Daily brief: disease hits Afghan poppies

Such drugs do poison As much as one third of Afghanistan’s lucrative poppy crops — a source of funding for the Taliban insurgency, but also the livelihood of many Afghan farmers — has been destroyed by a mysterious disease, probably an aphid but possibly also a fungus or virus (NYT, BBC, AFP). The drop in ...

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Such drugs do poison

As much as one third of Afghanistan's lucrative poppy crops -- a source of funding for the Taliban insurgency, but also the livelihood of many Afghan farmers -- has been destroyed by a mysterious disease, probably an aphid but possibly also a fungus or virus (NYT, BBC, AFP). The drop in supply is likely to have at least two positive effects for the insurgents: one, it will probably fuel the Taliban's propaganda campaign claiming that international forces will destroy Afghan farmers' poppy crops; and two, prices of opium will rise at least 60 percent, according to U.N. figures.

The Pentagon said yesterday that in spite of coalition efforts to minimize the number of civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces killed 76 percent more civilians in the first four months of this year compared with 2009 (Reuters). Many of the deaths appear to be related to several high-profile incidents, like the February airstrike that killed 23 civilians. The London Times has a must-read profiling an 'explosive ordnance demolition' team searching for and disabling roadside bombs in Kandahar province (Times).

After more schoolgirls in Afghanistan complained of nausea and a strange smell in their classroom in Kunduz, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said they had become ill after having a "poisonous substance" sprayed in the school and ordered more security around the country's educational institutions (WSJ). The U.N. is investigating the claims of poison gas attacks (Times). Coalition forces reportedly killed 31 Taliban fighters in Kunduz last night (AP, ISAF).

Come together, right now

Such drugs do poison

As much as one third of Afghanistan’s lucrative poppy crops — a source of funding for the Taliban insurgency, but also the livelihood of many Afghan farmers — has been destroyed by a mysterious disease, probably an aphid but possibly also a fungus or virus (NYT, BBC, AFP). The drop in supply is likely to have at least two positive effects for the insurgents: one, it will probably fuel the Taliban’s propaganda campaign claiming that international forces will destroy Afghan farmers’ poppy crops; and two, prices of opium will rise at least 60 percent, according to U.N. figures.

The Pentagon said yesterday that in spite of coalition efforts to minimize the number of civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces killed 76 percent more civilians in the first four months of this year compared with 2009 (Reuters). Many of the deaths appear to be related to several high-profile incidents, like the February airstrike that killed 23 civilians. The London Times has a must-read profiling an ‘explosive ordnance demolition’ team searching for and disabling roadside bombs in Kandahar province (Times).

After more schoolgirls in Afghanistan complained of nausea and a strange smell in their classroom in Kunduz, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said they had become ill after having a "poisonous substance" sprayed in the school and ordered more security around the country’s educational institutions (WSJ). The U.N. is investigating the claims of poison gas attacks (Times). Coalition forces reportedly killed 31 Taliban fighters in Kunduz last night (AP, ISAF).

Come together, right now

U.S. President Barack Obama and Karzai continued to put up a strong show of unity yesterday at a tightly choreographed joint press conference, both predicting that the conflict in Afghanistan will get worse before it gets better and reaffirming their commitment to the war effort (AFP, AP, NYT, Reuters, Wash Post, Pajhwok, Tel, FT, WSJ). Obama, in a departure from his earlier reluctance, hinted yesterday that he may support Karzai’s plan to reconcile with some Taliban leaders and footsoldiers who renounce violence, and made comments supportive of Pakistani efforts to rout militants from its tribal areas, while cautioning that "it is not going to happen overnight" (LAT, AJE, Pajhwok, The News, Reuters). Karzai, on his part, made similar comments about the timeline of the fight against corruption in Afghanistan (AFP). Karzai and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will wrap up the Afghan leader’s visit with a live webcast at 2:30pm (AP, USIP).

Alissa Rubin considers the challenges of governance in Afghanistan, writing that, "Even as American troops clear areas of militants, they find either no government to fill the vacuum, as in Marja, or entrenched power brokers, like President Karzai’s brother in Kandahar, who monopolize NATO contracts and other development projects and are resented by large portions of the population. In still other places, government officials rarely show up at work and do little to help local people, and in most places the Afghan police are incapable of providing security. Corruption, big and small, remains an overwhelming complaint" (NYT).

And McClatchy reports that the Pentagon is shifting gears to "counterinsurgency light" in lieu of large-scale counterinsurgency efforts which are long and costly (McClatchy).

Across Pakistan

Five people, including two young girls, were killed yesterday in and around Peshawar when a roadside bomb detonated at an Afghan refugee camp outside the main city of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province and when suspected militants tossed a hand grenade in a home in the city (Daily Times, BBC, Dawn, Geo, CNN). Reuters looks at the psychological effects of conflict on Pakistanis (Reuters).

A 28-year-old Pakistani man was detained at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile with traces of explosives reportedly in his bag, and on documents and a cell phone he was carrying (AP, The News, ToI, AFP). Mohammad Saif ur Rehman was reportedly in Chile for four months to study tourism, had a job at a hotel, and had gone to the embassy to discuss a visa; he can be detained until Saturday without charge under Chilean law.

Al-Qaeda in Iran

The AP reports that al-Qaeda operatives who were detained for years in Iran have been traveling in and out of the country, suggesting that the Iranian government is loosening its hold on the terrorist group so it can "replenish its ranks," diminished by drone strikes and military operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan (AP). The relationship between the Shiite regime in Iran and the Sunni al-Qaeda is "generally hostile" and murky — "one of the most difficult jobs in U.S. intelligence" — but they have a shared enemy, the U.S., and the recent increase in movement is "worrisome."

Texting to rise in southern Afghanistan

The U.S. military is planning to erect mobile phone antennas in southern Afghanistan to make it more difficult for Taliban militants to destroy or force the closure of most cell phone towers (AFP). A U.S. official said the main effect will be to "de-isolate people."

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