The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Pakistani military enters ‘final militant stronghold’

Event notice: The New America Foundation is screening a powerful new film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Andy Worthington, attorneys Tom Wilner and David Cynamon, and AfPak Channel editor Peter Bergen, on Monday November 9 in Washington, DC. See here for details and RSVP.Baitullah’s birthplace battered The ...

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Event notice: The New America Foundation is screening a powerful new film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Andy Worthington, attorneys Tom Wilner and David Cynamon, and AfPak Channel editor Peter Bergen, on Monday November 9 in Washington, DC. See here for details and RSVP.

Baitullah’s birthplace battered

The Pakistani Army reportedly entered the hometown of the late Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in early August by a suspected U.S. drone strike, and razed his home to the ground in an act of revenge for the hundreds of people killed by TTP attacks (AP, Reuters, BBC). Makeen is the last of three major militant strongholds targeted in the current operation, and the army says it is fighting bloody street-to-street battles in Ladha and Sararogha as well. The Pakistani military claims it has has killed 446 militants since the operations in South Waziristan began on October 17, out of estimates ranging between roughly 5,000 and 12,000 (Dawn). Independent verification of casualty figures and army claims is impossible because journalists and aid workers are not allowed into the region on their own.

Baitullah’s successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, yesterday urged his followers to stand fast against the military offensive, and warned that deserters “will go to hell” (AP). An army spokesman, however, claimed that Taliban fighters are indeed fleeing the battle zone and melting into the mountains of rugged South Waziristan (Bloomberg).

Capture and escape

Pakistani law enforcement agents said yesterday that they have captured several key aides to the head of the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah (The News, Daily Times). And among the stranger items recovered from the battlefield, Pakistani security forces recently presented a calendar found in South Waziristan featuring pictures of suicide bombers, TTP commanders, and at least one al Qaeda leader (The News).

A Pakistani brigadier and another soldier were wounded this morning when a gunman opened fire on their vehicle in Islamabad, raising fears that targeted assassinations may be a lasting feature of militant attacks in Pakistan (Dawn, AP, Reuters, BBC). Two other brigadiers have been targeted in the weeks since the South Waziristan operation began (CNN, AFP).

Words of war

In a hastily orchestrated speech this morning, following the deaths of several British soldiers at the hands of a rogue Afghan policeman earlier this week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended the U.K.’s involvement in Afghanistan, reminding the audience that the “main terrorist threat facing Britain emanates from Afghanistan and Pakistan” (Telegraph, New York Times, AP, Times of London, Guardian, CNN). Brown did however warn the Afghan government that if it does not “stand up to corruption,” it will have “forfeited its right to international support.” The prime minister’s remarks are available here (Number 10).

Top U.N. official in Afghanistan Kai Eide yesterday expressed a similar sentiment, saying that, “There is a belief among some that the international commitment to Afghanistan will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan,” but that “this is not correct” (Times of London, Los Angeles Times). The United Nations yesterday announced that it would relocate more than half of its international staff in Afghanistan because of security concerns.

According to a just-released public opinion poll, 73 percent of Brits surveyed think British troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately or within the next year, while a series of polls in the U.S. finds the public mixed over the way forward (Channel 4, Pew, AFP). 57 percent of Brits believe British troops are not winning in Afghanistan and that victory is not possible. And British sources say U.S. President Barack Obama’s prolonged deliberation over strategy in Afghanistan is causing frustration in London and other European capitals (Telegraph).

Today’s essential reading

A growing quarrel between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the governor of Balkh, a comparatively peaceful and prosperous northern province, is raising concerns that violence is looming over the results of the fraud-riddled Afghan presidential election, which put Karzai back in power for a second term over Abdullah Abdullah (Wall Street Journal). The governor, Atta Mohammad Noor, was the only one of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial governors to support Abdullah in the election, and though he hasn’t ruled out reconciling with Karzai, he did refer to him as “not a lawful president.”

A series of internal reviews paints a bleak picture of the state of Afghanistan’s security forces, throwing a glitch into a key part of the Obama administration’s strategy in the country (New York Times). Among the previously undisclosed conclusions of one of the reports is the news that one out of every four or five men quits the ANSF each year, meaning that recruitment presents a stark challenge to top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to increase the size of the military and police forces to as many as 400,000 over the next several years.

Taliban militants have come up with new ways to cripple and destroy the heavily armored vehicles designed to protect soldiers from the plague of roadside bombs in Afghanistan, using ever-larger explosives and rocket-propelled grenades (McClatchy). However, defense officials declined to reveal the number of MRAPs — Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — that have been destroyed since they were first deployed in Afghanistan in 2003, saying they didn’t want to give the Taliban information about the effectiveness of their tactics. And two U.S. soldiers were killed by an IED in southern Afghanistan yesterday (AFP, Pajhwok).

Suffering cupcakes

The ongoing sugar shortage in Pakistan is hitting the confectionery industry in the country hard, and leading manufacturers have called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation (The News). The biscuit business has also been affected.

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