The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Obama: attempt to bomb transatlantic flight could have been prevented

Connect the dots U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday that the U.S. intelligence community "failed to connect those dots" putting together information that allowed the Nigerian would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to carry undetected explosives in his underwear onto a transatlantic flight on Christmas Day (White House-remarks, Wash Post, NYT, WSJ, AJE, Guardian, Reuters). The ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Connect the dots

U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday that the U.S. intelligence community "failed to connect those dots" putting together information that allowed the Nigerian would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to carry undetected explosives in his underwear onto a transatlantic flight on Christmas Day (White House-remarks, Wash Post, NYT, WSJ, AJE, Guardian, Reuters). The public speech came after Obama privately upbraided 20 of his top security officials at the White House for the "screw-up that could have been disastrous," though the president was reportedly not interested in placing blame (AP, NYT).

Obama’s speech, the fifth time he has addressed the Christmas Day incident in public, came as more details continue to emerge about the Jordanian doctor who infiltrated a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan last week and detonated explosives, killing seven CIA agents and contractors and a Jordanian intelligence officer (AP, ABC, BBC, Reuters, NYT, Wash Post). The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, had reportedly provided credible information in the past about al Qaeda plans to attack Jordan and western countries, and information that led to drone strikes, and was allegedly the "most promising informant in years" about al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some sources report that al-Balawi had never been to Forward Operating Base Chapman before, and the CIA is inquiring why he was not more thoroughly screened and where he got his explosives (LAT).

A bitter war

There were two reported drone strikes in Sanzali village in the Datta Khel area of the Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan this morning, the second of which occurred as locals were retrieving bodies of those suspected militants killed in the first, which targeted a Taliban training center (AP, AFP, Geo, Dawn, Pajhwok). There have been four strikes in Pakistan so far in 2010, and five since the suicide bombing at FOB Chapman.

Suspected Taliban militants reportedly exhumed the body of a spiritual leader yesterday and blew up six other shrines in the Stori Khel area of the Pakistani tribal region of Orakzai, where local forces from a Shia tribe have been fighting against the Taliban for a month (Dawn). And Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani commented yesterday that Pakistan has been more successful at battling the Taliban than Western forces in Afghanistan, a politically touchy remark at a time when the U.S. is pushing Islamabad for increased efforts against militants (AP).

Slow starts

The U.S. military’s program to increase officer expertise on Afghanistan and Pakistan is off to a slow start, according to a memo written last month by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, as too few volunteers have signed up for the program, which would take individuals off pre-established career paths within the military — something Admiral Mullen emphasized would help, not hurt, their careers (NYT). The program is supposed to created a 912-member team of uniformed experts who will rotate through assignments on the region, but only 172 have signed up so far, though the military expects the slots to be filled by the summer of 2011.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Al Jazeera yesterday that U.S. and NATO forces have failed to protect civilians in Afghanistan adequately, and admitted that he too has not provided enough security for Afghans (AJE). Meanwhile, a police vehicle drove over a roadside bomb in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, killing four children and one Afghan cop nearby and wounding dozens more, including nine international soldiers, three of them from the U.S. (AP, Reuters, Pajhwok). And earlier today, an independent human rights group said that 2009 was the deadliest year for Afghans under the age of 18 since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, with more than 1,050 children killed in war-related incidents (Pajhwok, AP).

The farmer in the khel

The U.S. military is expanding its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild its agriculture industry, as agribusiness units now work in 14 of the country’s 34 provinces on projects such as proper fertilization, water management, and methods of pruning fruit trees (AP). Eight U.S. units from California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas are currently working across Afghanistan.

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