Taliban militants attacked a U.S. military base in Nangarhar province on Monday, setting off bombs, torching NATO supply trucks, and shutting down a key road used by the coalition to move its equipment into, out of, and around the country (AFP, AP, BBC, Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL, VOA). The Torkham base is home to NATO troops from several different countries, including the United States, and is an important stopping point for coalition vehicles. While three of the attackers were killed during the firefight, no Afghan or coalition soldiers died in the raid; and the attackers never entered the base. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed that the group was behind the attack.
At least six people were killed and 24 were injured in Kandahar province on Saturday morning when a suicide bomber attacked a local branch of the Kabul Bank in Kandahar city (AJE, BBC, Post). While Afghan police and civilians were among those killed, it is unclear if there was a specific target and no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. In a separate incident, 12 people were killed in the Sangin district of Helmand province on Friday night when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb and was hit by several rounds of gunfire (AP). Omer Zwak, the governor’s spokesman, said that while this type of ambush attack usually targets security forces, all of the victims were civilians. On Saturday, NATO also reported that a coalition service member had been killed by militants in eastern Afghanistan, but no further details were given.
As the weekly death toll from militant attacks in Afghanistan topped 100 victims, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the U.S. commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday that the country’s security forces are losing too many men in battle (Guardian, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). He also suggested that Afghanistan’s soldiers and police officers may need up to five more years of Western training and support before they can truly manage combat operations on their own.
Umer Daudzai, Afghanistan’s new Interior Minister, disputed these concerns by telling reporters some time last week that the increased violence is unlikely to disrupt next April’s presidential election or pose a major security challenge to Afghan security forces past 2014 (VOA). Daudzai, the former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, was appointed to the ministerial position by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, one day after Karzai appointed Rahmatullah Nabil as the acting head of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency (AFP, NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL). Daudzai replaces Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, who the Afghan parliament voted to dismiss in July due to his failure to tackle the country’s worsening security environment.
Despite Daudzai’s confidence in the Afghan security forces, more than a thousand representatives from all 34 Afghan provinces met in Kabul on Tuesday and called for delaying next year’s presidential and provincial elections until 2018 (Pajhwok). Participants in the meeting said the ongoing violence would make it difficult for candidates to campaign across the country and for Afghan citizens to exercise their right to vote. The meeting was held two days after former interior minister Patang said 3,410 of the 6,845 polling stations across the country were under security threats.
Days after the Washington Post released a 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s "black budget," the paper reported that it shows increased surveillance of "Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter-terrorism sources recruited by the CIA" (ET, Post, RFE/RL). The disclosure, based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, showed that U.S. fears about Pakistan’s nuclear program "are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else." While Pakistan’s leaders have yet to comment on this latest report, it will likely strain the already turbulent relationship it has with the United States.
The legal woes of Pervez Musharraf continued on Monday when police filed a new murder charge against the former president (BBC, Dawn, ET, RFE/RL). Officials said the case relates to the death of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a radical cleric, who was killed during a siege on an Islamabad mosque in 2007. Musharraf is currently under house arrest and also faces murder charges over the deaths of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Bugti, a Baloch tribal leader.
Nine Pakistani soldiers were killed and at least 10 were wounded in North Waziristan on Sunday when militants near the town of Miram Shah detonated a roadside bomb next to a military convoy that was traveling through the region (AP, Dawn, RFE/RL). While several sources said no one had claimed responsibility for the attack, Pakistan’s Express Tribune cited a local newspaper that said the Ansarul Mujahideen militant group was behind the bombing (ET).
Near Miram Shah a day earlier, at least four people were killed in a U.S. drone strike that targeted a building and vehicle used by suspected militants (ET, Pajhwok). According to a local security official, the missile hit a compound in the Mir Ali district of North Waziristan’s main town that had once been an Islamic school run by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the principal pro-Taliban warlord in the tribal region (Dawn, NYT). Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the strike on Saturday, saying that it was a violation of the country’s "sovereignty and territorial integrity" (ET).
When U.S. soldiers from the 327th Infantry’s First Battalion returned to the Pech Valley this weekend, their first visit since 2011, they found an Afghan force that was not just holding ground, but having an effect on an area nicknamed "the Valley of Death" (NYT). The main road leading into the valley is relatively drivable and local residents say they feel safer now than they have in years. While de facto agreements between the security forces and the militants about what is and is not off-limits may be part of their success, an increased number of outposts and checkpoints are also helping the troops maintain control of the valley. Photo essay: "After U.S. Exit, Afghan Army Tames a Valley," New York Times (NYT).
– Bailey Cahall