Daily brief: Pakistani army surrounds Uzbek militant stronghold
In time be ready Preparations for Afghanistan’s runoff election between incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his primary challenger Abdullah Abdullah are underway, as election officials announced that more polling stations would open on election day — rejecting U.N. recommendations that fewer voting sites open, to help decrease opportunities for fraud and ballot-box stuffing (AP, ...
In time be ready
Preparations for Afghanistan’s runoff election between incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his primary challenger Abdullah Abdullah are underway, as election officials announced that more polling stations would open on election day — rejecting U.N. recommendations that fewer voting sites open, to help decrease opportunities for fraud and ballot-box stuffing (AP, Reuters). The Afghan election commission did, however, agree to Abdullah’s demand that some 20,000 of his supporters be accredited to observe the vote at polling stations on November 7, though the IEC and Karzai both refused to fire the chairman of the election commission after Abdullah claimed that Azizullah Ludin, the head of the IEC and a Karzai appointee, was too biased to oversee a fair second round (AFP).
After yesterday’s deadly attack on U.N. guest houses in Kabul, the United Nations has puts its Afghanistan employees “on lockdown,” limiting their movements, and a Taliban spokesman said the attack was an attempt to undermine the scheduled runoff election (AP). The attack, which was claimed by a militant faction led by Siraj Haqqani and based in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region on the Afghan border, represents a shift in Taliban tactics in the country and was the first time militant leadership said they specifically targeted the United Nations (Wall Street Journal, New York Times). The strike was reportedly the first in a series of attacks the Taliban has planned in the run-up to the runoff (Washington Post, AFP).
Searching for the middle ground
As U.S. President Barack Obama mulls the way forward in Afghanistan, he is reportedly eying sending more troops, though fewer that the some 40,000 his top commander on the ground Gen. Stanley McChrystal has requested, and yesterday’s bloody attacks in Kabul and Peshawar are heightening the urgency of the president’s decision (AP, AFP). Obama reportedly just asked his senior advisers for a province-by-province breakdown of Afghanistan to help him assess which regions need more international help and which are being well managed by local leaders (Washington Post).
Obama and Gen. McChrystal have a very different relationship than that between George W. Bush and his top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, as the White House and the Pentagon have reportedly attempted to avoid creating another “celebrity general” (Los Angeles Times). While Bush and Gen. Petraeus had a personal one-on-one connection, Obama and Gen. McChrystal communicate through more traditional chains of command.
After yesterday’s revelation by the New York Times that the Afghan president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai is on the CIA’s payroll, senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the alleged financial ties (New York Times, CBS News). Sen. John Kerry, fresh off a speech in which he said he had not seen the “smoking gun” tying Ahmed Wali Karzai to the lucrative drug trade in Afghanistan, was particularly outraged and called for a briefing on the subject (AFP, Reuters).
A continuation of politics
The death toll from yesterday’s brutal suicide attack in a crowded Peshawar marketplace has risen to more than 100, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her second day of visiting the country, along with Pakistani officials condemned the blast and engaged with students in Lahore during a “lively exchange” (Financial Times, AP, BBC, Washington Post, Dawn, CNN, New York Times). Both the Taliban and al Qaeda have denied involvement in the attack, which is not unexpected given that the blast killed mostly women and children (Al Jazeera).
As the Pakistani military surrounds the town of Kani Guram in South Waziristan, a stronghold of Uzbek militants in the region, the U.S. has quietly sped hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment to Pakistani forces for carrying out counterinsurgency operations (The News, Dawn, BBC, New York Times). In addition to sending night vision goggles, helicopters, surveillance equipment, and body armor, the U.S. has also doubled the number of special forces personnel in Pakistan in the last eight months, to as many as 150 soldiers, who do not conduct combat operations.
My dad, Osama
Vanity Fair magazine yesterday published an excerpt from a new book written by the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s first wife and one of his sons in which Omar bin Laden described a standoffish, strong-willed father (Vanity Fair). The excerpt is a must-read for those seeking a deeper, different understanding of the terrorist mastermind.
Apples to apples
Last weekend, a cold storage facility built by a Turkish Provincial Reconstruction Team in Wardak province in central Afghanistan opened to great fanfare (Pajhwok). Some 100 tons of apples were brought to the facility by local fruit growers and residents.
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