The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: most Afghans optimistic about the future, poll finds

Event notice: New America Foundation counterterrorism fellow Brian Fishman will be speaking today at 2:30pm in Washington, DC on "Making the Next Bin Laden." Details here. At the polls Newly released annual polling in Afghanistan conducted in the country’s 34 provinces in December 2009 from BBC/ABC/ARD suggests that Afghans are more optimistic about the future; ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Event notice: New America Foundation counterterrorism fellow Brian Fishman will be speaking today at 2:30pm in Washington, DC on "Making the Next Bin Laden." Details here.

At the polls

Newly released annual polling in Afghanistan conducted in the country’s 34 provinces in December 2009 from BBC/ABC/ARD suggests that Afghans are more optimistic about the future; 70 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, up from 40 percent a year ago (BBC). 83 percent of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan are supported by 68 percent of Afghans and the Taliban by 10 percent; 72 percent of Afghans support the more than 30,000 additional U.S. and NATO troops being sent to the country. The full polling results are available here (BBC-pdf).

Karzai submitted a second round of picks for his cabinet on Saturday, after the Afghan Parliament roundly rejected 17 of his 24 original choices, though lawmakers indicated that Karzai faces another uphill battle in getting his choices confirmed as the new nominees have been criticized for lacking necessary credentials, being too close to warlords, or were selected for supporting Karzai (AP, BBC, Globe and Mail, LAT, NYT). Three women were included, after the only woman nominated in the first round was rejected; a full list is available here (AP).

Casualties

A defense correspondent for the Sunday Mirror tabloid newspaper has become the first British reporter to die covering the war in Afghanistan after his vehicle drove over a roadside bomb on Saturday in Helmand province during a patrol with U.S. Marines (AFP, Reuters, NYT, AP, Guardian, Telegraph, Mirror, AJE, BBC, WSJ). Rupert Hamer is the second Western journalist to be killed in Afghanistan in ten days; Canadian reporter Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald died in neighboring Kandahar province from a roadside bomb on December 30.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed earlier today while fighting insurgent forces in volatile southern Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops killed in the country in 2010 to 10 (AP, AFP, Pajhwok). NATO forces seized more than 5,300 pounds of processed opium in a search of a "suspicious vehicle" in Kandahar on Friday, and the commander of all Marines in southern Afghanistan Brigadier General Larry Nicholson told the AP that Marjah, just west of the provincial capital of Helmand province, is "where we’re going next" to fight the Taliban (AFP, AP).

Top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal said in an interview with ABC that the additional U.S. troops being sent to the country has "changed the way we operate" and cautioned that although "we’ve made progress, it’s not a completed mission" (ABC, AP).

Media appearances

The Jordanian doctor and al Qaeda double agent believed to be behind the Dec. 30 suicide attack at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian spy, appeared in a video aired over the weekend alongside Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, underlining the connections between the Taliban and al Qaeda (CNN, Aaj, NYT, McClatchy, BBC, Wash Post). Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi was shown vowing revenge for Hakimullah’s predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by a U.S.-operated drone in August 2009.

The Washington Post has today’s must-read describing how al-Balawi detonated his explosives "just before" he was going to be searched at Forward Operating Base Chapman (Wash Post). And on Sunday, CIA director Leon Panetta protested public commentary about the attack "suggesting that those who gave their lives somehow brought it upon themselves because of "poor tradecraft." That’s like saying Marines who die in a firefight brought it upon themselves because they have poor war-fighting skills" (Wash Post).

The Afghan government agreed on Saturday to assume responsibility for the management of the U.S.-run military prison at Bagram air base, which houses more than 700 detainees captured by U.S. forces (NYT, AJE, AP). Initially, the Afghan Ministry of Defense will run Bagram, and eventually transition control to the Ministry of Justice, possibly by the end of year.

Drone watching

Christopher Drew has another fascinating read today describing the deluge of data generated by U.S.-operated drones in Afghanistan and Iraq, writing that Air Force drones gathered 24 years’ worth of video over the two countries last year, three times as much as in 2007 (NYT). And a handful of suspected militants were killed by the sixth reported drone strike in Pakistan this year in the Ismail Khel village in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan on Saturday (AP, AFP, CNN, Geo, Times of India). Another reported drone strike targeted the town of Tappi in North Waziristan on Friday (AFP, AP, CNN, Geo).

Dozens of people have been killed in a wave of targeted attacks since the beginning of the year in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, among rival political groups that "some say is aimed at destabilizing the country’s ruling coalition" (AP, Dawn, Daily Times). There were 86 targeted killings in Karachi in 2008, and 152 in 2009.

Pakistani police have detained five female would-be suicide bombers in Islamabad and the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and one of the girls told members of the media that she had been trained by Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in Swat (Pajhwok). And Sarah Kershaw reviews a "range of patterns" that has emerged from the study of the psychology of terrorism (NYT).

Barnes and Noble Kabul

The government of Denmark is funding the construction of three bookstores in Kabul that will have the capacity to store up to 15 million books (Pajhwok). The facilities are scheduled to be completed within a year.

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