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, ...

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, 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 Baluchistan United Liberation Front, a separatist militant group operating along the Afghan border, claimed responsibility for the assassination of the southern Pakistani province’s education minister on Sunday (Bloomberg, Dawn, Reuters). The minister was gunned down in front of his home in Quetta, and though they were scheduled to re-open tomorrow after last week’s double suicide bombing at a university in Islamabad, schools across Pakistan will reportedly be closed for another three days.

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.

Hearts and minds
An estimated 1,000 Afghans protested America’s presence in Afghanistan after rumors spread that American troops in Wardak Province desecrated a Koran (Times of London, VOA, Al Jazeera, Reuters). The protesters burned an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama, and shouted anti-American and anti-Israel slogans. U.S. military spokespeople insist that there is no evidence alleged desecration occurred, but the protests indicate growing anti-American sentiment, as well as an increased religious conservatism in the country (Los Angeles Times). Police fired into the air to try to disperse the crowd as it made its way towards Afghanistan’s parliament, though no civilians were reported killed.
The ISAF is launching an investigation into the shooting deaths Saturday of four unarmed Afghan civilians by ISAF troops (AFP, Reuters). The four civilians were riding in a car, when an early ISAF report says they rapidly approached ISAF troops and refused repeated orders to stop, causing the troops to open fire. Two to three other civilians were wounded in the incident.
Election politics
Runner up in the first round of Afghan presidential elections Abdullah Abdullah hinted yesterday that he may boycott the runoff election if members he believes are biased against him are not removed from Afghanistan’s election commission, including IEC chairman Azizullah Lodin (Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, BBC). Abdullah said yesterday that he would not be interested in joining a coalition government, and both candidates appear committed to holding a second round in lieu of some sort of partnership (Reuters, CNN, Washington Post, BBC, AP).
Hamid Karzai gave a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, in which he criticized America’s interaction with the Afghan state (CNN, AFP). Karzai questioned whether or not the U.S. was a reliable partner for Afghanistan, and responded to the allegations of inefficiency and corruption that have been leveled against his government, stating that, "the Afghan government is found more capable of delivering the results to the Afghan people, that the money spent by the Afghan government is spent much better and more efficiently and on the right projects, and that the efficiency of the financial system here, as for a country like us, among the best in the world for a country like us [sic]."

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).

War games
The Pentagon this month conducted two secret war games to evaluate possible effects of different possible troop deployments to Afghanistan (Washington Post). The war games tested potential outcomes for a deployment of 44,000 U.S. troops, believed to be in line with the recommendations of Top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as well as a small deployment of 10,000-15,000 troops, which the military is referring to as "counterterrorism plus." The war games are part of the Obama administration’s ongoing evaluation of different strategies for Afghanistan, a lengthy process that has sparked arguments between leading Republicans and Democrats over how long Obama should take to make up his mind about Afghanistan’s future (AP). Afghanistan is also on the President’s agenda today, with another meeting with his national security team scheduled in the White House Situation Room (ABC News).

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.

D’oh!

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.

Editor’s note: today’s AfPak Channel Daily Brief was prepared by Andrew Lebovich, a research associate at the New America Foundation, and Katherine Tiedemann. 

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