Daily brief: Pakistani jets bomb Taliban strongholds after deadly series of attacks

By the hand of a soldier In a little-publicized move, the Obama administration has authorized sending 13,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, though not combat troops — those to be deployed are mostly support forces, including engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police (Washington Post). The new support units do not change the total number ...

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579417_091013_88595770a2.jpg

By the hand of a soldier

In a little-publicized move, the Obama administration has authorized sending 13,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, though not combat troops -- those to be deployed are mostly support forces, including engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police (Washington Post). The new support units do not change the total number of forces soon to be deployed in the country, at 68,000 by the year's end, but do suggest that a significant number of support troops would be required to meet any commanders' requests for more combat forces.

By the hand of a soldier

In a little-publicized move, the Obama administration has authorized sending 13,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, though not combat troops — those to be deployed are mostly support forces, including engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police (Washington Post). The new support units do not change the total number of forces soon to be deployed in the country, at 68,000 by the year’s end, but do suggest that a significant number of support troops would be required to meet any commanders’ requests for more combat forces.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates make a somewhat unlikely pair, but the two moderate pragmatists are the likely proponents of a compromise between sending a huge influx of soldiers to Afghanistan and narrowing the focus to targeting only al Qaeda fighters using drone strikes (New York Times). A key part of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan strategy is boosting Afghan security forces, but British and coalition officials say that Afghan National Army recruits are being rushed into combat with insufficient training, making them “cannon fodder” (Times of London).

Wanted: bailout

Al Qaeda is suffering from a shortage of funding and as a result, its influence is “waning,” while the Taliban is benefiting from its use of organized criminal activities like extortion and so-called ‘protection payments’ from Afghan businesses, according to the Treasury Department (Guardian, AP, BBC). A recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that the number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has nearly quadrupled since 2006, from 7,000 to 25,000, bolstering claims that the militant network is a resurgent threat (Al Jazeera, AP, Reuters).

One of the two Afghan government’s nominees to the five-person U.N.-backed body tasked with investigating claims of fraud in the country’s August 20 presidential election has quit because he reportedly felt his inputs were ignored by the “foreigners” (Pajhwok, McClatchy, BBC, AP). Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai claimed that the Dutch, American, and Canadian members of the organization “were making all decisions on their own,” and a spokeswoman for the Electoral Complaints Commission rejected Barakzai’s allegation (Globe and Mail, AP).

Officials say an announcement could be made by the end of this week about the fraud allegations and whether the election will go to a second round, but the bitter wrangling between the two main candidates, incumbent President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, is likely to continue (AP). For his part, Karzai, speaking on Good Morning America, again defended the validity of the election even as he acknowledged “irregularities” (ABC News, AP).

Fighting back

On the heels of a series of brutal militant attacks in Pakistan this month, Pakistani jets are bombing the Taliban strongholds of South Waziristan, where the Pakistan Army says 80 percent of extremist attacks in the country are planned, and Bajaur, another tribal agency in northwest Pakistan (AP, Reuters, Daily Times, Dawn, AFP, Pajhwok). The four deadly assaults in the last eight days — in Shangla, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Islamabad — highlight the omnipresent threat of extremist violence, varied range of targets, and the militants’ reach across the country (Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Guardian). In light of this spate of attacks, analysts are debating the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (AP).

U.S. officials in Islamabad are reportedly focusing on Pashtunabad, a dusty suburb of the capital of Pakistan’s southern Baluchistan province, Quetta, where the 12 to 15 member Afghan Taliban leadership council is based and serving as the Taliban’s “post office” — that is, a vital link between the Quetta shura and Taliban militants operating in Afghanistan proper (Financial Times). Residents of Baluchistan and Pakistani intelligence officials alike are worried that the U.S. may strike Quetta using the Predator drones that have eliminated top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Waziristan (Reuters, Dawn).

Lawful meaning in a lawful act

A court in Lahore has dropped charges against Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the alleged terrorist mastermind behind the attacks in Mumbai in November of last year and founder of the banned militant group responsible for them (New York Times, BBC, The News). He was charged last month with giving speeches “glorifying” jihad, and his release — though he remains under virtual house arrest — is likely to raise concerns in India (BBC, Reuters, Bloomberg).

Some of the conditions on the aid bill designed to give Pakistan $7.5 billion over the next five years have raised a ruckus among Pakistan’s military brass and thrust the U.S. into the middle of an increasingly tendentious relationship between Pakistan’s civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and the army, headed by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, reports Jane Perlez in an excellent analysis of the situation (New York Times). Sumit Ganguly opines that accountability from the Pakistan Army is long overdue (Foreign Policy).

Buffering, please wait

The world’s first online museum dedicated to Afghanistan’s culture is likely to go live in early 2010 and will feature not only existing works of art but many that have been lost or destroyed during the country’s tumultuous history (Pajhwok). Afghanculturemuseum.org is the brainchild of a French-Hungarian artist.

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ABDULLAH JAN/AFP/Getty Images

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