The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: eight suspected militants killed in Karachi explosion

Daily brief: eight suspected militants killed in Karachi explosion

Event notice: New America Foundation counterterrorism research fellow Brian Fishman will be speaking Monday, January 11 at 2:30pm in Washington, DC on "Making the Next Bin Laden." Details here.

Not-so-safe house

An apparently accidental explosion at a house in Karachi killed up to eight alleged Taliban militants this morning at a suspected safe house (Guardian, AFP, WSJ, NYT, BBC, Dawn, AJE). Authorities believe the explosion, in a working-class neighborhood known to be used as a hideout by Taliban fighters, was caused by a suicide vest stored in the house. Police seized guns, ammunition, grenades, and suicide vests from the wreckage of the demolished house, as well as militant literature (AP).

A day in court

Two former employees a subsidiary of Xe, the security contractor formerly known as Blackwater, were arrested and charged with second degree murder, attempted murder and weapons violations over the shooting deaths of two Afghans at a Kabul intersection last May (FBI, BBC, Times of London). The men were reportedly on a contract to train Afghan police and claim they thought they were under attack after a car struck their convoy at night on busy Jalalabad Street in Kabul (AFP, Wash Post, TIME). The indictment comes on the same day that Xe reached a settlement with victims of a 2007 shooting in Iraq that killed 17 people, and amidst increasing accusations of lawlessness and dangerous practices leveled against the company in the past few years (CNN).

Mystery still surrounds the life, personality, and beliefs of the alleged Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents and contractors — including two employed by Xe — and one Jordanian intelligence officer December 30 in Khost, Afghanistan (NYT, NYT). While his mother described him as a loner, Human Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi’s Turkish widow described him as a believer, and said she was "proud" of him for attacking Americans in Afghanistan (AP, AFP). And in today’s must-read, Newsweek has an exclusive interview with the widow, Defne Bayrak, providing a glimpse at the world of extremist internet forums and the radicalization of affluent and well-educated Muslims (Newsweek).

Dark shadows at Bagram

The U.S. military has launched an investigation into the possible abuse last year of three Afghan teenagers at a secret "black prison" run by U.S. Special Operations forces at Bagram Air Base (Wash Post). Two of the teenagers remain imprisoned, while the other  has told investigators that they were slapped, punched, humiliated and otherwise mistreated during interrogations at the prison.

And despite pleas from Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) for up to $50 million in order to hold parliamentary elections in May, international donor nations are hesitant to give more money without major reforms, fearing disastrous results from another fraud-tainted national election after the uproar over Afghanistan’s August 2009 presidential contest (McClatchy).

Fighting in the streets

Indian security forces have ended a nearly 24-hour seige in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir, killing two alleged anti-India militants holed up in a hotel in the city’s central business district (BBC). The militants opened fire on police and civilians after being stopped at a police checkpoint, and killed a police officer and a civilian before seeking refuge in the hotel. The attack was the "highest profile" terrorist operation in India since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the first major gunbattle in Indian-administered Kashmir since 2006 (AP, FT).

The group Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack, though some press reports suggest that one or both of the attackers may have belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group allegedly responsible for the Mumbai attacks (NYT, Times of India). Additionally, the Times of India quoted police officials claiming that the militants received directions from "handlers" in Pakistan throughout the course of the attack, another feature reminiscent of Mumbai.

The attacks highlighted the precarious security situation in Kashmir, where violence has dropped significantly but many Muslims still dislike Indian rule (AJE). Al Jazeera English reports that after the attack began Wednesday, crowds of Kashmiris flocked to the scene chanting pro-independence slogans, and had to be dispersed by Indian police.

Drone confusion

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) expressed support for the use of drone strikes against militants in a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite the fact that the U.S. government does not officially acknowledge the strikes (Wash Post, Reuters). Sen. McCain said the drone strikes, "have been very effective, and they have knocked al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist organizations off balance." He also appeared to acknowledge the Pakistani government’s cooperation with drone strikes, despite repeated official Pakistani objections (CNN).

In a meeting with the senators, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari warned that the drone strikes hurt the "national consensus" supporting military action against militants in the country’s troubled northwest, and again urged the U.S. to give Pakistan drone technology so that the government could directly target fighters (AFP). And Islamabad police claim to have captured the "deputy chief" of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) along with an explosives-laden truck, though police did not identify the man by name (Dawn).

Good morning, Afghanistan

A group of French Foreign Legion officers and Afghan civilians have launched the first FM radio station ever in Surowbi district east of Kabul, but unlike other military radio stations "Radio Surowbi" does not promote NATO and is not geared towards attacking the Taliban (AP). Instead, most of the Pashto-language station’s 12-hour daily broadcast time is devoted to music, as well as broadcasting community news and book readings, and the station sometimes receives calls and requests from Taliban-held villages.

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Editor’s note: today’s AfPak Channel Daily Brief was prepared by Andrew Lebovich, a research associate at the New America Foundation, and Katherine Tiedemann.