Daily brief: NATO airstrike kills at least 80 in northern Afghanistan
Exploding fuel tankers A NATO airstrike on two fuel tankers early this morning in the once-peaceful northern province of Kunduz in Afghanistan killed between 80 and 95 people (New York Times, Pajhwok, and AP). Insurgents had reportedly stolen the two fuel tankers as the tankers were headed from Tajikistan to Kabul, but the militants got ...
Exploding fuel tankers
A NATO airstrike on two fuel tankers early this morning in the once-peaceful northern province of Kunduz in Afghanistan killed between 80 and 95 people (New York Times, Pajhwok, and AP). Insurgents had reportedly stolen the two fuel tankers as the tankers were headed from Tajikistan to Kabul, but the militants got stuck at the Kunduz River, where they called on local villagers to collect the fuel. Villagers apparently brought buckets and pots to carry the diesel, and the fuel tankers ignited into a fireball when the airstrike hit (BBC and AFP).
Investigators have been sent to the site to determine whether civilians were among the dead: NATO claims they were all Taliban fighters while Afghan officials say there were 40 civilians killed (Reuters and The Guardian). Top NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal ordered in July that airstrikes should only be used if the aircraft can confirm there is no chance civilians might be hurt or if friendly forces are in immediate danger.
A continuation of politics
The airstrike comes the morning after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen held a Pentagon press conference at which Gates signaled he was open to sending more troops to Afghanistan, walking back earlier comments suggesting the contrary (DefenseLink, Los Angeles Times and AP). Gates said that his concerns about the size of the force had been mitigated by McChrystal, who has reportedly told him that the size is less important than the conduct of the troops.
McChrystal’s anticipated request for more troops has divided U.S. President Barack Obama’s advisers, report Peter Baker and Elisabeth Bumiller in a comprehensive article about the debate (New York Times). Military strategists speculate that McChrystal might offer three options: a request that from a military standpoint would represent a high risk for the success of his plan for only 10,000 to 15,000 troops; a medium risk to the success of his strategy request for 25,000 troops; and a request for 45,000 troops that would carry the fewest risks for the strategy’s success.
The White House is feeling the pressure from congressmen on both sides of the aisle to work harder to sell the Afghan war to the American public, as polls show that support is flagging (Wall Street Journal). Critics say Obama has not sufficiently explained U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, while many Pentagon officials are surprised at the White House’s silence, given how successfully the Bush administration employed Gen. David Petraeus as a public advocate for the war in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also under fire from domestic critics of his country’s involvement in the Afghan war, is expected to confront opponents today by saying that Britain cannot walk away from Afghanistan (Reuters). Brown’s government suffered a blow on Thursday after the right-hand man of British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth resigned to protest the handling of the war (Independent and Telegraph). The UK has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has banned alcohol from the camp where American contractors were allegedly involved in drunken hazings, sexual misconduct, and abuse of subordinates (Times of London). A State Department spokesman said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “genuinely offended” by the reports and that those who engaged in such activities will be dismissed, while the parent company of the security contracting firm says it is “fully cooperating” with the investigation into the incidents (AP and CNN).
Arms race in South Asia?
A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday that Pakistan is “disturbed” that India might conduct new nuclear tests, after reports surfaced that the 1998 Indian thermonuclear tests were a “fizzle” (AFP). At the same time, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists assesses that Pakistan is pushing ahead with its plutonium production program to add to its reported stockpile of 70 to 90 nuclear weapons (BAS and Telegraph).
Howard Stern meets Jon Stewart meets Monty Python…in Pakistan
A 320-pound, chain-smoking Pashtun radio host has carved out a niche in Pakistan by poking fun at topics like the Taliban and the Pakistani army and hosting frequent discussions on violent extremism and women’s rights on his thrice-weekly radio show (Los Angeles Times). The host, Fasi Zaka, has received death threats, but operates under the principle that “Pakistanis are so weighted down by daily life that they need a laugh.”
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