Daily brief: U.S. to give spy drone technology to Pakistan
Busy trip Defense Secretary Robert Gates continued his swing through Pakistan yesterday, meeting with Pakistani military leaders and attempting to address "misconceptions" about American policies towards the country (AFP, LAT, AJE). In an interview with Pakistani television, Gates indicated that the United States would begin supplying the Pakistani military with unarmed "Shadow" reconnaissance drones, in ...
Defense Secretary Robert Gates continued his swing through Pakistan yesterday, meeting with Pakistani military leaders and attempting to address "misconceptions" about American policies towards the country (AFP, LAT, AJE). In an interview with Pakistani television, Gates indicated that the United States would begin supplying the Pakistani military with unarmed "Shadow" reconnaissance drones, in a bid to increase military efforts against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and allied groups (NYT, CSM, AFP, BBC, Daily Times). And the German newspaper Die Welt reported last week that they had unearthed a recent video showing Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader Tahir Yuldashev, who had previously been thought killed in a drone strike last summer (Die Welt – in German, Daily Times).
Gates also confirmed the presence of the security contractor Xe, formerly Blackwater, on Pakistani soil (Department of Defense). However, Gates was careful to say that any security groups operating under contract for the U.S. government would comply with strict American rules and Pakistani law.
Despite statements from Pakistani military leaders yesterday that no offensive in North Waziristan would occur for six to twelve months, Reuters reports today that Pakistani troops backed with helicopter gunships attacked a "militant hideout" near Miram Shah, the agency’s main town, while the AP writes that a handful of fighters were killed in a search-and-clearance operation nearby (Reuters, AP). And amidst reports that a group of Mehsud tribal elders had agreed to surrender militants as well as TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP has issued pamphlets warning Mehsud tribesmen not to return to South Waziristan "for their own safety." (Dawn).
India has put a high alert on airports in the country after receiving intelligence that militants linked to al Qaeda and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group were planning to hijack an Air India or Indian Airlines flight traveling to a neighboring South Asian country (AP, AJE, CNN, BBC, AFP, WSJ, Times of India, Indian Express). Sky marshals have been deployed on certain planes, and passengers are being subjected to intense screening at least until the end of the month.
Whirlwind Washington tour
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new strategy for civilian engagement in Afghanistan yesterday, one that involves an increased, long-term civilian presence in Afghanistan beyond the nearly 1,000 civilians already there or slated to arrive in the near future (Department of State, Reuters). The plan addresses issues from agriculture development to corruption and reconciliation efforts with Taliban fighters, though some doubt whether the ambitious strategy, developed by Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard Holbrooke, will receive sufficient support from Congress (AFP).
Appearing with Holbrooke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband stressed the need for a revised political strategy in Afghanistan, telling the Committee that in order to defeat the Taliban, "[w]e have to make sure we are not outgunned, but we always have to make sure we are not out-governed (Independent, AP). Miliband also said ahead of next week’s conference in London on Afghanistan that he wanted to shift responsibility for security to the Afghan government and support Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to reconcile some Taliban fighters with the Afghan government in part through money and job programs, an idea Secretary Gates also supports (Telegraph, WSJ, NYT, AFP, Dawn, McClatchy, BBC). Even the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who leads one of the major insurgent factions in Afghanistan, has expressed a recent willingness to cooperate with Karzai’s government under certain conditions, though he has a long history of switching sides (WSJ).
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has slowed the implementation of a program meant to arm and train local anti-Taliban militias, reflecting an ongoing debate between military and civilian officials over the best way to fight the Taliban in the Afghan countryside (Wash Post). Meanwhile, the Afghan government moved quickly in the wake of Monday’s deadly assault on Kabul to claim victory in the engagement, holding a news conference and a medal ceremony for some Afghan soldiers who helped subdue Taliban fighters (WSJ). Afghan officials emphasized the fact that Afghan commandos responded to the attack with little foreign assistance (Economist).
NATO will soon curtail "night raids" in Afghanistan, in an effort to reduce the hostility these operations engender among many Afghans (AP). Night raids have received more attention since top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal limited the use of air strikes and other tactics last year in an effort to reduce civilian casualties and grievances. Dexter Filkins looks at the mystery surrounding a recent night raid that killed four in Ghazni Province and sparked intense protests from Afghan civilians (NYT).
Afghanistan’s government has banned the common fertilizer ammonium nitrate, after an investigation found that it was used in a number of bombs targeting Afghan and western forces (AP). Afghan farmers have 30 days to turn in their supplies of the chemical or face punishment. And an American gunsight manufacturing company that aroused controversy this week over Bible references stamped on their equipment will voluntarily remove the markings from future sights and provide kits so troops in the field can remove them (AJE, VOA, CNN).
Pakistani civilians, cricket players, and government officials alike have expressed anger that no Pakistani players were chosen in this week’s Indian Premier League auction, held this week (WSJ). While Indian officials insist that they have nothing to do with the selection of players for India’s most important cricket league, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik complained publicly about the snub, and Pakistanis protested in several cities.
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