The South Asia Channel

Torture reports prompt ban on U.S. Special Forces in strategic province

Torture reports prompt ban on U.S. Special Forces in strategic province

Kicked out

The Afghan government on Sunday banned American Special Forces from operating in Maidan Wardak, a province adjacent to Kabul that is seen as a key area in defending the capital from the Taliban (NYT, AP, CNN, WSJ). Authorities cited reports that either Afghans working for the Special Forces or the U.S. soldiers themselves had tortured and killed local villagers, and said that coalition officials had failed to look into the allegations. But NATO officials said Monday that they had looked into the allegations and found "no supporting evidence" that U.S. Special Forces were involved in such wrongdoing (CNN).

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss coalition troop levels in Afghanistan following the end of the combat mission in December 2014, and reportedly drafted an agreement to keep up to 9,500 American troops along with up to 6,000 troops from other member nations (NYT). But a dispute arose when German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had said the United States was considering leaving 8-12,000 American forces after 2014 (AP, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Reuters). George Little, spokesman for the Pentagon, said Friday that the 8-12,000-troop option included both American and coalition forces.

Afghan insurgents launched four attacks across the country on Sunday, including three near-simultaneous suicide attacks: one in Jalalabad targeting the National Directorate of Security that killed two intelligence officers and wounded three others, and two in Logar Province targeting police checkpoints that killed one policeman and wounded three (NYT, AJE, CNN, AP). In the fourth incident, Afghan intelligence officials killed a man in an SUV who they said was planning to set off explosives in his car in a neighborhood of Kabul filled with foreign embassies. However, the Taliban denied any role in the attempted Kabul attack.

Serious response?

Pakistani security forces on Friday arrested Malik Ishaq, the founder of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for the February 16 bombing in Quetta that killed at least 90 people (AP, NYT, BBC). Ishaq has been arrested before, though, and was last released in July 2011. Bonus read: Niamatullah Ibrahimi, "Blood in the streets: Quetta’s Hazara massacres" (FP).

A rare countrywide power outage hit Pakistan late on Sunday night, leaving the entire country without power for nearly two hours (AP, ET, Dawn). Authorities said technical problems at a major plant in Balochistan put pressure on the rest of the power grid, causing the other electric plants in the country to shut down. The central government has ordered an inquiry into the cause of the massive outage (BBC).

Residents of Pakistan experience regular power outages due to a severe energy shortage in the country, which has propelled the government to seek a deal with Iran that would provide Pakistan with much-needed natural gas (Dawn). State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing last Thursday that the United States thinks there are "better ways" to alleviate Pakistan’s energy crisis than obtaining gas from Iran (Dawn). But Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to travel to Tehran on Tuesday to finalize the deal, which would put in motion plans for an Iran-Pakistan pipeline, as well as a $4 billion oil refinery – paid for by Iran — in the southern port city of Gwadar (ET).

Mr. Mayor

Afghanistan’s first and only female mayor has proven critics wrong by not just surviving the pressure that local mullahs put on her for being a woman, but also managing to make real changes in the impoverished town of Nili (Guardian). Now known as "Mr. Mayor" around town, Azra Jafari continues to struggle for a budget to complete projects in Nili, but has earned the respect of her constituents.

— Jennifer Rowland