The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: multiple chopper crashes make deadliest day for U.S. in Afghanistan since 2005
The battle rages on After more than a week of fighting, the Pakistani Army has reportedly recaptured the strategically and symbolically important town of Kotkai in South Waziristan, and is making gains against a series of Taliban bunkers in a mountain overlooking a key junction in the wild tribal region (New York Times, AFP, AP, ...
After more than a week of fighting, the Pakistani Army has reportedly recaptured the strategically and symbolically important town of Kotkai in South Waziristan, and is making gains against a series of Taliban bunkers in a mountain overlooking a key junction in the wild tribal region (New York Times, AFP, AP, BBC, Dawn). Jets and attack helicopters are providing support to the some 30,000 ground troops battling some 12,000 Pakistani militants and foreign fighters in the agency, and the military says 178 militants and some two dozen soldiers have been killed since the offensive began, though independent verification of casualty figures is impossible. And several Pakistani soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in Bajaur earlier today (AFP, BBC, AP).
A suicide bomber struck Pakistani police Sunday, killing one police officer on a highway near Jhelum city, 60 miles south of Islamabad (AP). The attack is the latest in a series of violent incidents that have torn through Pakistan as the Pakistani military pursues its eight-day old push into Waziristan. In a call to Associated Press reporters, Pakistani Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsud vowed continued violence if Pakistan did not give up its invasion of Waziristan, saying he would turn the country into "another Afghanistan or Iraq."
On Saturday, an alleged U.S. drone struck near Damadola, a town in the northwestern Pakistani tribal agency of Bajaur, killing some 25 people, most of whom were suspected militants attending a Taliban shura reportedly attended by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, a powerful local commander who left shortly before the strike occurred (The Nation, The News, Daily Times, Dawn). It is unusual for a drone strike to take place in Bajaur; nearly all have been in Waziristan. However, the Pakistani military has denied that it was a drone, claiming instead that the blast came from a car being loaded with explosives outside of Faqir’s house (Al Jazeera).
The hazards of helicopters
At least four U.S. soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan when two helicopters collided early this morning, though a military spokeswoman denied that insurgent activity was involved. And in an unrelated incident, another helicopter went down in western Afghanistan after an operation targeting insurgents with links to the drug trade, killing seven U.S. soldiers and three U.S. civilians working with the military (New York Times, CNN, Globe and Mail, AP, The Guardian, Times of London).
A Pakistani military transport helicopter crashed Sunday while en route from Bajaur to Peshawar, killing three (CNN). While the crash is under investigation, anonymous Pakistani sources say that hostile fire brought the helicopter down. And refugees fleeing the ongoing clashes in South Waziristan face enormous difficulties even after they escape the war zone (AFP). The refugees, many from the Mehsud tribe, often endure surveillance and receive little assistance in settled areas outside of the FATA, out of suspicion that they sympathize with the Taliban.
Over the weekend, the Taliban in Afghanistan again threatened the security of the November 7 runoff election, calling on their countrymen to boycott the second round (Reuters, Wall Street Journal). Dexter Filkins adeptly observed that in agreeing to participate in the second round of balloting, incumbent President Hamid Karzai was merely agreeing to follow the laws of his country (New York Times). And Badakhshan Province in northern Afghanistan represents a particularly acute challenge for election officials scrambling to get 15 million ballots distributed to 34 provinces in time for the election in about two weeks (New York Times).
The U.S. military’s stepped-up effort to kill or capture major Afghan drug traffickers has drawn opposition from Afghan and UN officials (Washington Post). These officials worry that unilateral military efforts against traffickers will undermine Afghanistan’s uncertain justice system, and could be in violation of Afghan law. Many of the 50 major traffickers on U.S. military’s "hit list" have close connections to the Afghan government, or were potentially used as intelligence assets at one point by the CIA or U.S. forces.
A little help from friends
NATO’s 28 defense ministers endorsed the broad outlines of General McChrystal’s proposed counterinsurgency strategy in a Friday meeting in Slovakia, where Gen. McChrystal personally briefed the group on his plans for Afghanistan (VOA, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times). While the defense ministers did not recommend a specific number of troops for Afghanistan, the endorsement indicates a possible willingness in Europe to devote more troops and resources to the conflict, one that has tested the strength of the NATO alliance.
An American embassy employee in Pakistan reportedly struck a fire truck from the Disaster Management Directorate of Pakistan’s Capital Development Authority on Sunday, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the truck (The News) The employee, who enjoys diplomatic status, allegedly locked his car and refused to speak to Pakistani police until other embassy personnel arrived and quickly whisked the man away in a separate car. Pakistani officials say they are filing a complaint against the embassy official.
Sign up here to receive the daily brief in your inbox.