Daily brief: twin suicide blasts kill 15 in northwest Pakistan

Event notice: Join the New America Foundation Monday Feb. 15 at 3:30pm in Washington DC for a talk by Sciences Po professor Jean Pierre Filiu on the French view of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Details available here. Guerrilla war The Afghan Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide attack last night at a joint ...

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

Event notice: Join the New America Foundation Monday Feb. 15 at 3:30pm in Washington DC for a talk by Sciences Po professor Jean Pierre Filiu on the French view of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Details available here.

Guerrilla war

The Afghan Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide attack last night at a joint U.S.-Afghan military facility in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia, which wounded five U.S. soldiers (AP, CNN, Pajhwok, NYT). The attacker reportedly wore the uniform of an Afghan border policeman, further raising fears about militant infiltration into the security forces.

Event notice: Join the New America Foundation Monday Feb. 15 at 3:30pm in Washington DC for a talk by Sciences Po professor Jean Pierre Filiu on the French view of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Details available here.

Guerrilla war

The Afghan Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide attack last night at a joint U.S.-Afghan military facility in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia, which wounded five U.S. soldiers (AP, CNN, Pajhwok, NYT). The attacker reportedly wore the uniform of an Afghan border policeman, further raising fears about militant infiltration into the security forces.

Four hundred miles to the southwest, coalition troops have set up a ring around the heavily mined Taliban stronghold town of Marjah, sealing off escape routes ahead of what has been called "the biggest offensive" of the Afghan war and firing colored smoke grenades to show each other they are friendly forces (AP). Afghan leaders met yesterday with hundreds of tribal elders from Marjah in the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, to try and assure them that the coalition would in fact rid the area of Taliban fighters, saying that 1,000 locals would be hired as police after the battle subsides (NYT, WSJ, Times).

The military operations are expected to begin very soon, and the tribal elders urged the coalition forces to "do it quickly," as U.S. forces continued to drop leaflets and broadcast radio messages warning locals not to shelter Taliban militants and many residents are skeptical of the operation’s success (AP, Reuters, AFP). A farmer commented, "Our poppy business is booming under the Taliban… when the government destroys our only income, why should we support it?"

As the battle looms, a controversial law giving immunity to Taliban fighters who lay down their arms and former warlords in Afghanistan has reportedly come into force with little fanfare (Guardian). And a $300 million power plant in Afghanistan, on whose electrical grid the U.S. has spent some $732 million to improve since 2002, is under scrutiny because of suspicions that a security contract was awarded improperly (McClatchy).

Training and police

In a move likely to rile anti-American sentiments in Pakistan, the U.S. military is reportedly setting up new centers inside the country to provide Pakistani forces with expanded training, which will require an increase to the more than 100 Special Operations forces currently in the country (AP). U.S. and Pakistani officials have welcomed the training program, however, as the U.S. gets better access to the wild border region where militancy is rife, and Pakistan receives aid and training.

In the second attack on Pakistani police in as many days, nine police officials including the district chief were killed yesterday by a pair of coordinated suicide blasts just minutes apart in the tribal area of Bannu, in Pakistan’s northwest (NYT, AP, Dawn, The News, The Nation, Daily Times, CNN, AJE, AFP, FT). After the bombings, which also killed at least six civilians including children and wounded more than two dozen, Pakistani authorities imposed a curfew in Bannu.

The suicide attacks came as U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones visited Islamabad and met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior Pakistani officials to discuss Pakistan’s potential role in resolving the conflict in Afghanistan (FT). Top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal met with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani in Rawalpindi recently as well, and Kayani briefed both generals on the current state of operations in South Waziristan among other topics (Dawn).

A shooting in Mumbai

As India and Pakistan prepare to hold their first official talks, scheduled for February 25, since the deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai left more than 160 dead in late 2008, Shahid Azmi, the lawyer for one of Mumbai suspects — Fahim Ansari, an Indian national accused of helping facilitate the attacks —  was gunned down yesterday by unknown assailants near his office in the Indian financial capital (AFP, Reuters, Geo, The News, WSJ, AP, Dawn, BBC). Ansari is on trial with the sole surviving Mumbai gunman and another Indian, accused of giving maps to the attackers.

Born to run

After a Pakistani woman won the gold medal in the 100 meter sprint at the South Asian Games in Dhaka on Monday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari awarded her and a fellow gold medalist in karate the title of "ambassador of sport" and presented them with prizes of one million rupees each (AFP, Dawn). The 22-year-old runner Naseem Hamid hails from one of Karachi’s impoverished slums and has been given a hero’s welcome in Pakistan.

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