The threat within
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a shooting attack inside Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry in Kabul earlier this morning, in which aman wearing an Afghan National Army uniform opened fire and killed two soldiers before being gunned down (AP, AFP, Pajhwok, WSJ, Post, NYT). A spokesman for the insurgent group said the targets were Afghan defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and the visiting French foreign minister, Gerard Longuet, who was not inside the ministry at the time. Six Afghan policemen were killed in a roadside bombing in Ghazni today (AP). On Saturday, another Taliban attacker wearing an Afghan military uniform detonated his explosives inside Forward Operating Base Gamberi, in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman, killed five American and up to seven Afghan soldiers (CNN, FT, Tel, AFP, McClatchy, NYT, AFP, Tolo, Post). Also Saturday, three NATO troops were killed in two separate bombing attacks in the south (AP, LAT). And an ongoing clash between Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami fighters in Maidan Wardak continued over the weekend (Pajhwok).
Military sources tell the Post that in the three "most insurgent-ridden districts" in southern Afghanistan — Zhari, Arghandab, and Sangin — "the Taliban is commencing a summer fighting season with less control and influence of territory in the south than it had the previous year" for the first time since the war began (Post). The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime predicted in a report released todaythat less opium will be cultivated in southern Afghanistan this year, though foresees a "strong increase" in cultivation in the north and northeast (AP, UNODC-pdf).
The Afghan government and international donors spend barely $10 per person every year on health care, according to a new study released yesterday, and the other $31 per year spent on health comes from Afghans themselves (Reuters).
Served with a grain of salt
An investigation by 60 Minutes aired last night calls into question the veracity of some claims made by Greg Mortenson, the best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, including whether he was kidnapped by the Taliban in the 1990s, the timing of his first visit to the remote Pakistani village of Korphe, andwhether he is personally benefiting from the millions of dollars that have been donated to his charity (CBS). One of the men who appears in a photograph of Mortenson with his alleged kidnappers is Mansur Khan Mahsud, the research director of a think tank in Islamabad and author of several research reports on militancy in Pakistan’s tribal regions (NAF). Mahsud said his family treated Mortenson as an "honored guest" in Waziristan, and speculated that Mortenson wrote the kidnapping account "to sell his book" (CNN, CBS). Mortenson,who denied 60 Minutes’ interview requests, offered a qualifier to the timing of his stay in Korphe, said he stands by the information in the books, and via a spokesman said he is suffering from hypoxia and heart problems (CNN, NYT, Bozeman Daily Chronicle). An extended response is available from Mortenson’s foundation, the Central Asia Institute (CAI-pdf).
Afghan and Pakistani leaders agreed to upgrade the efforts of a joint peace commission initially set up in January following a visit by Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, spy chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha,and Army head Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to Kabul over the weekend (NYT, Reuters, BBC, APP, ET). Gen. Kayani also said earlier today that no more military operations will take place in Baluchistan without the permission of the provincial government, and announced that 5,000 Baluch recruits will join the Pakistani Army later this month (Dawn).
The New York Times and AP analyze the current nadir in U.S.-Pakistani relations, and the NYT notes that American officials say that "the Americans have been coaxing the Afghan and Pakistani leadership to talk to each other, but not at the cost of keeping the United States out of the loop, or of concocting solutions that are against American interests" (NYT, AP). Dawn reports that the Pakistani federal government has decided to block NATO supply lines to Afghanistan on April 23 and 24, in keeping with a Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf plan to stage a protest against drone strikes in the tribal areas (Dawn). Bonus AfPak Channel read: Arif Jamal on U.S.-Pakisan relations.
The bodies of eight young men were found in fields near the Pakistani town of Attock over the weekend, and authorities say terrorism was not involved (DT, AP). Some one million Pakistanis have been displaced by ongoing clashes between Pakistani military forces and militants in the country’s northwest, and Lashkar-e-Islam leader Mangal Bagh has fled to Afghanistan according to the rival militant group Ansar-ul Islam (AP, ET).
Just hope we can win a game
Afghanistan earned its first victory in the ongoing South Asian Association Regional Cooperation Baseball Cup yesterday after beating Nepal 19-11 (Pajhwok). The team had previously lost to Pakistan and Sri Lanka.