Daily brief: Afghan poppy cultivation down 22%
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain Net poppy cultivation has fallen 22 percent in Afghanistan in the last year, according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC and BBC). The average price of opium has dropped by about a third since 2008, which suggests market saturation and lower penetration in European markets. Afghanistan produces ...
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain
Net poppy cultivation has fallen 22 percent in Afghanistan in the last year, according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC and BBC). The average price of opium has dropped by about a third since 2008, which suggests market saturation and lower penetration in European markets.
Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, and in Helmand province, coalition commanders say it’s tough to distinguish between the Taliban, drug runners, and criminals — all of whom have a share in the opium trade (Washington Post).
Disturbing the peace
A suicide bomber in the relatively calm eastern province of Laghman killed the deputy head of Afghan intelligence early this morning, illustrating the Taliban’s reach and one of their goals: to attack Western-backed security services (AFP). At least 15 others were killed and 54 wounded in the attack targeting the second-ranking intelligence official (New York Times).
Momentum building against Karzai
Dexter Filkins reports that leaders of a southern Afghan tribe in Kandahar who wanted to support presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah instead of incumbent President Hamid Karzai in last month’s election say that nearly 24,000 ballots were forged in favor of Karzai in their district (New York Times). Just under half the country’s votes have been counted, and Karzai is leading Abdullah 46 percent to 33 percent, still short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
Thousands of accusations of corruption and voter fraud have seriously called the legitimacy of the election into question, and Abdullah has vowed he will not accept a flawed Karzai win (Los Angeles Times and Washington Post). With these allegations gathering steam in Afghanistan, hundreds of tribal leaders came together yesterday in a meeting in Kabul led by Abdullah to call on Karzai to quit (Times of London).
The Washington clock
Top NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal submitted his strategy review of the war in Afghanistan to the Pentagon on Monday, and President Obama is expected to read it at Camp David later this week (Reuters).
The report comes as public support for American involvement in the country is declining: according to a CBS News poll released yesterday, 41 percent of Americans think U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should be decreased, up from 24 percent in February (CBS News). And a CNN poll also released yesterday found that 57 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan — the highest percentage since CNN first asked that question in the fall of 2006 (CNN).
The Wall Street Journal profiles an Afghan Tajik warlord named Ghulam Yahya, a former mayor of Herat, who has turned from working with Western officials to rebuild the country to supporting the Taliban and attacking his erstwhile allies (Wall Street Journal). Karzai has tried to woo insurgent commanders like Yahya to win their support in the past several years, but only a few have switched sides, and Yahya’s defection shows the risks of Afghans’ mounting frustration with endemic corruption, slow rebuilding of the country, and tactics of coalition troops.
Contractors gone wild
Some private security contractors in Afghanistan have reportedly engaged in severe misconduct, according to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, which sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter yesterday detailing the conditions at Camp Sullivan, a few miles from the Kabul embassy compound (Reuters and Washington Post). Allegations include bringing prostitutes to the compound and engaging in “lewd and deviant” behavior, hazing, and abusing Afghan nationals, fueled by alcohol (POGO).
Additionally, civilian contractors working for the Pentagon now outnumber the uniformed troops, making up 57 percent of the Pentagon’s force in Afghanistan (New York Times).
And the battle goes on
Fighting rages between security forces and militants in northwestern Pakistan, leaving at least 43 extremists dead and two commanders captured in Khyber agency and 15 dead in Swat Valley (CNN and BBC). The Khyber Pass is a key supply line checkpoint that has been targeted by suicide bombers recently (AP). More than 100 militants reportedly surrendered in the former tourist destination of Swat, but there is no independent confirmation of these claims as journalists are generally not allowed in the conflict-ridden area (BBC and Al Jazeera).
Twitter, Facebook approved
The world’s first-ever halal search engine went live yesterday, giving Muslims who may have avoided the internet because of its unsavory content the option to find only search results that are considered halal — approved — under Muslim religious law (Jerusalem Post). ImHalal.com wants to be the number one website in all Muslim households, according to its founder.
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