The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: 16 Afghan cops gunned down in 2 separate attacks

Qaeda senior operative killed in drone strike Though initial reports suggested that Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s current number three, was the al Qaeda leader who was apparently killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan early last week, it now appears that Saleh al-Somali, al Qaeda’s “external operations chief” was killed in North Waziristan ...

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Qaeda senior operative killed in drone strike

Though initial reports suggested that Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s current number three, was the al Qaeda leader who was apparently killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan early last week, it now appears that Saleh al-Somali, al Qaeda’s “external operations chief” was killed in North Waziristan last Tuesday (CNN, CBS, NYT, AFP, WSJ, AP, BBC, Bloomberg, Wash Post, Geo). Al-Somali was reputedly in charge of Qaeda operations outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and was also on the CIA’s top 20 most wanted list.

The CIA has reportedly canceled a contract with Xe Services, the security firm formerly known as Blackwater, that allowed employees to load bombs onto drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as reports continue to circulate that the U.S. is eying an expansion of the program into Baluchistan, where the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is believed to be based (NYT, BBC, LAT). CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus said Sunday that “it would be very helpful” if Pakistan could put additional pressure on the Afghan Taliban, praising recent operations in South Waziristan that have targeted the Pakistani Taliban (BBC, Dawn, AFP). General Petraeus is currently in Islamabad for talks with Pakistan’s leadership (Geo, Reuters).

Meanwhile, an American member of al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn, said in a video released on Saturday that al Qaeda is being set up by Pakistan and the United States to take the blame for a spate of attacks in Pakistan targeting civilians, a claim he denied, condemning attacks that kill Muslims, in a rare instance of al Qaeda contrition (AFP).

The battle’s not over

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani walked back his earlier comments that the Pakistani military offensive in South Waziristan has ended after nearly two months of fighting, saying that the operations are ongoing and suggesting that the military may expand into nearby tribal agencies Kurram and Orakzai, strongholds of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud where many Taliban fighters are believed to have taken refuge (AJE, BBC, FT, The News, CNN, Reuters, AP). More than 40,000 Pakistanis have reportedly fled Orakzai ahead of expected operations there. And Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, remains a target for militant retaliation (AP).

Taliban militants blew up a girls’ school earlier today in the northwestern Khyber district, which has also been the site of recent military operations targeting both the Taliban and the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, led by the warlord Mangal Bagh (AFP). The AP has a fascinating look at madrassas in Pakistan, and Karachi police have reportedly arrested a key commander of the Pakistani Taliban’s Swat Valley branch (AP, The News). And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters in Kabul that he is worried about the “growing level of collusion” between militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and plans to discuss the issue later this week in Islamabad (AP, Pajhwok, NYT).

After a flurry of controversy surrounding the rollout, the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar aid bill to Pakistan was passed by the Senate on Sunday and now will go to U.S. President Barack Obama’s desk to be signed into law, and early priorities will include electricity and water projects in the country (Reuters). The $1.5 billion annually will be handled differently from past civilian aid, as most of it will be funneled through local organizations and the government rather than via contractors and humanitarian NGOs.

Five for fighting

A Pakistani court has blocked the deportation of five U.S. citizens from northern Virginia currently being held in Pakistan on suspicion of attempting to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, having reportedly made contact before departing for Pakistan’s tribal regions with a Taliban recruiter via YouTube (AP, NYT, CNN, Reuters). The would-be terrorists never made it to the battle zone because Taliban commanders suspected the five men were part of a CIA ‘sting’ operation, and the recruiter, known as Saifullah, could not convince them otherwise (Wash Post, LAT). Pakistani police have seized luggage and a cell phone from a hotel in Karachi where several of the men stayed upon their arrival in Pakistan in late November (AP, Reuters).

Violence and corruption

Sixteen Afghan policemen were killed in two separate attacks earlier today, in the capital of Helmand province in the south and in the northern province of Baghlan; in the south, a local official blamed the attack on three renegade policemen who turned against their fellow officers, while a spokesman for the Afghan insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, claimed responsibility for the attack in Baghlan (AFP, Pajhwok, AJE, AP, BBC). And Taliban gunmen on motorcycles shot down an Afghan counterterror official in the restive southern province of Kandahar on Saturday (AFP, AP). 

The deputy mayor of Kabul, Wahabuddin Sadaat, was detained in Afghanistan on charges of corruption, as his boss, the mayor of Kabul Abdul Ahad Sayebi has stepped down after being convicted last week on graft charges in spite of his earlier defiance (AJE, AFP, Reuters).

The Taliban are stalling the installation of a critical hydroelectric turbine in an isolated area of northern Helmand province, as British forces have been unable to secure a key 30-mile stretch of road leading to the Kajaki dam (Guardian). And Griff Witte has today’s must read, with a look at some of the problems with the U.S. and Afghan governments’ plans for militant reconciliation, as the Afghan government has been unable to fulfill its commitments to some ‘flipped’ fighters, leaving them on the run from their onetime Taliban allies and without opportunities (Wash Post).

The leaders speak

Obama told 60 Minutes in an interview aired last night that his decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan was the toughest of his presidency thus far, and said that the U.S. should know by December 2010 if the increase in troops is meeting its objectives, commenting, “If the approach that’s been recommended doesn’t work, we’re going to be changing approaches” (NYT, Reuters, AFP). The video of the Afghanistan segment is available here (CBS).

And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a surprise visit to Afghanistan over the weekend to meet with British soldiers and smooth over his recently rocky relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, promising to ship more equipment to the battlefield (Guardian, Times of London, AP, AJE). The Sunday Times has a gut-wrenching read about seriously wounded British soldiers in Afghanistan (Times of London). And in addition to more troops and equipment, the U.S. is also pushing forward with a civilian surge, though the total number of U.S. civilians working in Afghanistan by the end of 2009 will still be less than 1,000 (National).

But will we have more homework?

Fifty-two schools in Afghanistan’s eastern Ghazni province will be receiving modern laboratories and libraries in a program that officials hope to replicate across the province in the coming year (Pajhwok). The expansion is expected to cost approximately $1.1 million.

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