The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: U.K. Afghan death toll reaches 300

Still fighting it As many as 17 people were killed on Saturday in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali in the 42nd reported U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan this year (The News, ET, BBC, AP, NYT, Reuters, CNN, AJE). A "key militant commander" called Abu Ahmed was reportedly killed in the strike, along ...

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Still fighting it

As many as 17 people were killed on Saturday in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali in the 42nd reported U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan this year (The News, ET, BBC, AP, NYT, Reuters, CNN, AJE). A "key militant commander" called Abu Ahmed was reportedly killed in the strike, along with several Arabs and Uzbeks (The News, The News). Across the tribal areas, Taliban commander Abid Afridi was killed when explosives accidentally detonated in Orakzai tribal agency on Sunday morning (Geo); fighter jets reportedly killed up to 16 suspected militants in other parts of Orakzai (Dawn, Geo); and fighting continues in Mohmand (Daily Times).

Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that Pakistani officials are focusing on breaking down the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ after receiving intelligence reports that the group is planning a fresh wave of attacks in Punjab, rather than opening new fronts in the tribal areas (ET). Over the weekend, the United Nations announced that 70,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan so far this year, adding to the estimated five million Afghans who have been repatriated since 2002 (Daily Times, Pajhwok, ET). There are still around 2.7 million Afghan refugees living abroad, most in Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan has at least $500 billion of untapped mineral deposits, including gems like emerald, topaz, and aquamarine (AP).

Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung have today’s must-read detailing Afghan and Pakistani efforts at possible militant reconciliation, particularly with the Haqqani network, which is based in North Waziristan but whose 30something leader, Siraj Haqqani, spends much of his time in Afghanistan according to Pakistani officials (Wash Post). The Haqqani network reportedly has as many as 10,000 fighters under its banner.

Politics by other means

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard Holbrooke is on a trip to the region, and on Sunday he reportedly observed that Pakistan does not have the resources to begin major operations in North Waziristan right now, while saying al-Qaeda has been "severely degraded in recent years" (Geo, Dawn). Amb. Holbrooke also cautioned Pakistan that its recently signed $7.6 billion gas pipeline deal with Iran could be affected by U.S. sanctions against Iran (FT, AP, ET). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Islamabad in July, and Amb. Holbrooke is currently in Kandahar for several days of meetings with military and civilian officials and local elders (AFP, Pajhwok).

Top Obama officials hit the Sunday shows yesterday to discuss the Afghan war, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates commenting that "we are making progress" and urging Congress to pass supplemental spending (WSJ, LAT, Fox). White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said that about "half of al-Qaeda has been eliminated" in the last year and a half, and reiterated that the July 2011 date for the beginning of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is "firm" (ABC, Wash Post). Rod Nordland assesses the obstacles to the political way out of Afghanistan, concluding that "nearly every Afghan is in favor of peace…[giving] some hope that the country’s protagonists can transcend their problems and find a political solution. Expecting them to do so by July 2011, however, may turn out to be another example of confusing a hope with a policy" (NYT).

On Saturday, the U.N. released a quarterly report stating that violence in Afghanistan has increased dramatically, though there have been 45 percent fewer civilian casualties in the last three months compared with the same period in 2009 (BBC). Roadside bomb attacks in the first four months of 2010 nearly doubled over 2009, and targeted assassinations are up 45 percent (Wash Post, NYT, LAT, AP). The U.N.’s report is available here (U.N.-pdf). And another U.N. report released this morning finds that the use of opiates like heroin has doubled in Afghanistan since 2005 (AP). The U.N. is pulling some 300 international staff members out of the country to Kuwait because of security threats (AP).

The beating of the drums

As the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 300 earlier today, six NATO troops died in separate incidents across the country, including three Australian commandos who were killed in a helicopter crash in Kandahar (BBC, CNN, AP, AFP, Wash Post, Pajhwok). Nearly 60 NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan so far in June, making it the deadliest month this year in the country. And an increase in soldiers killed by small arms fire has military officials investigating the possibility that well-trained Taliban sharpshooters are changing tactics because of the coalition’s focus on the threat from roadside bombs (Independent).

An airstrike in Khost province killed at least 10 Afghan civilians on Saturday during operations against the Haqqani network (NYT, Pajhwok). In Kunduz, Taliban subcommander Mullah Abdul Razaq was reportedly killed on Friday night (CNN, NYT). Razaq was allegedly involved in moving suicide bombers through northern Afghanistan and in a roadside bombing that left two U.S. soldiers dead last week. Over the weekend, a double bombing in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, left three Afghans dead, including a young girl (NYT, AP).

Bonus AfPak Channel reads: journalist Stephen Grey’s assessment of the British campaign in Helmand ("Anatomy of a disaster"), and the British government’s response ("Hope in Helmand") (FP, FP).

Carlotta Gall looks at the 35 district councils set up to provide representative government across Afghanistan, focusing on Nad Ali, a district in Helmand where more than 600 men recently turned up to participate in spite of Taliban threats (NYT). Another program the U.S. would like to expand is detailed by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who describes the "Gizab Good Guys" in Daikundi province, where a "combination of Taliban overreaching, U.S. encouragement and local resentment" led to a local revolt against the insurgency (Wash Post). The LA Times, however, reports on a variety of troubles that have arisen from the anti-Taliban militias that have popped up across Afghanistan (LAT).

The apathy of Afghanistan’s security forces continues to frustrate coalition troops in Kandahar, where the "vast majority" of police recruits are illiterate and bribery is commonplace (Wash Post). And observers are concerned that Afghanistan’s new five-member commission to release and reconcile detained Taliban fighters, which does not have any representatives from the Afghan intelligence service or other security agencies, is moving too quickly (McClatchy).

A good job with more pay

The Guardian discloses that Afghan President Hamid Karzai earns $525 a month, has less than $20,000 in the bank, and owns no property, according to a declaration of his assets for Afghanistan’s anti-corruption office (Guardian). At home, Karzai has some $11,000 in jewelry and other valuables.

And an offshoot of the firm formerly known as Blackwater has been awarded a contract worth up to $120 million over 18 months to provide security for U.S. consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif (AFP, CNN, AP).

Safe haven

USAID is in the midst of a $500,000 facelift for the Kabul Women’s Garden, designed to offer Afghan women a place to relax without male supervision (NYT). Female hairdressers, tae kwon do champions, pizza chefs, and seamstresses, among others, have set up shop inside the garden’s walls. Photo slideshow: NYT.

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