Daily brief: Seven Pakistani soldiers killed in ambush
Ambushed Militants with guns and rocket launchers launched a pre-planned attack on a military convoy in Datta Khel in the Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan, reportedly in retaliation for the death of a 15-year-old boy in an earlier shooting by traveling soldiers (AP, AFP, Geo, Dawn). Seven Pakistani soldiers were killed and 16 wounded ...
Militants with guns and rocket launchers launched a pre-planned attack on a military convoy in Datta Khel in the Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan, reportedly in retaliation for the death of a 15-year-old boy in an earlier shooting by traveling soldiers (AP, AFP, Geo, Dawn). Seven Pakistani soldiers were killed and 16 wounded in the worst known ambush against the army in the tribal areas in several months. Also in North Waziristan, four alleged ‘spies’ were found dead 15 miles east of Miram Shah with a note threatening "the same fate" for "all those spying for the U.S. and Pakistan" (AP, AFP, Geo). And relatives of the two abducted former Pakistani intelligence officials and British journalist are reportedly using "jihadi channels" to free the men, whose captors — a Taliban-linked group calling itself the ‘Asian Tigers’ — have demanded $10 million and the release of several prominent Taliban leaders currently in custody (Daily Times).
One of the detainees whose release the Asian Tigers demanded is Mullah Baradar, the second in command of the Quetta Shura Taliban, whose capture has reportedly caused a "bitter power struggle" between two rivals on the Taliban’s leadership council (Times). Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor are vying for military command of the insurgency, and competition is reportedly particularly fierce in Afghanistan’s Helmand province; a Taliban spokesman commented, however, "The Taliban don’t have time to fight each other, they are too busy fighting their enemies."
Fierce fighting continues in Orakzai, the northwestern tribal agency where a Pakistani military operation was launched on March 24, and as many as 48 militants were killed yesterday across the agency (ET, Dawn, AFP, Geo, Daily Times). In the Swat Valley, five anti-Taliban leaders who had been critical to peace talks in the area have been killed in the last two weeks, raising fears among locals that the militants are making a comeback (NYT).
Night raids outrage
During a night raid in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province, coalition forces reportedly came under heavy fire and five alleged insurgents and two U.S. soldiers were killed in the gunbattle, which sparked outraged protests from local villagers who claimed the five men killed "had nothing to do with the Taliban" (Reuters, AP, Pajhwok, ISAF). Automatic rifles, material for making the roadside bombs which are the number one killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and blasting caps were later recovered from the compound, and one of the dead was reportedly a Haqqani-linked Taliban suicide attack commander.
After being sworn in yesterday as the head of Afghanistan’s main electoral body, Fazel Ahmed Manawi warned that international observers should provide security for this fall’s parliamentary elections but not "meddle in policy" (AP, Pajhwok). British domestic politics could influence when the U.K. begins to transition certain districts in Afghanistan to Afghan control, which has worried NATO allies; NATO foreign ministers at a meeting in Estonia have come up with a plan to begin the transition "to Afghan lead starting this year" (Independent, AFP). And Afghan security forces who killed a U.N. security officer from south Florida during a Taliban attack on a U.N. guest house in Kabul last October "most likely" mistook him for an insurgent (Wash Post).
The Post has two must-read Afghanistan articles today: Griff Witte outlines the shared interests of the U.S. and Afghanistan’s parliament, which he writes "has emerged this spring as a robust check on President Hamid Karzai’s power" (Wash Post); and Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports how diplomats in Afghanistan are opposed to a military proposal to spend $200 million over the next few months to buy diesel fuel and generators to power Kandahar (Wash Post). Instead of buying new generators, which diplomats argue is an unsustainable solution, the U.S. Embassy wants the coalition to focus on fixing up the Kajaki Dam, a hydroelectric power plant in Helmand province.
The AP profiles COP Spera, a combat outpost that is a 20-minute helicopter ride from FOB Salerno in eastern Afghanistan, which "commands a dry riverbed and rutted dirt road that lead into Pakistan" and Miram Shah (AP). A platoon of 20 to 30 troops trains Afghan security forces there and mans the outpost, which could soon be abandoned under the U.S.’s policy of focusing on population centers.
Strong Man Afghanistan
Foreign Policy is running a stunning black and white photo slideshow of Afghanistan’s bodybuilders, who recently competed in regional contests that precede the annual Mr. Afghanistan pageant (FP). In 2001, there were only 15 gyms in the country; today there are more than 1,000.
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