Daily brief: Taliban raid government buildings an hour outside Kabul

Childsoldier The choir invisible Amidst weekend chatter that Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, survived last Wednesday’s drone strike on his father in law’s house are rumors of a succession battle, but Taliban militants readily deny these claims (New York Times). An aide claims Baitullah will issue a video message sometime today to prove ...

582442_090810_childsoldier22.jpg
582442_090810_childsoldier22.jpg

The choir invisible

Amidst weekend chatter that Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, survived last Wednesday's drone strike on his father in law's house are rumors of a succession battle, but Taliban militants readily deny these claims (New York Times). An aide claims Baitullah will issue a video message sometime today to prove he is alive, though reportedly ill (Dawn).

Childsoldier

Childsoldier

The choir invisible

Amidst weekend chatter that Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, survived last Wednesday’s drone strike on his father in law’s house are rumors of a succession battle, but Taliban militants readily deny these claims (New York Times). An aide claims Baitullah will issue a video message sometime today to prove he is alive, though reportedly ill (Dawn).

Two of the contenders, Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali ur-Rehman, supposedly got in a shootout that may have killed Rehman and/or Hakimullah, the Baitullah deputy who told the BBC on Saturday that the Taliban chief was still alive (Dawn, Al Jazeera and BBC).

Pakistan is concerned that al Qaeda might try to install its own “chief terrorist” as head of the Pakistani Taliban to replace Baitullah Mehsud (AP). At stake is not just prestige: the Taliban’s stash of ammunition, arms, and cash from crime and foreign donations totals a reported $36 million (The News).

U.S. and Pakistani officials maintain that although DNA evidence is still forthcoming, it is “quite certain” that Baitullah Mehsud is dead (Reuters). US national security advisor James L. Jones said Sunday that it was “in the 90% category” (AP). Pakistan’s interior minister challenged the Taliban to prove Baitullah is alive, but no such proof has been presented so far (Daily Times).

No fortunate sons

Young men who have escaped from Taliban camps tell stories of up to 400 boys, some as young as seven, captured from their homes, trained in spycraft, and indoctrinated with Taliban ideology (Los Angeles Times). While these figures are impossible to verify independently, the camps underline the fact that while this spring’s offensive in the Swat Valley has mostly ended, the effects will be felt for some time.

Fifty-nine percent of Pakistanis believe the United States is the greatest threat to Pakistan, according to a survey released by Gallup and al Jazeera over the weekend (Al Jazeera). Only eleven percent thought as much for the Pakistani Taliban.

More, more, more

In an example of the violence that has spread across Afghanistan in the run-up to the August 20 presidential election, gunmen and suicide bombers stormed police headquarters and the governor’s office in the capital of Logar province, just an hour’s drive outside Kabul (New York Times). The Taliban, who have already claimed credit for this raid, were largely held off by NATO and Afghan security forces, but the attack is part of a “series of coordinated Taliban strikes on government compounds in provincial capitals this year” (AFP).

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, told the Wall Street Journal that the Taliban is now winning there, and offered a clear picture of his new protect-the-population strategy: shifting soldiers to heavily populated, violent cities like Kandahar and to rural areas with higher concentrations of civilians (Wall Street Journal). General McChrystal said he hasn’t decided whether to ask for more troops in his upcoming assessment of the Afghan war effort, which is costing about $4 billion per month.

It’s a rich man’s world

The war in Afghanistan has already cost the United States $223 billion, and expenses are likely to grow in coming years, according to military experts (Washington Post). Though the Afghan government has made progress in improving security and economic conditions, the fact remains that it is still one of the poorest countries in the world and faces a reinvigorated Taliban insurgency.

Poppy don’t preach

The US has added 50 Afghan drug dealers with ties to the Taliban to its kill-or-capture list, demonstrating the Obama administration’s new counternarcotics strategy, which targets the main traffickers rather than focusing on crop eradication (New York Times). US intelligence agencies now estimate the Taliban gets about $70 million a year from drugs, which is lower than previously thought.

The US and Britain are about to undertake a big anti-poppy push in the next two months “by selling wheat seeds and fruit saplings to farmers at token prices, offering cheap credit, and paying poppy-farm laborers to work on roads and irrigation ditches” to provide alternative livelihoods to poppy farmers  in rural southern Afghanistan (Washington Post). But it’s an uphill battle: wheat harvesting earns $4.40 per day, while daily wages for ‘lancing’ poppies can be up to $15.

Out of the mouths of babes

Pakistan’s government is celebrating International Youth Day this week, hosting an essay contest whose theme is “United for Peace Towards Greater Sustainability” (Daily Times). The winner will get a prize of about $60.

AFP/Getty Images 

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