Daily brief: new reported bin Laden tape calls Obama “powerless”

Event notice: Thursday, September 17, 12:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.”Covering Afghanistan: What the War Really Looks Like 8 Years After 9/11,” in Washington, DC, with Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Karen DeYoung, and Susan Glasser. Details and RSVP available here. Taliban rising In today’s must-read, Rajiv Chandrasekaran explains that Kandahar, a southern Afghan province ...

581020_090914_51350332a2.jpg
581020_090914_51350332a2.jpg

Event notice: Thursday, September 17, 12:15 p.m. - 1:45 p.m."Covering Afghanistan: What the War Really Looks Like 8 Years After 9/11," in Washington, DC, with Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Karen DeYoung, and Susan Glasser. Details and RSVP available here.

Taliban rising


Event notice: Thursday, September 17, 12:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.”Covering Afghanistan: What the War Really Looks Like 8 Years After 9/11,” in Washington, DC, with Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Karen DeYoung, and Susan Glasser. Details and RSVP available here.

Taliban rising

In today’s must-read, Rajiv Chandrasekaran explains that Kandahar, a southern Afghan province home to some 800,000 people and the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban movement, is a microcosm of Afghanistan: official corruption, unemployment, a lack of municipal services and and not enough NATO troops to control militant violence plague the dusty region (Washington Post). Many residents of Kandahar say that police corruption is the main reason for the Taliban’s resurgence, and there is “near unanimity” that more Afghan security forces are needed in the province.

The more than 600 prisoners currently being held at the Bagram military base in Afghanistan will for the first time have the right to challenge their indefinite detentions and call witnesses in their defenses under a new review process being put into place this week (New York Times). Under the new rules, each detainee will be assigned a U.S. military official — not a lawyer — to represent his interests and look at the evidence against him (Washington Post).

Communication is key

In the requisite annual September 11 communique, a tape purportedly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden rails against the United States’ support of Israel and criticizes U.S. President Barack Obama for retaining George W. Bush administration officials such as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, calling Obama “powerless” to end the war in Afghanistan (AFP and AP). The 11-minute audio tape played over an undated photo of Bin Laden is reportedly the 49th release by al Qaeda’s media arm, as-Sahab, this year (Al Jazeera and New York Times).

Former U.S. national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski warned on Friday that the U.S. is “running the risk of replicating — obviously unintentionally — the fate of the Soviets,” in Afghanistan and echoed calls from European leaders for an international conference on the troubled country (New York Times).

To gain the end of the war

A wave of violence scattered across Afghanistan this weekend, as Taliban militants attacked a road construction crew in Kunar, an office of Afghanistan’s intelligence directorate in Kandahar, and a U.N. food convoy in Farah (Wall Street Journal). Afghan civilians and police were also killed in attacks and roadside bombs in Khost, Narangahar, Uruzgan, and Paktika (AP and Reuters). About 50 civilians, security forces, and militants died in the conflicts, including 5 U.S. soldiers (New York Times and al Jazeera).

To combat extremist violence like this, the U.S. and NATO are overhauling the way they recruit, train, and equip Afghan National Security Forces by establishing a new command led by a three-star military officer whose goal is to “bring more coherence” to uncoordinated efforts by NATO contingents in Afghanistan (Washington Post). The U.S. is about to double the number of trainers it has in the field from one brigade to two (Los Angeles Times).

The primary focus of the United States’ strategy in Afghanistan could shift from the south to the east because U.S. military officials reportedly believe stopping the Afghan Taliban’s ability to get support from across Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions is essential to defeating the insurgency (Guardian). This move could be resisted by the British, who are fighting an increasingly lethal battle in the south, and Pakistani officials, who are concerned about the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Now what?

Afghanistan’s presidential election about three weeks ago remains unresolved as a political crisis that no one really knows how to prevent builds in the country (Washington Post). Even though incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai has inched over the 50 percent of the vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah, allegations of massive vote-rigging, voter intimidation, and ballot box stuffing virtually ensure that the results will not be accepted by Abdullah’s camp (Times of London).

As Afghanistan’s bitter winter weather looms and the logistics of a runoff are looking more and more difficult to achieve, chatter about a possible unity government or power sharing deal between Karzai and Abdullah, discussed by Western diplomats as an alternative to potential violent protests against a declared Karzai victory, is growing (Guardian). Neither candidate has expressed interest in such a deal.

On the offense

A reported U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s restive tribal regions, killed at least three alleged Taliban late last night (AFP and BBC). This is the third strike in the last week in North Waziristan, a known militant stronghold (Reuters and GeoTV).

Pakistan’s interior minister said authorities are closing in on capturing the leader of the Swat Valley Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, after five senior Swat Taliban were arrested in Islamabad last week (AP and Dawn). Pakistan’s military claims that some 1,800 militants have been killed and 2,000 arrested during its spring campaign in the Swat Valley, though independent verification of this estimate is unavailable (Bloomberg).

Violence continues in Khyber, when a bomb blast killed three Pakistani paramilitary soldiers on Sunday as security forces move forward with an offensive to secure a critical NATO supply line to Afghanistan (Wall Street Journal). Pakistan claims it has killed more than 150 Taliban militants since the operation began on September 1 (AP). Pro-government militias are reportedly helping out with the fight against extremists in Pakistan as well, though critics are worried that these alliances could be temporary and one day authorities will find themselves fighting their former proxies (AP).

Pakistan’s wilting flower industry

In spite of Pakistan’s potential as a flower-exporting country due to its warm temperatures and beautiful indigenous flowers, most Pakistani businesses are forced to import them because the country lacks the infrastructure needed to export blossoms (The News). Pakistan is home to a wide range of native blooms, including tuberoses, gladiolus, marigolds, and water lilies.

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