Daily brief: wave of attacks batters Pakistan
Afghanistan hearings on Capitol Hill, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Amb. Karl Eikenberry* Today 9:30am, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Today 1:30pm, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Wednesday 10:00am, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Thursday 9:30am, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFA)The fire of insurgency Earlier this morning, a team of militants launched a coordinated gun, rocket, ...
Afghanistan hearings on Capitol Hill, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Amb. Karl Eikenberry*
Today 9:30am, House Armed Services Committee (HASC)
Today 1:30pm, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC)
Wednesday 10:00am, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC)
Thursday 9:30am, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFA)
The fire of insurgency
Earlier this morning, a team of militants launched a coordinated gun, rocket, and suicide attack on an office of Pakistan’s intelligence agency in the Punjabi city of Multan, killing 12 people and wounding dozens (AP, Dawn, Geo TV, NYT, BBC, Pajhwok). The assault — the third in Pakistan in the last two days — comes after yesterday’s suicide attack outside a courthouse in Peshawar, and later, two nearly simultaneous remote controlled bombings in a busy market in Lahore frequented by women and children that left around 49 dead and 150 wounded (AFP, WSJ, AJE, AP, NYT, AFP, Dawn). There have been no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks, which is not unusual given the high number of civilian casualties, and some 2,600 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the last two and a half years including 100 in the past five days (Bloomberg).
CNN recently spoke with the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, who claimed that the extremist group remains confident despite Pakistani military operations against them in South Waziristan, and is waiting until January “for our offensive since we are stronger during the snowing season” (CNN). And the CIA has reportedly fired several missiles from a Predator drone on a village in North Waziristan called Spalga, about 10 miles east of the main town of Miram Shah, killing three (Reuters, Geo TV, AP, AFP). It is the 48th reported drone strike in Pakistan this year, though none has been fired in South Waziristan since the beginning of the Pakistani military’s anti-Taliban offensive in mid-October.
The United States has reportedly ratcheted up pressure on Pakistan to take more aggressive action against Taliban militants in Pakistan plotting to attack U.S. forces on the Afghan side of the border, as National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones and White House counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan delivered a blunt message to that effect last month to Pakistani officials (NYT). An increase in drone strikes outside of Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, and the possibility of covert ground incursions, would mark a substantial escalation of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism actions in the region.
Leading the war
U.S. ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry and top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal are set to testify before Congress over the next several days about the Obama administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan, after meeting yesterday afternoon with the president (NYT, CNN, Reuters). Rumors that the two men dislike each other are reportedly exaggerated, according to a Pentagon official, but their working relationship will surely be a topic of questioning for lawmakers. And civilian-military relations were reportedly strained during the three-month long strategy review (LAT).
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is in Kabul for a surprise visit to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops, and en route to the Afghan capital, he told reporters that he has already signed the deployment orders for the first wave of new troops, about 17,000 soldiers, and commented, “We are in this thing to win,” an unusual statement for an administration official (NYT, Wash Post, Dawn). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, yesterday told soldiers and Marines at bases in North Carolina and Kentucky to exercise more caution in Afghanistan, saying, “Don’t just assume because you’ve had a tour [in Afghanistan] that it will be like it was the last time” (Wash Post).
And Karzai, who was planning to submit a partial list of his cabinet members to the Afghan parliament in what is viewed as the first test of the president’s commitment to cleaning up corruption in his government, has announced that he will submit a full slate of his ministers this weekend (AP, Times of London). A member of parliament from Nangahar province said lawmakers have been told that at least five of Karzai’s current ministers — defense, interior, finance, commerce and agriculture — will stay on.
Karzai said at a press conference with Gates that for at least 15 to 20 more years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a large Afghan force envisioned by U.S. officials (AP, AFP). Just before the two men spoke, the Afghan government accused NATO forces of killing six civilians in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman in a pre-dawn operation, though NATO claimed only militants were killed (AP, ISAF).
The view from the ground
An estimated $10 million per day is smuggled out of Afghanistan, most of it via Kabul’s airport and much of it ending up funding the Taliban insurgency that plagues the country, according to an undercover study conducted by the U.S. (LAT). And in today’s must-read, Griff Witte details the extent to which the Taliban has set up a “shadow government” across Afghanistan, as the militant group prepares for what they believe is their inevitable eventual return to power (Wash Post).
The U.K. crossed a grim barrier yesterday as the 100th British soldier to die this year was killed in Helmand province, bringing the total number of British troops killed since 2001 to 237 (BBC, Independent, Guardian, Telegraph). And South Korea has pledged to send 350 soldiers and 140 reconstruction workers to war-torn Afghanistan, to be based in Parwan province north of Kabul beginning in July 2010 (AFP, AP). South Korea currently has no troops in Afghanistan, having withdrawn their 200-soldier mission in 2007.
Michael Evans reports than more than 1,500 of NATO’s pledged additional 7,000 troops to Afghanistan are already in the country and have been counted before (Times of London). New troops added must be counted against the planned withdrawals of Canadian and Dutch forces, scheduled for 2011 and 2010 respectively.
Rule of law
Yesterday, federal prosecutors unsealed charges against a Chicago resident and U.S. citizen, David Headley, with accusations that he conspired to help the 10 men who carried out last November’s bloody terrorist attacks in Mumbai, identifying possible targets in the Indian financial capital and reporting back to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (FT, AFP, NYT, Guardian, Wash Post, FindLaw). Headley was arrested in October on unrelated charges regarding an alleged plot to attack the offices of a Danish newspaper and has reportedly been cooperating with authorities since then.
Charges also unsealed yesterday accuse a retired Pakistani Army major, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, with conspiring to attack the newspaper as well (DoJ, NYT, FindLaw). Authorities have refused to say whether Rehman is in custody in Pakistan, citing diplomatic tensions over the case, but he allegedly took Headley to Pakistan’s tribal regions in January 2009 to meet with Ilyas Kashmiri, an Islamist militant leader, and another member of Lashkar.
A skateboarding school for children in Afghanistan has won a prestigious award for fostering education and promoting gender equality at the 3rd Annual Peace and Sport Forum in Monaco (Pajhwok). Founded in 2007, Skatistan is currently grooming some 120 children.
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*This list is not necessarily comprehensive.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
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