The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: three U.S. soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan blast

A bomb blast Three U.S. soldiers who were in Pakistan as part of a small, low-profile unit that trains members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps were killed earlier this morning when a remote-control roadside bomb exploded near a girls’ school celebrating its opening in the tribal area of Lower Dir (NYT, AP, AFP, Reuters, BBC, ...

IHSSAN SHAKIR/AFP/Getty Images
IHSSAN SHAKIR/AFP/Getty Images

A bomb blast

Three U.S. soldiers who were in Pakistan as part of a small, low-profile unit that trains members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps were killed earlier this morning when a remote-control roadside bomb exploded near a girls’ school celebrating its opening in the tribal area of Lower Dir (NYT, AP, AFP, Reuters, BBC, Dawn, Geo, Islamabad Embassy statement). At least seven others, including four schoolgirls and a Frontier Corps soldier, were also killed in the blast, and around 70 children and a few journalists were wounded; the Pakistani Army last year declared Dir free of the Taliban, and this is one of the deadliest attacks on Americans in Pakistan in decades (ABC). The Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for the attack and claimed those Americans killed were employees of the security contracting firm Blackwater (AFP).

In an unusually heavy barrage, a suspected U.S. drone fired at least 17 missiles targeting militant bunkers in the tribal agency of North Waziristan, on the Afghan border, killing as many as 31 yesterday (Daily Times, Dawn, AP, AP, Reuters, AFP, AFP, NYT, BBC, CNN, WSJ). It is the 13th reported strike this year.

The Pakistani Taliban continue to refuse to prove their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is alive, after rumors of his death in an alleged drone strike in mid-January percolate (FT, AP). Chatter is also growing that one of Hakimullah’s likely successors, the trainer of suicide bombers Qari Hussain, was also killed in the same suspected drone strike (TOI). Dawn reports that the Obama administration’s recently released budget calls for more funding for Predator and Reaper drones to be added to the U.S. military’s arsenal in a few years (Dawn).

Violent clashes between activists from rival political parties in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi continue for a fifth day, as the death toll reaches at least 37 (AFP, Dawn, Daily Times, Dawn). Karachi has mostly avoided the militancy that plagues Pakistan’s northwest, but analysts say the crime and kidnappings in the city can fund the insurgency.

The epicenter

Yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen encouraged the Senate Armed Services Committee to approve the Pentagon’s request for $192 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 18 months, $33 billion of which would go toward the 30,000-soldier increase in Afghanistan (Wash Post, AFP, The News). Adm. Mullen’s and Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ prepared testimonies are available here (SASC).

Also testifying before the Senate yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair presented his annual threat assessment and said that an attempted al Qaeda terrorist attack on the United States within the next six months is "certain" (WSJ, CNN, Wash Post, NPR). The threat assessment is a must-read for those seeking the understand the intelligence community’s understanding of the global security situation (DNI-pdf).

Delegations and investigations

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, currently on a trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss negotiations with the Taliban, has canceled a meeting scheduled with the Organization of Islamic Conference, the world’s top Muslim body, reportedly because the Afghan delegation wanted to visit Medina (Reuters, Independent). A senior OIC official said the canceled meeting was supposed to address the organization’s role in containing Afghan tensions and to follow up on an offer for the OIC to host a conference for Islamic scholars to discuss Afghanistan. Karzai is scheduled to meet the Saudi king later today, and complications about the scope and reach of potential negotiations are numerous (Pajhwok, WSJ).

A military investigation into the battle at Wanat in the summer of 2008 that left nine U.S. soldiers dead and 27 wounded recommends that the Army consider taking disciplinary actions against three U.S. commanders who oversaw the mission, including one who was awarded a Silver Star for calling in air strikes during the attack (Wash Post). The investigation, which runs nearly 4,000 pages, will reportedly be released after a decision regarding any disciplinary action has been made and the families of the deceased informed.

Rod Nordland takes a look at the fairly dismal current state of the Afghan National Police, writing that one in five police recruits tests positive for drugs, fewer than one in ten is literate, and a fourth of the force quits every year (NYT). And two U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan; IEDs are responsible for up to 90 percent of foreign troop fatalities in the country (BBC, AFP, NYT, ISAF).

Going for the gold

Afghanistan defeated Sri Lanka yesterday in a soccer match at the South Asian Games, currently underway in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Pajhwok). The team will advance to the next round of competition.

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