Daily brief: suicide attack at U.N. office in Islamabad kills at least 3
The blast of war A suicide bomber killed at least three people at a United Nations office in Pakistan’s capital this morning, showcasing militants’ determination to strike even heavily fortified sites (Dawn, Times of London, AFP). The explosion at the World Food Program’s office in central Islamabad was reportedly detonated by a man dressed in ...
The blast of war
A suicide bomber killed at least three people at a United Nations office in Pakistan’s capital this morning, showcasing militants’ determination to strike even heavily fortified sites (Dawn, Times of London, AFP). The explosion at the World Food Program’s office in central Islamabad was reportedly detonated by a man dressed in a Frontier Corps uniform who asked to go inside and use the facilities, which may explain how the U.N.’s normally tight security was breached (BBC, AP, The News). The attack has not yet been claimed, and the U.N. is closing all its offices in Pakistan temporarily (New York Times).
Hakimullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, met with reporters for the first time in a militant stronghold in South Waziristan on Sunday on the condition that the interview not be reported until Monday (AP, Geo TV). Flanked by other commanders in an apparent show of unity, he vowed revenge for the death of the last TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. drone strike two months ago, and this appearance puts an end to rumors that he was killed weeks ago in factional infighting (Dawn, AFP).
Ready and raring?
Pakistan has reportedly amassed enough forces around the Taliban-controlled area of Waziristan to carry out a much-anticipated offensive there, according to U.S. defense officials (AP, Washington Post). A Pakistani military spokesman said there are two divisions of up to 28,000 soldiers are in place, enough to take on 10,000 fighters.
And a Taliban spokesman has confirmed that the ruthless leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant group operating in Waziristan with ties to al Qaeda, was in fact killed by a drone strike in late August (The News). Tahir Yuldashev was purportedly responsible for introducing the technique of beheading prisoners and enemies to the Pakistani tribal areas.
Between 2002 and 2008, only half a billion dollars of the more than $8.6 billion in military aid the U.S. gave Pakistan actually made it to the Pakistani military, say two army generals (AP). A Pentagon spokesman said, “We don’t have a mechanism for tracking the money after we have given it to them,” just after the U.S. passed legislation to triple aid to Pakistan last week.
Hundreds of insurgent fighters attacked two isolated American base camps in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province on Afghanistan’s troubled eastern border with Pakistan, on Saturday morning, killing at least 10 coalition troops, including eight Americans in the U.S.’s deadliest day in the country in more than a year (CNN, Wall Street Journal, Telegraph, Financial Times, Times of London). Afghan authorities said the insurgents included militants who had recently been pushed out of the Swat Valley by a Pakistani military offensive, and the Taliban, who immediately claimed the attack, said 35 Afghans including a police chief had been captured in the daylong assault (Dawn, Al Jazeera, AP, Bloomberg).
The battle in Nuristan is significant for two primary reasons: first, it comes at a time when top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pressing for a strategy that would have more forces pulled back from remote regions of the country to population centers (New York Times, Los Angeles Times). Indeed, U.S. commanders had been planning to abandon the post in Kamdesh since late last year (Washington Post).
Second, the conflict follows in broad strokes the pattern of an attack in July 2008 in an adjacent valley called Wanat, in which hundreds of insurgent fighters assaulted an outpost and killed nine American soldiers in what has become a symbol of U.S. military missteps in Afghanistan (Washington Post). Both attacks were reportedly well-coordinated, sustained, and disciplined, differentiating them from the usual militant tactics of roadside bombs and hit-and-run attacks. In an separate incident, an Afghan policeman opened fire on American soldiers in Wardak province on Saturday, killing two before he fled (AP, Reuters).
Greg Jaffe has an excellently reported series on the Battle of Wanat, in which soldiers reportedly lacked adequate intelligence, water, airborne surveillance, and defensive materials (Washington Post). The articles are a must-read for those seeking to understand some of the challenges in the battlefield (Washington Post).
Tsk, tsk, tsk
U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones subtly rebuked Gen. McChrystal yesterday on the Sunday talk shows, calling the Afghanistan commander’s recommendations just “his opinion” of “what he thinks his role within” the Afghanistan strategy is, and commented, “It is better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.” (New York Times, Washington Post). Gen. McChrystal reportedly angered Obama with his blunt speech about conditions on the ground in London last week (Telegraph).
Gen. Jones also played down al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan yesterday, saying there are “less than 100” Qaeda militants operating in the country and that the group’s presence there is “very diminished” (Reuters). The question of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is at the very heart of the debate over whether to send more troops to the country, and Siobhan Gorman and Matthew Rosenberg have an essential read on the situation (Wall Street Journal). James Traub also highlights the debate over whether Islamist extremism can be accurately compared to the spread of communism in the 20th century in the New York Times‘ Week in Review section (New York Times).
To corrupt him to revolt
Abdullah Abdullah, the second place candidate in Afghanistan’s corruption-riddled August 20 presidential election, has accused the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, the Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, of refusing to investigate thousands of claims of voting fraud properly (New York Times, BBC, McClatchy). Abdullah’s accusations come on the heels of the abrupt dismissal of the top American at the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, who in an explosive opinion piece in Sunday’s Washington Post details the conditions that led to his firing (Washington Post).
Better moo-ve out of the way
The free mobility of cattle on a highway in Islamabad poses a threat to drivers and has caused several accidents recently (The News). The danger gets worse at night, when drivers are unable to see the cows, who wander in from nearby villages.
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