Daily brief: Afghan recount may force election runoff

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. Election squabbles The U.N.-backed body whose job it is to investigate claims of fraud ...

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 13: An Afghan woman working with the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) team audits disputed ballots at Independent Elections Commission (IEC) warehouse September 13, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai maintains a large lead presently in the controversial presidential polls, with partial results issued by election officials. Presently, out of 5,545,149 valid votes from 92.82 percent of the country's polling stations, Karzai has 3,009,559 and Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister, has 1,558,591, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

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.

Election squabbles

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.

Election squabbles

The U.N.-backed body whose job it is to investigate claims of fraud from Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election this morning ordered the Afghan election commission to recount ballots from around 10 percent of the country’s polling stations, affecting about 2,500 of them (AP and BBC). These investigations could cause incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s share of the vote — currently at 54 percent — to drop below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff against his primary challenger Abdullah Abdullah (AFP).

These thousands of reports of election fraud come at a time when the politically sensitive question of more boots on the ground is the topic of hot debate in many NATO countries, and European officials reportedly believe that top NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal could ask European nations for more troops in the Afghan theater, citing more capacity in Germany, France, Italy, and the U.K. (Guardian).

And the U.S.’s top diplomat at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, has reportedly been ordered out of the country after a quarrel with his boss, Kai Eide, during which he allegedly argued for more ballots to be recounted than Eide wanted (Times of London). This disagreement underlines the growing divide among the international community on what should be done if Karzai is declared the winner of an election widely recognized as fraudulent.

Not ready to read

Nine of out ten soldiers in the Afghan National Army don’t know how to read, highlighting the challenges facing the country and the some 5,000 coalition trainers working with the army and police to prepare them for an eventual NATO and U.S. withdrawal (AP). This is higher than the 75 percent national illiteracy rate, because recruits often come from lower classes where not many know how to read.

Tit for tat

Pakistani police thwarted a suspected militant attack on an oil storage facility in the country’s financial capital, Karachi, late last night (Reuters). No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, but al Qaeda militants have targeted oil facilities in other countries in the past, and Pakistani police suggested it may be linked to the insurgency in the northwest (AFP).

Hundreds of bodies have turned up the last several months on the streets of Mingora, the main town in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, the site of this spring’s offensive by the Pakistani military, in apparent extrajudicial killings (New York Times). Some cases may be local citizens seeking revenge for Taliban behavior, but the systematic nature of the deaths, the scale of retaliation, and similarities in torture marks found on the bodies have led residents, human rights workers, and some Pakistani officials to believe the Army was involved, though the Army strenuously denies it.

Between 56,000 and 100,000 people have fled their homes in Pakistan’s Khyber Agency since Pakistani troops launched an anti-militant offensive there on September 1 (AFP). A government official from Khyber said that Pakistani forces will regain control of the strategically critical supply route between Pakistan and Afghanistan within the next ten days (Bloomberg).

Charity to tragedy

At least 18 women and girls were killed yesterday in Karachi when a crowd waiting for free bags of flour swelled and panicked, causing a stampede (Dawn and AP). Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has called for an inquiry to determine responsibility (Bloomberg).

Run down the curtain

U.S. special forces reportedly killed one of east Africa’s most wanted militant commanders yesterday in a helicopter raid in a town about 140 miles south of Mogadishu, Somalia (Guardian, Telegraph, and Reuters). The Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was wanted by the FBI over attacks that killed 15 people at a resort hotel in Kenya in 2002 and a simultaneous, but botched, attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner leaving Mombasa airport (BBC and AFP). The helicopter raid, reportedly launched from a nearby U.S. naval vessel, took place in a region controlled by al Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate, Al Shabaab, and purportedly killed at least four, including Nabhan and the group’s local leader (AllAfrica and Washington Post).

Yesterday, the three British Muslims convicted last week of plotting to smuggle liquid explosives onto at least seven trans-Atlantic airplanes in the summer of 2006 were sentenced to at least 30 years in prison each (New York Times and Telegraph). Richard Greenberg, Paul Cruickshank, and Chris Hansen have a must-read in-depth look at the case that “rivaled 9/11” (MSNBC).

Sister suffragette

A radio station in Khyber Agency in Pakistan’s troubled border region has hired three female journalists to report on issues like education, health care, and children (Los Angeles Times). So far the Taliban — virulently opposed to womens’ rights — have not issued any threats, and Radio Khyber director Taib Afridi speculated, “Even the militants have women in their families, and the problems of those women are being covered by our reporters. So maybe the Taliban appreciates what we’re doing.”

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Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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