Event invitation: Join former Afghan president candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah at the New America Foundation tomorrow at 12:15pm in a discussion moderated by Steve Coll (NAF).
No law and order
Three suicide bombers in Kandahar city attacked a police headquarters earlier today, sparking a 40 minute gunfight and damaging the compound (AP). A Marine official added to the chorus of those saying there is "tough fighting" ahead in southern Afghanistan, where some locals are puzzled by the U.S.’s clear telegraphing of the coalition’s operations ahead of time (LAT, LAT). International forces have been working toward making political progress via house calls and conversations with local residents (AP). The Taliban, on their part, have been "systematically targeting precisely the kind of people on whom Western planners are relying to help woo the populace to the side of the Afghan government" (LAT).
Three months after the coalition’s last major offensive, in Marjah, a district in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, farmers have fled a resurgent Taliban, whose campaign of violence is halting the delivery of economic aid and reconstruction (NYT, WSJ). Carlotta Gall reports on a number of instances of Taliban intimidation in Marjah, where militants forced an old man to eat his aid registration papers in a "Mafia-style warning" to others not to accept government help (NYT). U.S. officials say the situation in Marjah is "mixed" and caution that "it takes a bit of time" (WSJ). Meanwhile, the U.S. appears to be trying to improve Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s military profile (LAT).
And in weekend security incidents across Afghanistan, a suicide bomber in Kandahar detonated his explosives near a residence of the Afghan Border Police late Sunday night, injuring three in the northeast part of the main city of the province (AP); a pro-peace Muslim cleric was assassinated in Kunar (AP, AJE); a Taliban spokesman claims the group kidnapped and killed four Afghan interpreters, one on his wedding day, in Khost, and five Afghan security guards were killed on Friday when a fuel truck they were escorting was ambushed in Ghazni (NYT). Additionally, a Taliban district chief from Farah turned over his weapons to the government after intervention by tribal leaders, and a Pamir Airways flight with dozens of people aboard crashed due to bad weather over the mountainous Salang Pass north of Kabul earlier today (Pajhwok, AFP, Reuters, AP, BBC, Pajhwok). There is no word on casualties yet.
The New York Times profiles an Afghan government effort to address pervasive drug addiction in the country’s troubled police force, where 12 to 41 percent of recruits test positive for drugs, writing that the "Hospital for Interior Ministry Addicts is both a symptom of how bad this country’s drug addiction problem is, and a possible solution" (NYT). Eleven Afghans were freed from the U.S.-run Bagram prison on Saturday, adding to the 200 already released this year as part of a program aimed at dispelling the image of unfair detention (McClatchy).
Mark Sedwill, a British diplomat who is the top civilian representative of NATO in Afghanistan, has emerged as a close companion to top U.S. and NATO commander in the country Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and their relationship and mission echo the connection between their onetime counterparts in Iraq, Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus (NYT).
Greg Jaffe has a pair of gripping must-reads outlining the aftermath of one of the deadliest fights for the U.S. in the Afghan war, a battle at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan in October of 2009, in which eight U.S. troops were killed, calling the follow-up "less a matter of destroying enemies than of knowing how and when to make them allies" (Wash Post). Part two looks at U.S. efforts to work with Mullah Sadiq, a local insurgent commander (Wash Post).
The FATA beat
Suspected Taliban fighters wearing Pakistani police uniforms reportedly kidnapped 60 people from Pakistan’s northwestern Kurram agency on Saturday, and 50 were freed or escaped within a day (Reuters, BBC, Dawn, AP, Daily Times, BBC). A tribal elder said the Taliban are holding the remaining 10 men because they don’t have identity cards, and are waiting to verify their identities, saying, "It’s not a big deal."
Pakistani fighter jets, helicopter gunships, and ground troops hammered Orakzai agency, the site of ongoing military operations, over the weekend, killing nearly 60 alleged militants (AP, ET). More than 700 suspected militants have reportedly been killed in the last two months in Orakzai.
The AP reported on Saturday that a suspected U.S. drone fired missiles in Khyber agency in what would be the first such drone strike in that area, though The News writes that local officials said the attack was from Pakistani fighter jets, while the Daily Times claims the missiles were fired from Afghanistan (AP, The News, Daily Times). Between five and 15 were reportedly killed in the Tirah Valley strike.
The threat within
Pakistani authorities have arrested at least two men suspected of providing an estimated $15,000 to failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who reportedly received five days of training in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal agency, several hundred miles north of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan strongholds of North and South Waziristan (Reuters, LAT). Shahzad’s father, a retired Pakistani Air Force official, is reportedly "very, very depressed" about his son’s alleged actions (Wash Post, CNN).
The Times has the most comprehensive profile to date about Shahzad, depicting him as troubled by financial problems, opposed to elements of the U.S.’s foreign policy, street smart, and increasingly religious, coming from a comfortable, elite childhood (NYT). Shahzad reportedly told a friend following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, "They had it coming." A TTP spokesman claimed responsibility for the attempted attack after several previous denials (Reuters).
The five young American Muslims arrested in Sargodha, Pakistan late last year on suspicion of involvement with terrorist activities appeared in court over the weekend as the prosecution wrapped up its case, and submitted written statements claiming they went to Pakistan motivated by friendship, "fun," and a "noble" desire to help orphans in Afghanistan (Wash Post, CNN, AP). The five continued to deny all charges, although court and police records reportedly indicate they made email contact with a known al-Qaeda operative and the Pakistani Taliban; they are due back in court on June 9.
And part two of CNN’s investigation into the life and radicalization of Long Island al-Qaeda recruit Bryant Neal Vinas has been released, and the must-watch documentary "American al-Qaeda" aired over the weekend (CNN, CNN). During the New York native’s travels among Pakistani militant circles, after months of perseverance, he met Baitullah Mehsud, the slain chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and Egyptian al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid.
The 28-year-old Pakistani arrested at the U.S. Embassy in Chile last week has been charged with possession of illegal explosives on Saturday, and freed pending an investigation (Reuters, AFP). Traces of TNT were detected on Mohammed Saif ur Rehman, who has to check in once a week with Chilean authorities and is not allowed to leave the country during the probe.
Please don’t stop the music
Afghanistan’s new National Institute of Music, the country’s only professional music school, has been offering courses for several months and plans a formal opening in a few weeks (AP). The ten-year course offers classes in Afghan musical traditions, as well as in English, history, and math.