The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: suicide bomber attacks NATO air base in Kabul

Media alert: AfPak Channel editor Peter Bergen will be reporting “Live from the Battle Zone” from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan tonight at 10:00pm EST on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, simulcast on CNN International. Justice is served An English court convicted three British Muslims of conspiracy to murder using explosives on an airplane for their ...

BAND-E-AMIR, AFGHANISTAN -SEPTEMBER 6 : An overview showing the swan paddle boats at the edge of one of the six lakes that make up Band-E-Amir National Park September 6, 2009 in Band-E-Amir, Afghanistan. Located in central Afghanistan, the park was declared Afghanistan's first National Park on April 22, 2009. Located in the province of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Band-e-Amir draws tourists from across Afghanistan. Its designation as a National Park will allow Afghanistan to apply for international recognition of Band-e-Amir as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Band-e-Amir has been a destination for Afghan tourists since at least the early 1950’s, but tourism significantly declined during the 20 years of wars and Taliban rule. Tourism has since resumed with summer tourism seeing estimates of a few thousand visitors, mostly Afghans and a limited number of international aid workers, during 2006 and 2007. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Media alert: AfPak Channel editor Peter Bergen will be reporting “Live from the Battle Zone” from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan tonight at 10:00pm EST on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, simulcast on CNN International.

Justice is served

An English court convicted three British Muslims of conspiracy to murder using explosives on an airplane for their involvement in the summer 2006 plot to smuggle bombs made with flammable liquids aboard at least seven transatlantic airliners (Washington Post and BBC). The convictions, coming after a jury rejected the men’s defense that the plot was an elaborate publicity stunt, followed Britain’s largest counterterrorism operation and two criminal trials which cost an estimated $100 million (Telegraph, Telegraph).

Ringleader Abdulla Ahmed Ali and accomplices Tanvir Hussain and Assad Sarwar, who trained and received guidance from extremist groups linked to al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, will reportedly be sentenced next week and could face up to life in prison (New York Times, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and AFP). The attack could have killed up to 1,500 people aboard the targeted planes, according to prosecutors.

Force and fraud

A suicide bomber drove an SUV into a convoy of NATO soldiers on their air base in Kabul this morning, in an attack that killed at least three and was claimed by the Taliban (AFP). The latest attack comes just weeks after a massive car bomb on ISAF’s headquarters a few days before Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election (New York Times).

Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a partial recount of the ballots in the country’s election, which has been plagued by accusations of fraud and voter intimidation (CNN and AP). So far, about 200,000 ballots from 447 stations have been thrown out because of fraud.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai currently has 54.1 percent of the vote with 92 percent of the ballots counted, pushing him over the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff against his primary opponent Abdullah Abdullah, who has 28.3 percent (BBC and IEC).

Carlotta Gall and Dexter Filkins, both longtime Afghanistan observers, reported that Karzai supporters set up hundreds of fictitious polling sites where no one voted on election day but mysteriously hundreds of thousands of ballots for Karzai flowed in (New York Times). In Karzai’s home province of Kandahar, for example, preliminary results show upward of 350,000 ballots to be counted — but Western officials estimate that only 25,000 people actually voted.

Tick tock

Afghanistan’s election troubles come as the United States is engaged in a vigorous debate over whether top NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s anticipated request for more boots on the ground is necessary to prevent the Taliban and al Qaeda from operating in a safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York Times).

Last Friday’s NATO airstrike on two stolen fuel tankers in the once-calm northern Afghan province of Kunduz, which an Afghan human rights group claims killed up to 70 civilians, was reportedly based on a phone call with a single Afghan informant, according to Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Washington Post, Reuters, and AP). In a fit of irony, the Taliban have called for a United Nations investigation into the incident (BBC).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the German parliament today, as lawmakers in the country demanded explanations for why German soldiers in Afghanistan, normally restricted to peacekeeping duties, called in the airstrike that reportedly killed as many as 125 (Washington Post). Merkel said she regrets any civilian deaths but would not accept any “premature judgments” about the airstrike, which NATO is investigating (New York Times, BBC, and Bloomberg).

Such perilous circumstances

A U.S. drone strike in the Machikhel village near Mir Ali, the main town in Pakistan’s troubled tribal area of North Waziristan, reportedly killed five people suspected to be Taliban fighters late last night (AP, Al Jazeera, and Dawn). It is the 34th drone strike in Pakistan so far this year, compared with 34 in all of 2008.

As clashes between Pakistani security forces and Taliban-affiliated militants continue in Khyber Agency on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, thousands of refugees are fleeing the violence, flooding into Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province (AFP, Bloomberg, and AP). The Khyber Pass is a main supply route for foreign troops in Afghanistan (Times of London). The death toll over the last eight days has risen to 130, according to Pakistani officials, and more than 100 insurgents have been arrested while 60 militant hideouts have been destroyed (Al Jazeera, Dawn, and Dawn).

Four Shiite high school students were shot this morning in the neighboring tribal agency of Orakzai in an apparently sectarian attack (AFP and BBC). In the Swat Valley, site of this spring’s Pakistani military offensive designed to rout Taliban militants from the area, sporadic violence continues as the military arrested 32 suspected militants in the last 24 hours and killed three over the weekend (Bloomberg).

Preventing Pakistani polio

In a glimmer of good news, Pakistani authorities have resumed polio vaccinations in the Swat Valley, an act once banned by local Taliban militants as a conspiracy to make Muslim children infertile (AP). Some 215,000 children are the target of the three-day campaign.

Your next vacation?

Residents of Bamiyan, a comparatively peaceful province in central Afghanistan, are trying to boost their fledgling tourism industry, opening hotels and restaurants that cater to the few intrepid backpackers who venture the seven hour, bone-rattling drive on mostly dirt roads from Kabul (CNN). For example, a non-profit organization is working with the government of New Zealand to develop eco-tourism with some $1.2 million in funding over three years.

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Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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