The South Asia Channel

Five Americans killed in suicide car bombing in southeastern Afghanistan

Editor’s note: New America Foundation senior fellow Philip Mudd received a glowing review of his forthcoming book, Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, in the Wall Street Journal last week (WSJ). New America will host a book launch event for Mr. Mudd next MONDAY, April 15, 2013 (NAF). Deadliest day Five Americans were killed ...

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Editor’s note: New America Foundation senior fellow Philip Mudd received a glowing review of his forthcoming book, Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, in the Wall Street Journal last week (WSJ). New America will host a book launch event for Mr. Mudd next MONDAY, April 15, 2013 (NAF).

Deadliest day

Five Americans were killed on Saturday when a suicide car bomber attacked their convoy in Zabul Province, as they traveled with the provincial governor to the capital city of Qalat to deliver books to a new school being inaugurated there (NYT, Post, AP, BBC, LAT, CNN). Another U.S. civilian was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, making Saturday the deadliest day for U.S. personnel in Afghanistan in eight months. Three of the dead in the Zabul suicide bombing were soldiers and two were civilians, including 25-year-old Foreign Service Officer Anne Smedinghoff, who was the first State Department diplomat to be killed in the country since the war began (NYT, AP).

An American military airstrike called in to support a joint Afghan-U.S. Special Forces operation in the eastern province of Kunar on the border with Pakistan on Saturday killed a senior Taliban commander, Ali Khan, along with at least ten children (NYT, The News, BBC, Guardian, LAT). The American forces called in the airstrike, which also wounded five women, after being bogged down in several hours of fighting with the high-profile Taliban commander and his supporters. Officials believe the women and children killed or injured in the strike were his relatives. President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into their deaths (Bloomberg).

As the Afghan Army begins taking the lead from American forces on operations this year, so far they are doing so with confidence but with mixed results (NYT, Post). Afghan missions struggle with the lack of air power the Americans have provided in the past, and their enthusiastic responses to enemy fire are not always the most efficient. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey visited Afghanistan this weekend to get a sense of the type and level of additional training the U.S. military can give to Afghan forces after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (AP, LAT, VOA). His assessment will help inform how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, a decision he argued on Friday should wait until after the summer fighting season is over (AP). Bonus read: Jim Marshall, "Afghanistan 2014: A look one year out" (AfPak).

Afghan officials said Monday that a roadside bomb had struck a public bus in the restive province of Wardak on Kabul’s southwest border, killing at least nine civilians (AP). Around 80 people died in Afghanistan over the past week in a spurt of violence many attribute to the beginning of the spring/summer fighting season.

How it all began

The New York Times this weekend featured an excerpt from Times reporter Mark Mazzetti’s forthcoming book, which details for the first time the behind the scenes deal the CIA made with the Pakistanis in 2004 that would allow the Agency to hunt down al-Qaeda militants in certain parts of Pakistan using armed drones (NYT). As the Pakistani government struggled with a growing insurgency in the tribal regions, part of which was led by Taliban commander Nek Muhammad, it agreed to allow the CIA access to Pakistani airspace for targeted killings by drone if the CIA would first assassinate Nek Muhammad. Muhammad was killed by a missile fired from a Predator drone in June 2004. Bonus read: Peter Bergen, "Book review: ‘The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth’ By Mark Mazzetti" (Post).

Drone strikes have come to define the United States’ approach to counterterrorism over the past decade, a development that expert attribute to a few different factors: the drones’ powerful technology that allows for precise strikes and no risk to American lives, the preferences of Pakistani and Yemeni authorities who would resist U.S. boots on the ground in their countries, and the waning need for interrogations as al-Qaeda weakens (NYT).

Pakistani military officials said Friday that four soldiers and 14 militants died that day during Army operations against warring militant groups in Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley (AP). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and rival militant groups have been battling for land and power in the region in recent months, forcing thousands of families to flee to neighboring districts.

Pakistani election officials in the northern district of Chitral accepted former president Pervez Musharraf’s nomination papers to run for parliament on Sunday, allowing the recently returned exile a sigh of relief (AP, ET). His applications to run for seats in two other areas of the country have been rejected, and are still pending in Islamabad. In one of those cases, Musharraf and dozens of other candidates were barred from running on the basis of a rarely used constitutional clause that tests candidates’ religious credentials and "moral character" (Guardian).

On Monday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered Musharraf to appear before the judges on Tuesday to answer questions about allegations that he committed multiple treasonous crimes while in power, including carrying out a coup, suspending the constitution, and firing senior judges (AP, AFP/ET, Dawn).

Answer me this

The road to becoming a candidate for a parliamentary seat in Pakistan is paved with potholes in the form of spelling bees, religious tests and trivia questions (AP). In order to ensure that candidates satisfy Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, Pakistani judges quiz candidates on their piety and patriotism. It is unclear, though, why any of them were asked who first walked on the moon or how to spell "graduation."

— Jennifer Rowland

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