Daily brief: suicide blasts kill 35 in Kandahar

New! Become a fan of the AfPak Channel on Facebook. Suicide in southern Afghanistan A squad of suicide bombers attacked Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan on Saturday evening, hitting four different locations around the city including the province’s main prison and a police station (CNN, BBC, Times, NYT, AP, Reuters, Pajhwok). At least 35 were ...

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

New! Become a fan of the AfPak Channel on Facebook.

New! Become a fan of the AfPak Channel on Facebook.

Suicide in southern Afghanistan

A squad of suicide bombers attacked Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan on Saturday evening, hitting four different locations around the city including the province’s main prison and a police station (CNN, BBC, Times, NYT, AP, Reuters, Pajhwok). At least 35 were killed including 17 Afghan policemen and 10 guests at a wedding hall near the police headquarters, and the NYT draws connections between Saturday’s strikes and other recent coordinated attacks (NYT). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, calling them a "warning" against top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s reported upcoming operations in the former Taliban seat of government (AP, BBC).

Keith Richburg takes a broader look at the status of Kandahar, which he writes is "slid[ing] into lawlessness" and "more complicated" than neighboring Helmand, where the Taliban have been knocked out of power in Marjah and turned to intimidation tactics like beheading local residents who cooperate with coalition forces (Wash Post, McClatchy). Local Taliban commanders seem to be ignoring Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s decree not to execute prisoners (McClatchy). And Rajiv Chandrasekaran keenly profiles an outpost in Delaram, a remote town in Nimroz province in Afghanistan, where U.S. Marines are set on establishing control with comparative autonomy in the military chain of command that has riled some officials in Washington and Kabul (Wash Post).

Earlier today and late last night, a rocket attack killed one person at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, Afghan security forces killed three would-be suicide bombers in Paktika, and a Predator drone crashed in southern Afghanistan (AP, Pajhwok).

In a turnaround, Afghan President Hamid Karzai reversed a decision announced last month that gave him the power to appoint all five members of the country’s independent Electoral Complaints Commission, moving instead to allow two foreigners sit on the panel that monitors polling fraud (WSJ, BBC, LAT). And Swedish-Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura assumed his role as top U.N. representative in Kabul on Saturday, while the Times reports that the idea of ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban is being hotly debated in the White House (AFP, NYT).

Freelance James Bonds?

In a story sure to make a splash, Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti report on how a DoD official set up a network of shadowy private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan who under the guise of an information-gathering program helped track and kill alleged extremists (NYT). It’s considered illegal for the military to hire private contractors to work as covert spies, and in Pakistan, the program may have been an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s opposition to U.S. boots on the ground there.

The ebb and flow of the Pakistani Taliban

A spokesman for Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the main town in the Swat Valley on Saturday that left more than a dozen dead and three times that number wounded, saying it was in revenge for suspected U.S. drone strikes in Waziristan (CNN, Daily Times, AP, Pajhwok). There have never been any reported drone strikes in the Swat Valley, however (NAF). And between 11 and 18 alleged militants were killed yesterday when Pakistani jets bombed their hideouts in the northwestern tribal agency of Orakzai (Reuters, BBC, AJE, Daily Times, CNN, AP).

South Waziristan, the site of a concerted anti-Taliban military offensive last fall, is still being fought over, and though the Army seems to have control now, "The terrorists are nowhere and everywhere," according to a Pakistani military official (NYT). The biggest problem is likely to be the return of the displaced, and the Pakistani military plans to remain in South Waziristan for at least another 18 months, resisting U.S. pressure to take the fight to North Waziristan, where many of the militants are believed to have fled.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for the Pakistani Army, said earlier today that NATO is not doing enough to stem the flow of fighters between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and called for the border to be closed (Tel, Dawn). And the Times of India runs a thinly sourced story alleging that Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, the ISI, met last fall with Afghan insurgent commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and members of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar to discuss targeting Indian interests in Afghanistan (ToI).

"Jihad Jamie" and bin Laden sightings

A Belgian woman on trial in Brussels for terrorism charges said last week that her husband, also wanted for involvement with terrorism but currently at large in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a "mountainous region" in the summer of 2008, according to Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank (CNN).

And finally, Irish police have released four of the seven arrested last week in connection with a plot to assassinate a Swedish artist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog (WSJ). One of those released is reported to be a 31-year-old American mother from Colorado and Kansas, a recent convert to Islam who may have been motivated by love for one of the other alleged plotters, an Algerian man (WSJ, ABC, Wash Post, BBC, NYT, AP). The LA Times has the most detailed profile of Jamie Paulin-Ramirez’s younger life (LAT). 

That special day (times 32)

Thirty-two couples, including two Christian ones, were married in a mass wedding in Lahore yesterday (Daily Times). Every couple received a dowry with a color television, a washing machine, and gold jewelry, among other items.

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