At least seven people were killed by a remote controlled bicycle bomb in the provincial capital of the southern province of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen called progress in the ongoing coalition offensive in Marjah "steady if perhaps a bit slower than anticipated," as the United States passed a deadly milestone as the 1,000th U.S. service member was killed in the Afghan war (AFP, Pajhwok, BBC, Reuters, BBC). Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, issued a nationally broadcast video, dubbed in Dari and Pashtu, apologizing for the air strike on Sunday that killed 27 Afghan civilians on the border between Uruzgan and Daykundi and was reportedly ordered by U.S. Special Operations forces (AP, LAT, Wash Post, NYT, AFP, WSJ, ISAF video).
Yesterday’s suicide attack outside Jalalabad in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan reportedly killed Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, one of the Afghan warlords who allied with the United States during the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001 and was accused of helping Osama bin Laden escape (NYT, AJE, AP, TNR). And the Times and the Post have more information about last weekend’s news that Afghan Taliban Quetta shura member Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a former Taliban governor of Nangarhar, was recently captured, and the arrest of the Taliban’s shadow governor of Zabul province (NYT, Post). Pajhwok reports that several other "key" Taliban figures have been detained in Wardak, and that two civilians including a child were killed when a motorized rickshaw laden with explosives detonated in Nangarhar earlier today (Pajhwok, NYT, Pajhwok).
The fight goes on
The battle in Marjah continues into its tenth day as Afghans continue to flee the conflict zone for nearby cities like Lashkar Gah; yesterday, two battalions of U.S. Marines managed to link up to create a direct north-south route through the town for convoys and supplies (AP, Pajhwok, AP). The U.S. is reportedly planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to construct almost 200 police stations in Afghanistan (McClatchy). And the Taliban in Marjah had apparently recently loosened their grip over Afghans in the southern town, while NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday at Georgetown University that he doesn’t think a Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan will cause other European nations to follow suit (USAT, WSJ, AFP).
Rajiv Chandrasekaran describes the newly appointed mayor of Marjah’s first visit to the town yesterday, as Haji Zahir arrived escorted by U.S. Marine officers and a contingent of tribal elders and met with locals skeptical of the government in Kabul and concerned about the possible end of their lucrative poppy-growing business (Wash Post).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has taken control of the Afghan election watchdog that forced him into a runoff in last August’s fraud-riddled presidential contest, giving himself the power to appoint all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, which previously had three U.N.-appointed foreign members (Guardian, Times, BBC). And outgoing top U.N. official in Afghanistan Kai Eide comments in today’s Daily Telegraph that reconciliation plans with economic incentives for Taliban fighters will not succeed without negotiations with the movement’s leadership (Tel, Tel).
Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt report that the National Counterterrorism Center, formed in 2004 in response to intelligence failures before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is struggling because of "flawed staffing," culture clashes, and tension between the CIA and the State Department’s counterterrorism desk (NYT).
Zazi pleads guilty
Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American accused of planning to detonate explosives in New York’s subway system after receiving weapons training from al-Qaeda in Pakistan, yesterday pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in what appears to be part of a plea bargain for cooperating with investigators (FBI, AJE, AFP, Pajhwok, NYT, WSJ, Reuters, CNN, Wash Post, BBC). Zazi faces a possible term of life in prison when he is sentenced on June 25 in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
In Pakistan, a general visits and a minister quits
Top U.S. General David Petraeus arrived in Pakistan yesterday and met with Prime Minister Yousuf Razai Gilani and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani to shore up ties between the U.S. and Pakistan, reportedly supporting Pakistan’s demand for "early reimbursement" of U.S. funding for Pakistan’s participation in the erstwhile "war on terror" (AFP). Earlier today, Pakistan’s Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin resigned in order to focus on his private banking career without an apparent conflict of interest (AFP, The News).
The Times of London has an interesting interview with a top Pakistani intelligence officer who both escorted U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson and then-CIA deputy director Robert Gates to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and at times worked with militant leaders Mullah Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Ahmed Shah Massoud (Times). And finally, a new message from al-Qaeda’s number two Ayman al-Zawahiri has made its way to the public and rails against the Turkish government for its role in Afghanistan (CNN).
Going for gold
Pakistan’s only Olympic athlete, Muhammad Abbas, is set to make his debut today in Vancouver, participating in the giant slalom race at Whistler Creek (Dawn). The event will be broadcast live on ESPN in Pakistan.
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