- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
Pay out: The U.S. government on Saturday gave $50,000 to the families of each of the 16 Afghan civilians killed on March 11, allegedly by U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, and gave $11,000 to the families of each person wounded in the attack (NYT, AP, Post, CNN, WSJ, LAT, BBC). Afghan officials insisted that the money was intended as assistance, not as traditional compensation that would exculpate the soldier of his actions. A U.S. official said Saturday that military investigators believe Sgt. Bales carried out the attack in two separate outings from his base, finally being detained when he returned to base the second time (NYT, AP). And an Afghan police official said Monday that the United States has also charged Sgt. Bales with the murder of the unborn baby of one of his victims (NYT).
The AP’s Mirwais Khan and Heidi Vogt had a must-read this weekend on Mohammad Wazir, who lost ten family members – including his seven-year-old daughter – in the attacks by Sgt. Bales earlier this month (AP). Wazir also told the Post on Friday that a military trial in the United States is "not acceptable," and that Sgt. Bales should instead be tried in Afghanistan (Post). U.S. military trials are notoriously slow-moving and opaque, prompting critics to call for changes in the system this time around (CNN). The Times’ William Yardley profiles Sgt. Bales’ prominent lawyer John Henry Browne (NYT).
A gunman in an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two British soldiers at the main NATO base in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province on in Monday, before he was shot dead by coalition troops (AP, Reuters, AFP, Post, BBC, CNN, AJE). A remote-detonated roadside bomb killed five people in Uruzgan Province on Saturday, including a former Afghan legislator and tribal leader who had supported a peaceful end to the conflict (AP). Another roadside bomb exploded in Kandahar on Saturday night, killing a U.S. soldier, seven Afghan policemen, and an Afghan translator (McClatchy, AFP). And the AFP reports on Afghan fears that the country will return to civil war when NATO troops complete their withdrawal in 2014 (AFP).
Some analysts believe that the Taliban’s suspension of peace talks with the United States this month, as well as its hesitation to take advantage of recent U.S. missteps and atrocities in Afghanistan, reveal an internal conflict over the best way to proceed with their campaign against NATO troops (LAT). Former Taliban commander Syed Mohammed Akbar Agha said in an interview with Reuters that the United States must figure out how to restore trust with the Taliban if it wants to resume peace talks, for example by fulfilling the Taliban’s request for the release of five detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay (Reuters).
No one to blame
The U.S. military has decided not to take any disciplinary action against NATO soldiers involved in last November’s airstrikes on two Pakistani border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (NYT, AJE, Reuters, AFP). A U.S. military investigation found in December that NATO troops had acted in self-defense, after Pakistani soldiers at two border posts fired first, and continued firing even after the coalition troops told them they were striking friendly forces.
The spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ahsanullah Ahsan, told the Associated Press on Sunday that the group would attack Pakistani legislators and their families if they choose to support a resolution allowing NATO to resume the use of ground routes across Pakistan to supply troops in Afghanistan (AP, DT). Pakistan rescinded NATO’s access to the routes after the November friendly fire incident. A joint session of Pakistan’s parliament resumes its debate today on future terms of Pakistan-U.S. ties, including the restoration of the NATO supply routes, U.S. drones strikes in Pakistan, and bilateral relations with the United States (AJE, CNN, DT, The News).
A man claiming to be a spokesman for the Jundullah faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Ahmed Marwat, said Sunday that Mohammed Merah, the self-proclaimed jihadist responsible for killing seven people in France this month, had trained with the Taliban in North Waziristan (Reuters, AP, Dawn). Pakistani intelligence officials say around 85 Frenchmen are training with the Pakistani Taliban, raising fears in France about the threat of future terrorist attacks. However, French officials said Friday they have "no evidence" that Merah had ties to any organized terrorist or militant group (AP).
A suicide attack claimed by the TTP struck a mosque in Khyber Agency on Friday, killing 13 people, including members of rival militant group Lashkar-e-Islam (ET, AP). The TTP and Lashkar-e-Islam have been battling for control of Khyber’s remote Tirah Valley. And at least three Pakistani soldiers were killed by dozens of Taliban militants, who stormed a military checkpoint in Orakzai Agency late Friday night (AFP).
Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari arrived in the Tajik capital city of Dushanbe on Saturday to meet with the leaders of Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan for celebrations of the Persian New Year, and talks on regional economic and security cooperation (AFP, DT, ET, Dawn, DT). Later, Zardari met with U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman to discuss bilateral ties with the United States, during which Zardari called for more transparency in the relationship, and an end to drone strikes (DT). The Post profiles the CIA official in charge of the United States’ drone program, who is himself a convert to Islam (Post).
One person was killed Monday by guards at a gas station where protestors demonstrated against loadshedding by burning tires, blocking roads, and setting a gas pump on fire (The News, ET). An attorney representing Osama bin Laden’s family in Pakistan said Monday that three of bin Laden’s widows and two of his daughters will be charged with illegal entry to Pakistan when their hearing resumes on April 2 (AP).
After two years of finagling, Zahraa Saifullah has managed to convince the owners of Hello! Magazine to support a Pakistani version of the international publication, which documents the lives of the world’s rich and famous (AP). Many wonder if Pakistan is ready for such an frivolous magazine, which at $5.50 will cost around twice as much per issue as the average Pakistani earns in an entire day.
– Jennifer Rowland