The South Asia Channel

U.S. identifies soldier accused of murdering Afghan civilians

Identity revealed: The U.S. military on Friday identified the soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians last Sunday as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who has been transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and whose four deployments over the past decade have renewed concerns about the impact of war on soldiers’ mental health (NYT, Post, WSJ, AP, Tel, BBC, LAT, Reuters, NYT, CNN). Staff Sgt. Bales ...

SCOTT OLSON/Getty Images
SCOTT OLSON/Getty Images

Identity revealed: The U.S. military on Friday identified the soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians last Sunday as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who has been transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and whose four deployments over the past decade have renewed concerns about the impact of war on soldiers’ mental health (NYT, PostWSJAPTelBBCLATReutersNYTCNN). Staff Sgt. Bales is a 38-year old father of two from a small town in Ohio, who joined the Army weeks after the 9/11 attacks and was described by his lawyer as "very mild-mannered." A blog written by his wife reveals that the family was struggling financially and was especially disappointed by his last deployment to Afghanistan (NYT).  

The White House said in a statement Friday that President Barack Obama had called Afghan President Hamid Karzai early that morning to reiterate that U.S. troops would be withdrawn by the 2014 deadline, in response to Karzai’s demand last week for NATO soldiers to withdraw from Afghan villages and confine themselves to their bases (NYT, LATPolitico). Though U.S. officials said the call went well, Karzai lashed out at the United States just hours later, saying civilian casualties had been "going on for too long," and that he was at "the end of the rope" over the recent murders by a U.S. service member (NYTLATAPReutersAFPWSJBBC). The Post’s Joshua Partlow has a must-read on Karzai’s deep-seated mistrust of the United States, and "peace-loving temperament," two reasons for his repeated rejection of continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (Post).

Two human rights groups, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Open Society Foundations, quietly issued a report Saturday night on the U.S. military’s continued transfer of detainees to Afghan prisons despite an order to halt the transfers after a report last year revealed widespread and systematic torture was taking place at the Afghan-run prisons (NYTAP). However, the latest report was not publicized, in order to avoid angering the officials involved, and instead encourage them to address the problem, a tactic the report’s authors say has worked. Meanwhile, women visiting the notorious Pul-e-Charki prison on the outskirts of Kabul are reported to be routinely subjected to body-cavity searches, while men receive only a pat down (NYTAP). The claims reinforce concerns that women’s rights will be forgotten as international forces transition out of Afghanistan.

New details about the attempted attack on a group of U.S. Marines on a runway in Helmand on Wednesday reveal that the Afghan driver of an SUV actually came closer than initially reported to harming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as well as the top U.S. commander in the province, Gen. Charles Gurganus (WSJNYT). And a senior Iranian military commander on Saturday called on Afghans to use force to push U.S. troops out of the country, adding that "creation of resistance groups and hitting American interests are among measures that can be taken" (AP).

Lofty goals

Newly declassified documents found in the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound reveal that the terrorist group plotted to assassinate President Barack Obama, leaving an "unprepared" Joe Biden to take over the presidency, and to kill Gen. David Petraeus, then the overall commander in Afghanistan, which would "alter the war’s path" (CNNPostBBCWSJNYT). Letters written by bin Laden also show that he was concerned that the militant safe haven in Pakistan’s North Waziristan had become too dangerous due to U.S. drone strikes, and ordered subordinates to move his son Hamza, who had recently been released from Iran and was staying in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

Bin Laden’s three widows and eleven children who lived in his Abbottabad compound with him were remanded into custody until March 26 by a Pakistani judge on Saturday, as the women await their trial for illegally entering country (APDawnET).

New al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri called in a video posted to jihadist websites on Friday for an uprising in Pakistan similar to those of the Arab Spring (AFPCNNDawn). He also said that kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein would not be released unless the United States meets all of al-Qaeda’s demands, which include the release of "every single person arrested on allegations of links with al-Qaeda and Taliban."

Heavy strikes

Pakistani air strikes killed at least 26 militants in Upper Orakzai and Kurram Agencies on Sunday, as officials announced that at least 51 militants and four soldiers had died in the past week due to strikes and clashes (AFPThe News). Late Sunday night, another four militants, one soldier, and three civilians were killed in clashes in North Waziristan (AFP). Villagers in the Bara region of Khyber Agency on Sunday found 14 bullet-ridden bodies, just two days after the discovery of 12 other bodies bearing gunshot wounds and signs of torture (ReutersET). Also in Bara, members of a peace committee publicly executed three alleged militants of the Lashkar-e-Islam extremist group on Saturday, and three girls were killed when one of them stepped on a roadside bomb (ETThe News). The Post’s Richard Leiby reports on the constant threat of suicide attacks that haunts many of Pakistan’s political families (Post).

Allies of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Sunday lauded President Asif Ali Zardari’s historical fifth address to parliament, which marked the longest tenure of any elected administration in Pakistan’s history, while opposition politicians slammed the president’s purported exaggeration of his achievements and accused the PPP of corruption (DTDTDawnET). Pakistan’s parliament on Tuesday will debate the recommendations of a commission convened to design the country’s new terms of engagement with the United States (CNNReutersNYT). The legislators’ decision is likely to include the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, while the issue of continued U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region promises to remain a sticking point.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani refused once again to submit to the Supreme Court’s request that he write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reopen a graft case against President Zardari (ET). In a letter submitted to the court on Monday, Gilani called on justices to refer the case to parliament, or let the people of Pakistan decide what should be done. Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, formally retired on Sunday, as the Supreme Court presses forward with its investigation of the role of Pakistan’s security agencies in the cases of "missing persons" (ETDawnDawn).

A search for three climbers who went missing on the Pakistani mountain of Gasherbrum-1 around 10 days ago has been called off (AFP). A Pakistani official said Monday that Islamabad has approved a barter deal with Iran in which Pakistan will export a million metric tons of wheat to Iran, possibly in return for fertilizer or iron ore (Reuters).  And the Pakistani commission investigating the 2008 Mumbai bombings has completed its probe after a visit to India to record statements and gather evidence from investigators there (Dawn).

Renaissance in Swat

As militancy expanded in Swat in 2007, the region’s art scene was decimated by extremists’ attacks on CD stores, theaters, and even the artists themselves (ET). But the industry is finally beginning to regenerate, and well-known artists have returned to continue making the much-beloved Pashto telefilms, in hopeful sign for Swat’s future.

 Jennifer Rowland

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