “we have to legitimize him” if NATO has any chance of leaving the country (New York Times, AFP).

Adm. Mullen, the nation’s top military officer, also told the National Press Club yesterday that he expects the Pentagon to request emergency supplemental funding from Congress to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York Times).

Today’s must-read from McClatchy takes a close look at the supply lines that support the war in Afghanistan, highlighting that it takes 45 to 49 days to ship supplies from the U.S. to Afghanistan and that a majority of attacks and pilfering on convoys happen while the trucks are waiting to cross the Afghan border, at the Torkham checkpoint (McClatchy).

Degrees awarded

As many as 200 girls recently completed training courses in business, English, and information technology in Kandahar, with the aid of Canada’s leading polytechnical institute (Pajhwok). The Afghan-Canadian Social Center, which was established in 2007, has graduated more than 600 students since then.

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NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images