Daily brief: car bombs in Kandahar leave six dead
After Marjah Two weeks after the start of the biggest, most publicized military offensive in Afghanistan since 2001, Marines and Afghan troops have mostly cleared the Taliban town of Marjah in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, and attention is focusing on what comes next: for Marjah, reports C. J. Chivers, "a race for Afghan ...
Two weeks after the start of the biggest, most publicized military offensive in Afghanistan since 2001, Marines and Afghan troops have mostly cleared the Taliban town of Marjah in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, and attention is focusing on what comes next: for Marjah, reports C. J. Chivers, "a race for Afghan government competence," and for the region: comprehensive operations in the provincial capital of neighboring Kandahar, the original capital of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar (NYT, AP, LAT, Reuters, NYT, Wash Post). Around 3,000 coalition forces are planning to stay in Marjah for months to hold the town from Taliban resurgence, and the offensive in Kandahar is reportedly being planned for later this year (AP, AFP).
Two car bombings in Kandahar earlier today and a roadside bomb in Helmand yesterday illustrate the ongoing danger to both Afghan civilians and coalition security forces operating in southern Afghanistan (AFP, Reuters, BBC, AP, WSJ, AJE, Pajhwok). In Kandahar, a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy outside of the capital city and forced it into a ravine, killing one NATO soldier and four Afghan civilians, while later a car filled with explosives detonated in front of the police station in the provincial capital, killing a police officer; and as many as 12 members of the same family were killed on Sunday when they drove over a roadside bomb in Now Zad.
The Post looks at Afghanistan’s corruption-riddled and disorganized justice system, another challenge for Afghan and international efforts to reform (Wash Post). U.S. officials have created training sessions for Afghan police officers and prosecutors, which include staged crime scenes and watching videos of "CSI: Las Vegas" and "My Cousin Vinny." And in the new issue of The New Republic, a pair of New York Times journalists review several recent books about conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan (TNR, TNR).
The Pakistani Taliban has released a video of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who is believed to have died after a suspected U.S. drone strike wounded him in mid-January (AP). The 43-minute video, which is undated, does not demonstrate that he is still alive, and the burden of proof is still on the militant group.
Hakimullah was allegedly involved in the suicide attack on a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan in late December, and Humam al-Balawi, the Jordanian doctor behind the blast that left seven U.S. intelligence officers dead, also appeared in a posthumously released video this weekend (Wash Post, AJE, AFP, CNN, AP, NYT). The video details al-Balawi’s recruitment and in it he calls for "jihad" against Jordan, claims his attack was only supposed to kill his Jordanian handler, and calls those Agency officers killed "a bigger gift."
Insecurity in Pakistan
Sabrina Tavernise and Waqar Gillani have this weekend’s must-read describing "educated strivers who come from [Pakistan’s] lower middle class" and have become part of a "new generation of militant networks" in the country that is "more sophisticated and deadly" (NYT). One Pakistani militant explained his involvement, saying, "Out there I’m a useless guy, unemployed and cursed by my family. Here I’m a commander."
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday’s suicide attack against a police station some 100 miles southeast of Peshawar that left four people including two Pakistani police officers dead (AFP, Dawn, BBC, AJE, AP). And two religious processions in Faisalabad and Dera Ismail Khan were fired on over the weekend in what is believed to be sectarian violence, leaving seven dead and nearly 40 wounded (AFP, Daily Times, The News).
However, a Pakistani general said over the weekend that the Pakistani Taliban is on the ropes, suffering from an onslaught of ground operations and air strikes, and Pakistani daily The News reports that nine of the 18 members of the Afghan Taliban’s ruling Quetta shura have been picked up in recent weeks, as Pakistan has reportedly been pressured by both the U.S. and the Saudi royal family to go after the militant group (Times, The News).
Pakistani militants experienced a series of tactical setbacks over the weekend: 17 suspected fighters of a faction of the Punjabi Taliban were found dead in Kohat on Sunday; a Taliban commander in the Swat Valley with 10 million rupees on his head was killed, along with several others; and three "high profile" militants from the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jangvi were arrested in Karachi, the southern Pakistani city which has recently emerged in the public eye as an extremist hideout (Aaj, Dawn; Dawn, Pajhwok; Dawn, LAT). Additionally, two Sikhs who had been kidnapped for ransom in January were recovered by Pakistani authorities between the northwestern tribal agencies of Khyber and Orakzai a few days after the third abductee was found beheaded in Orakzai (AFP, Dawn/Reuters).
Who will be eliminated tonight?
The current issue of The Atlantic checks out an Afghan reality show modeled on "America’s Next Top Model," in which would-be supermodels are whittled down to one winner (Atlantic). Anita Khalwat emerged the winner of the show out of a field of 3,000.
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