Daily brief: 40 dead in coordinated mosque attack in Pakistan

A bloody coordinated attack At least 40 people have been killed at a crowded mosque in several apparently coordinated suicide attacks in the Qasim market area of the Pakistani garrison town Rawalpindi, the country’s military headquarters (BBC, AP, CNN, Geo TV, Dawn, NYT, Reuters, The News, AFP). Initial reports suggest that multiple attackers sneaked into ...

575955_091204_93543203a2.jpg
575955_091204_93543203a2.jpg

A bloody coordinated attack

At least 40 people have been killed at a crowded mosque in several apparently coordinated suicide attacks in the Qasim market area of the Pakistani garrison town Rawalpindi, the country's military headquarters (BBC, AP, CNN, Geo TV, Dawn, NYT, Reuters, The News, AFP). Initial reports suggest that multiple attackers sneaked into the mosque disguised as worshipers and then hurled grenades, exploded suicide bombs, and opened fire at worshipers, who were mostly military officers, during Friday prayers; Pakistan's military apparatus is a frequent target of Taliban militants, though this attack has not yet been claimed.

A bloody coordinated attack

At least 40 people have been killed at a crowded mosque in several apparently coordinated suicide attacks in the Qasim market area of the Pakistani garrison town Rawalpindi, the country’s military headquarters (BBC, AP, CNN, Geo TV, Dawn, NYT, Reuters, The News, AFP). Initial reports suggest that multiple attackers sneaked into the mosque disguised as worshipers and then hurled grenades, exploded suicide bombs, and opened fire at worshipers, who were mostly military officers, during Friday prayers; Pakistan’s military apparatus is a frequent target of Taliban militants, though this attack has not yet been claimed.

Pakistan’s military is currently engaged in a nearly seven-week-old offensive in the Taliban-infested tribal region of South Waziristan, though operations have been carried out in nearby tribal agencies as well; most recently, two Taliban ‘commanders’ were reportedly among 20 militants killed in air strikes and gun battles in Swat and Orakzai (Dawn). And an anti-tank bomb exploded underneath a minibus in Mohmand agency, killing at least three members of a wedding party (Dawn). The AP has compiled a list of major militant attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of October (AP).

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani continues to deny that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan, and a Taliban detainee in Pakistan reportedly claims he has a friend who saw the al Qaeda leader in the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni in early 2009, though there is no independent corroboration available (Times of London, BBC).

Today’s essential reading

Scott Shane has today’s must-read describing the possible expansion of the CIA’s controversial program of firing missiles from Predator drones at militant targets in Pakistan (NYT). Though all of the drone attacks to date have occurred in Pakistan’s troubled border areas, U.S. officials are reportedly in talks with Pakistan to strike targets in Baluchistan, where the Afghan Taliban is headquartered, for the first time, a move that would surely spark outrage in the country.

7,000 NATO soldiers

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced earlier this morning that 25 member countries of the alliance will send 7,000 new troops to Afghanistan in 2010, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Brussels for a NATO defense ministers meeting to drum up support for U.S. President Barack Obama’s recently announced troop surge to Afghanistan (NYT, Times of London, Wash Post, AP, BBC, Reuters). Clinton has an opinion piece in the Telegraph today encouraging allied countries to participate in the renewed war effort (Telegraph). Germany’s parliament just voted to extend the country’s 4,500-soldier mission in Afghanistan, though it has not pledged new troops (FT).

And U.S. Marines and Afghan troops have launched the first offensive since Obama’s speech earlier this week, aimed at cutting off Taliban communication routes and supply lines in northern Helmand province (AP). No casualties have been reported yet. Additionally, Afghanistan’s western Herat airport was hit by rocket attacks by suspected Taliban militants earlier today, causing a temporary closure of the airstrip but no casualties (Dawn).

Seeking clarity

Congress continued to pound Obama’s advisers on Capitol Hill yesterday yesterday for more details about the president’s troop surge and the July 2011 timeline, when the U.S. plans to begin to transition security authority to Afghans, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the eventual drawdown would “probably” take two to three years but would be determined by conditions on the ground at the time (NYT, McClatchy, Wash Post). Meanwhile, the Pentagon acknowledged that not all of the 30,000 new troops will make it to the Afghan theater by the end of the summer of 2010, as previously stated, but a senior military official said the last brigade will probably arrive in early fall.

Congressional leaders also pressed Gates, Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen about whether the U.S. is too focused on Afghanistan and not enough on neighboring Pakistan, and on specific plans to address the pervasive corruption in the Afghan government (AP, Reuters, CNN). Obama’s decision to send more troops is straining his ties with the Democratic base, though Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that she does not support a proposal that would add a “war tax” to fund the additional troops (NYT, AP, Wash Post).

Obama was reportedly behind the decision to make the July 2011 date part of his public address, which has become the most controversial part of the new strategy (LAT). Gates, though originally opposed, came around when convinced, partly by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, that the pace of the drawdown would be based on ground conditions.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly come out in support of the troop increase, saying that he will “spare no effort” in helping implement the new strategy, and he is reportedly expected to replace up to 21 of his 26 cabinet ministers in an attempt to combat corruption (LAT, Globe and Mail, AP). A critical part of dealing with the Taliban insurgency is convincing militants to lay down their arms, and Karzai told the AP he would enter talks with the Afghan Taliban’s leader, Mullah Omar, apparently without any preconditions — an offer which is likely to be rejected, again (AP, Pajhwok).

Back in court

Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American onetime coffee cart vender accused of plotting to detonate explosives in New York around the anniversary of September 11, will likely face more charges, though he is not expected to face trial until at least next fall due to the mountains of evidence involved in his case (LAT, Bloomberg, NYT, CNN, AP). Zazi was in court in New York yesterday for a 15-minute pre-trial hearing.

Soft and fluffy

Cotton production in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province has more than doubled in the past year as a result of farmers using higher quality seeds and receiving better training (Pajhwok). The water and mud in several of Nangarhar’s districts is ideal for growing cotton, according to Afghan authorities.

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