Daily brief: security tight in Kabul after brazen Taliban attacks

Event notice: Today at 12:15pm the New America Foundation will be hosting Major Jason Amerine and Eric Blehm, the author of The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan. Details here. New blog notice: Foreign Policy is proud to announce the launch of Turtle Bay, a blog covering everything ...

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Event notice: Today at 12:15pm the New America Foundation will be hosting Major Jason Amerine and Eric Blehm, the author of The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan. Details here.

Event notice: Today at 12:15pm the New America Foundation will be hosting Major Jason Amerine and Eric Blehm, the author of The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan. Details here.

New blog notice: Foreign Policy is proud to announce the launch of Turtle Bay, a blog covering everything and anything related to the United Nations, written by longtime U.N. reporter Colum Lynch.

Security and politics

At least seven Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen struck the Afghan capital of Kabul yesterday morning in a staggered, brazen series of attacks on the presidential palace, Ministry of Justice, and Central Bank that left the city paralyzed for hours and three Afghan soldiers and two civilians dead (Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Daily Tel, FT, AJE, Guardian, Wash Post). The AP lists the most serious recent attacks in Kabul, highlighting the insecurity of the capital and militant reach across Afghanistan’s cities (AP). And a rocket landed in the diplomatic district of Kabul on Friday, wounding one Afghan policeman (Reuters, BBC, AFP, Pajhwok). Today, Afghan authorities have tightened security in the capital city, putting up more checkpoints and increasing the number of vehicle searches and foot patrols (AP, AFP, Reuters).

The attack occurred as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was swearing in some members of his cabinet inside the heavily fortified presidential palace, and after the Afghan Parliament rejected the majority of Karzai’s second round of picks for his ministers, a second major political blow to the president in recent weeks (Wash Post, Reuters, AFP, AP, WSJ, Reuters, Wash Post, AP, Pajhwok). Afghan MPs began their delayed winter vacation on Sunday without waiting for Karzai to submit a third round of choices for his cabinet, and it is unlikely that the Afghan president will have a full cabinet before the January 28 international conference begins in London (AP).

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, on his sixth trip to the region in the past year, said that Karzai’s soon-to-be-announced new plan to reconcile Taliban fighters with the Afghan government by offering jobs, security, education, and other social benefits "can’t be worse" than previous efforts, while calling it a "good plan" (AFP, NYT, Reuters, London Times). Defense Secretary Robert Gates observed that while there may be a surge of Taliban fighters willing to lay down their arms, he would be "very surprised" to see reconciliation with the leadership of the Afghan Taliban (NYT, AP).

And according to a just-released United Nations report, corruption in Afghanistan led Afghans to pay bribes worth nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP in 2009 (AP, Reuters). The average bribe was $160, and Afghans paid some $2.5 billion in bribes last year. The full report is available here (UNODC-pdf).

The drones beat

Reported U.S. drone strikes continue to target the Shaktoi region on the border between North and South Waziristan, with two strikes on Friday and one on early Sunday morning, killing around 20 suspected militants (Friday: AFP, Geo, Dawn, BBC, AP; Sunday: AJE, WSJ, Reuters, The News, NYT). The alleged strike on Sunday reportedly targeted a house being used by a member of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and a handful of Uzbeks were apparently among the dead, while five key Pakistani Taliban commanders were reportedly killed in this weekend’s strikes (Dawn, Dawn, AP, Wash Post, CNN, Geo, BBC). There have been ten reported drone strikes in Pakistan so far in 2010, compared with 53 in 2009.

And after rumors that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban was wounded in a drone strike late last week, Hakimullah Mehsud put out another audiotape over the weekend, this one specifying the date, in a bid to quell speculation that the previously released tape had been pre-recorded before the strike (AJE, Dawn, AP, Reuters). About ten days ago, an alleged U.S. drone reportedly killed Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, a Jordanian militant of Palestinian origin who was wanted by the FBI in connection with a 1986 hijacking of a U.S. airliner (AP, BBC, NYT, WSJ).

The Washington Post continues its deep reporting on the Dec. 30 suicide attack at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan that left seven Agency contractors and operatives dead, as Peter Finn and Joby Warrick write that Jordan’s General Intelligence Department and the CIA fell victim to a "series of miscalculations" about the Jordanian doctor, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, who conned the agencies into believing he was willing to work against al Qaeda (Wash Post). The Economist describes the blurred lines between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban (Economist).

Behind bars in Pakistan and Afghanistan

The five young Americans from northern Virginia picked up in Pakistan last month on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan, contacting Islamist militants via the internet, and having links to al Qaeda shouted during a special anti-terrorism court hearing on Monday in Sargodha that they were being tortured by Pakistani police (AP, Reuters, AFP, NYT, BBC, CNN). At the court hearing, Pakistani authorities reportedly presented a 250-page charge sheet to the presiding judge, including evidence that the five men met members of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed; they are due back in court on February 2.

The U.S. military has released a list dated in September 2009 of 645 detainees held at the military prison at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, in a "completely unprecedented" move toward "more openness" in detention policies (AP, BBC, AJE, NYT). The list is available here (ACLU).

Afghan roads and Pakistani schools

Joshua Partlow describes the congestion along a main road used to supply the international war effort between Spin Boldak, Afghanistan and the port city of Karachi in Pakistan, which could affect the Obama administration’s troop buildup in Afghanistan (Wash Post). The fast pace of the troop increase has reportedly forced the U.S. military to rely heavily on the illiterate local commander of the Afghan border police, Abdul Razziq, a former anti-Taliban fighter who "owns a trucking company, commands 3,500 police, effectively controls the local government, and reportedly takes in millions from extorting passing vehicles and trafficking drugs."

And Pakistan’s public schools, which educate some 20 million Pakistanis a year and pay teachers a paltry $50 per month, with a curriculum that "glorifies violence in the name of Islam and ignores basic history, science and math," are proving a serious obstacle to anti-extremist efforts in the country (Wash Post). The U.S. is planning to spend $200 million on education in Pakistan this year as part of the Kerry-Lugar aid bill.

A rare bird

Researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society recently came across the first known breeding grounds for the rare large-billed reed warbler, discovered in the Pamir Mountains, a relatively peaceful and sparsely populated region near Afghanistan’s border with China (AP). A research team caught and released 20 of the warblers, the largest number ever recorded.

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