The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: 30 Afghans killed as passenger bus hits roadside bomb in Kandahar

Event notice: Join David Loyn, author of In Afghanistan, and Peter Bergen, AfPak Channel editor, on Friday October 2 at 3:30pm in Washington, DC for a discussion of Afghanistan’s recent history. Details and RSVP available here. Brazen blasts At least 30 Afghans were killed early this morning when their bus hit a roadside bomb in ...

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Event notice: Join David Loyn, author of In Afghanistan, and Peter Bergen, AfPak Channel editor, on Friday October 2 at 3:30pm in Washington, DC for a discussion of Afghanistan’s recent history. Details and RSVP available here.

Brazen blasts

At least 30 Afghans were killed early this morning when their bus hit a roadside bomb in the troubled southern Afghan province of Kandahar, underscoring the danger to civilians from Taliban militants (AFP, BBC, AP). The Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the attack, which is unsurprising because of the civilian casualties it caused (Reuters). From January to August, 40 percent of civilian fatalities in Afghanistan were caused by suicide attacks or IEDs, according to the United Nations, and also pose danger to coalition troops (McClatchy).

Yesterday, U.S. troops and Afghan soldiers killed at least 40 suspected Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s western province of Farah (AFP). Farah’s provincial governor said no airstrikes, which have been limited in recent months because of the civilian casualties they often cause, were used in the operation (AP).

A Foghy day

Walter Pincus discusses in detail how exactly the United States is planning to train and and build up Afghanistan’s army, a cornerstone of top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s war strategy there, by examining the tasks given to the contractors with the job (Washington Post). No fewer than 37 companies have expressed an interest in the contract to the Army.

Gen. McChrystal has spoken with U.S. President Barack Obama only once since he took control of his command in Afghanistan this summer, to the dismay of some analysts (Fox News, CBS News, Foreign Policy). Gen. McChrystal recently submitted a bleak review of the Afghan war and a request for more resources in Afghanistan to the Pentagon.

Former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday in his first speech in the U.S. as NATO secretary general, “We have to do more now, if we want to do less later,” of allied involvement in Afghanistan (Los Angeles Times, BBC). He sought to ease American doubts about NATO commitment to the Afghan mission, and criticized those in the United States who “belittle” the contributions of Canada and European countries (AP, Bloomberg). Of the some 103,000 foreign troops who are currently in the country, 65,000 come from the United States.

The violent speed of fire

U.S. officials have recently expressed renewed concern about the Taliban’s safe haven in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan in Pakistan (Washington Post). U.S. knowledge of the arid and remote province is limited, and U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson said bluntly, “We have no people there, no cross-border operations, no Predators.”

Meanwhile, a U.S.-operated Predator drone reportedly struck Pakistan’s restive tribal agency of South Waziristan late Monday evening, adding to the more than 70 drone strikes the U.S. has carried out in Pakistan since the beginning of 2008 (AP, Geo TV, AFP). At least five suspected militants were killed in the strike, which targeted an alleged Taliban commander’s house (Reuters, AFP).

And at least 16 militants have been killed in the Waziristans in clashes with Pakistani security forces in the last 24 hours, and civilians are fleeing the troubled area ahead of warning from both the Taliban and Pakistani officials (Dawn, AP).

Bombast and bratwurst

In al Qaeda’s latest missive, the terrorist organization’s number two leader Ayman al Zawahiri eulogized erstwhile Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in South Waziristan by a U.S. drone strike last month (CNN, AP, AFP). The message is significant because it is the first time al Qaeda has acknowledged Baitullah’s death.

Police in Munich, Germany have detained two suspected Islamist extremists while security at the famed beer festival Oktoberfest has been increased as videos threatening Germany continue to surface on the internet (AP, Bloomberg, Telegraph). Air flights over the festival have been banned for its 16 day duration (Deutsche Welle, Christian Science Monitor). Al Qaeda and related groups had issued a campaign of threats in the run-up to Germany’s recent election (MEMRI).

Troubles near and far

The 24 year old Afghan immigrant accused of terrorism charges for a failed plot to detonate explosives in the U.S. reportedly had at least three accomplices who law enforcement officials have identified, claiming the three helped Najibullah Zazi stockpile the beauty products he was using to try and construct a homemade bomb (AP, AP). One Zazi acquaintance under scrutiny in New York says he barely knew the erstwhile coffee vendor and airport shuttle driver, who is scheduled to be in court again today to be arraigned on the charges against him (CNN, AP).

Western and Arab officials are worrying about al Qaeda’s local affiliate in Yemen securing a stronghold in the troubled country, whose government has long struggled to assert control over its far-flung tribes and Islamist militant groups (Wall Street Journal). An Arab intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal that this summer al Qaeda fighters fled their strongholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan as they came under increased military pressure, but the number of these Qaeda refugees in Yemen is currently unknown.

In the minority

In a country that’s 99 percent Muslim, it’s not easy being Jewish, as Zebulon Simantov has found living in Afghanistan (Los Angeles Times). The 57 year old bachelor, who keeps kosher, has lived in Kabul through civil war, Soviet occupation, the rise of the Taliban, and NATO’s presence, and says, “Most all my friends are Muslims now, since there are no Jews left.”

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