Daily brief: Marines, Taliban exchange more fire as Afghan operations loom

The Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation has an immediate opening for an internship this spring. Email a cover letter, resume, and 3-5 page writing sample to tiedemann@newamerica.net; more details are available here. Fighting to negotiate U.S. Marines and Taliban fighters continued to exchange gunfire yesterday on the outskirts of the southern Afghan ...

PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

The Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation has an immediate opening for an internship this spring. Email a cover letter, resume, and 3-5 page writing sample to tiedemann@newamerica.net; more details are available here.

Fighting to negotiate

U.S. Marines and Taliban fighters continued to exchange gunfire yesterday on the outskirts of the southern Afghan town of Marjah, a militant stronghold where coalition forces are expected to launch anti-Taliban operations in the coming days, and tribal elders who fled to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah are standing by to take control after the military operations end (AP, Times). The Taliban, for their part, say they will employ tactics similar to those used in previous operations, hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombs (AFP). Yaroslav Trofimov describes troops' frustration with the more population-centric rules of counterinsurgency in the Afghan conflict, and highlights the difficulties in telling civilians from insurgents in southern Afghanistan (WSJ).

The Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation has an immediate opening for an internship this spring. Email a cover letter, resume, and 3-5 page writing sample to tiedemann@newamerica.net; more details are available here.

Fighting to negotiate

U.S. Marines and Taliban fighters continued to exchange gunfire yesterday on the outskirts of the southern Afghan town of Marjah, a militant stronghold where coalition forces are expected to launch anti-Taliban operations in the coming days, and tribal elders who fled to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah are standing by to take control after the military operations end (AP, Times). The Taliban, for their part, say they will employ tactics similar to those used in previous operations, hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombs (AFP). Yaroslav Trofimov describes troops’ frustration with the more population-centric rules of counterinsurgency in the Afghan conflict, and highlights the difficulties in telling civilians from insurgents in southern Afghanistan (WSJ).

Afghan legislators said yesterday that the Afghan government is in controversial tentative negotiations with the leader of the smallest of the three main insurgent factions in the country, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a 59-year-old veteran of the Afghan jihad of the 1980s (McClatchy). Gulbuddin’s terms would allow international forces to remain in Afghanistan for 18 months and install a neutral interim government for two years, the last four months of which would see the convening of a traditional council of tribal elders to draft a new constitution and organize elections, in exchange for Gulbuddin’s fighters laying down their arms.

Money, money, money

After last month’s U.S. pledge of more than $1 million in development aid to the Shinwari tribe in eastern Afghanistan, tribal elders seem to be making good on their promise to rid their area in Nangarhar of Taliban, as a drug runner and suspected Taliban ally from the tribe agreed to enter a government rehabilitation program (AP). If the 28-year-old Qari Rahmat breaks the rules, his elders said, he will be fined $20,000 and his house will be burned down.

And a U.N. report released yesterday predicted that after two years of major drops in Afghanistan’s opium crops, 2010 is likely to be stable as bad weather could lead to a decrease in opium production though the country may see fewer poppy-free provinces (AP, AFP, Reuters, Pajhwok, UNODC). Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin. And earlier today in Helmand province, NATO-led forces seized and destroyed 800 pounds of marijuana, 600 pounds of marijuana seeds, and 200 pounds of opium seeds (Pajhwok, ISAF).

Inside Pakistan

A Pakistani military intelligence official has added his voice to the growing number of those certain that rumors of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud’s death from a suspected U.S. drone strike in mid-January are "100 percent" true (Wash Post, The News). Several Pakistani military officers were killed yesterday when Taliban fighters ambushed a team carrying out a rescue operation for a downed helicopter in Khyber agency’s remote Tirah Valley (Dawn, BBC). The aircraft crashed while on a surveillance mission due to technical failures, according to an Army official.

Longtime South Asia correspondent Pam Constable has today’s must-read describing the "self-confident reemergence of conservative Sunni Muslim activism" in the heart of Pakistan (Wash Post). She writes that some anti-Taliban activists "are trying to appeal to Muslim emotions while distancing themselves from religious violence, even though some have previously condoned it or been linked to terrorist acts."

Charlie Wilson’s War

Former U.S. representative Charlie Wilson, the fun-loving 12-term Democrat from East Texas whose support for the Afghan mujahideen helped finance and arm the anti-Soviet insurgency during the 1980s, died yesterday at age 76 after a history of heart problems (CNN, AP, Wash Post, ABC, BBC, Reuters). A longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, the vehemently anti-communist Wilson funneled billions of dollars to the CIA, which sent the funds in support of the Afghans fighting against the Soviet invasion, and was memorialized in the 2003 book and 2007 film "Charlie Wilson’s War."

Earlier this week, the government put out a dozen never previously released aerial photographs of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, taken from a police helicopter that morning (AP, ABC). The chilling photos are available here (AP).

Take that

After upset victories over the Scottish and Irish, the Afghan national cricket team trounced the United States by 30 runs at the World Twenty20 qualifiers yesterday in Dubai (Pajhwok, Bloomberg). "It’s not war, just sport," commented the Afghan team’s coach (Independent).

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