Daily Brief: Afghan civilian deaths rise for fifth straight year

Grim milestone A United Nations report released Saturday attributed 77% of the record 3,021 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2011 to Taliban insurgent attacks, primarily from the increased use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks (AP, CNN, McClatchy, Guardian, LAT, NYT). The number of civilians killed in 2011 rose 8% from the previous year, the fifth year in a row ...

Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

Grim milestone

A United Nations report released Saturday attributed 77% of the record 3,021 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2011 to Taliban insurgent attacks, primarily from the increased use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks (APCNNMcClatchyGuardianLATNYT). The number of civilians killed in 2011 rose 8% from the previous year, the fifth year in a row that the figure has worsened. A day after the release of the U.N. report, a suicide car bomb attack outside of the Kandahar police headquarters killed at least seven people (NYTMcClatchyCNNLATBBCReutersAPAFP). The U.S. military said Friday that it had dropped all charges against Spec. Michael Wagnon, one of five U.S. soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport in 2010; the other four soldiers were convicted and jailed last year (CNNGuardianReutersAP). On Friday, a U.S. soldier shot and killed a private Afghan security guard because he believed the guard was about to attack him (AP).

Afghan Taliban spoksman Zabiullah Mujahid on Saturday denied that a letter received by the White House last year purporting to be from Mullah Omar was actually from the group's leader (ReutersAPNYTAP). The letter expressed Mullah Omar's support for peace talks with the United States and stressed the importance of securing the release of Taliban prisoners being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.

Grim milestone

A United Nations report released Saturday attributed 77% of the record 3,021 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2011 to Taliban insurgent attacks, primarily from the increased use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks (APCNNMcClatchyGuardianLATNYT). The number of civilians killed in 2011 rose 8% from the previous year, the fifth year in a row that the figure has worsened. A day after the release of the U.N. report, a suicide car bomb attack outside of the Kandahar police headquarters killed at least seven people (NYTMcClatchyCNNLATBBCReutersAPAFP). The U.S. military said Friday that it had dropped all charges against Spec. Michael Wagnon, one of five U.S. soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport in 2010; the other four soldiers were convicted and jailed last year (CNNGuardianReutersAP). On Friday, a U.S. soldier shot and killed a private Afghan security guard because he believed the guard was about to attack him (AP).

Afghan Taliban spoksman Zabiullah Mujahid on Saturday denied that a letter received by the White House last year purporting to be from Mullah Omar was actually from the group’s leader (ReutersAPNYTAP). The letter expressed Mullah Omar’s support for peace talks with the United States and stressed the importance of securing the release of Taliban prisoners being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.

The Times’ Rob Nordland had a must-read on Friday revealing the shockingly large number of Afghan children who have frozen to death in refugee camps during this year’s colder-than-usual winter (NYT). The Kabul airport was closed for over a day this weekend because of heavy snowfall (AP). The Post’s Kevin Sieff has another must-read on Afghanistan’s effort to teach a "depoliticized curriculum" to its children by leaving out any mention any of the country’s wars over the past four decades; a set of government-issued textbooks essentially ends Afghanistan’s history in 1973 (Post). Finally, Lianne Gutcher at the Independent reports on Afghanistan’s struggle with child drug addiction, an affliction many Afghan children pick up when their addict parents give them opium as newborns to keep them quiet and relieve pain (Independent).

As part of the Pentagon’s plan to reduce the combat role and increase the training and support role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the military will push Special Operations forces to the forefront of the war effort, and will establish a new command to oversee all Special Operations missions in Afghanistan. (NYTPostAFP). The Special Operations forces will likely stay in Afghanistan even after the NATO troop withdrawal deadline at the end of 2014. The Post’s Karen DeYoung reported Sunday on the difficulties the Obama administration has encountered as it attempts to begin winding down the war in Afghanistan, as the U.S. war strategy, plans for reconciliation, and ideas for the region’s future have all come under increased public scrutiny (Post). After spending two years deployed in Afghanistan, U.S. service member Lt. Col. Daniel Davis returned to the United States in October 2011 dissatisfied with U.S. officials’ accounts of progress in Afghanistan while — he believes — the war is not being won in reality, prompting him to write two reports for the inspector general at the Defense Department, brief members of Congress, and speak to a Times reporter about his views (NYT).

Join the party

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani travelled to Qatar today for talks with Qatari officials about Taliban plans to set up an office there from which the group might negotiate a reconciliation with the United States (AFPWSJAPReuters). Meanwhile, the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism claimed Sunday that U.S. drones frequently target rescuers in Pakistan’s tribal regions who rush to the scene of a previous drone strike to care for survivors, killing at least 50 civilians in these follow-up strikes (BIJNYT). Over 1,000 people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir formed a human chain on Sunday in honor of Kashmir Solidarity Day, as Gilani told a Kashmir Convention in Islamabad that Pakistan is committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the decades-long land dispute (AFPET).

At least four people died Monday and as many as 100 are thought to be trapped in the rubble of factory that collapsed in Lahore after several gas cylinders in the building exploded (CNNAPTelETGuardianAJEAFPBBC). The factory, used to manufacture medicine, was constructed illegally and had been shut down by authorities three times in the past. One Pakistani security official was killed and 12 were wounded on Sunday when militants attacked a military vehicle with a bomb and guns in Kurram Agency (ET). In Balochistan, one man was killed and five were injured on Saturday when security forces opened fire on a group of protesters who had blocked the main highway as part of a strike called by the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) (ET). The protests were called to express anger at the government’s failure to investigate the murders last week of a Baloch lawmaker’s wife and daughter, a failure over which Balochistan’s Provincial Minister Nasreen Khetran resigned on Monday (ETDawn).

Transparency International Pakistan, a private watchdog group, claimed this weekend that more than Rs8,500 billion (U.S. $94 billion) has essentially been stolen from Pakistan’s economy through corruption, tax evasion, and bad governance during Gilani’s tenure as Prime Minister over the past four years (The News). And 28 parliamentarians elected in Pakistan’s most recent by-elections were suspended by the country’s Supreme Court on Monday in response to a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan requesting a ban on by-elections until lists containing fake voters are fixed (ETDawn). 

First-class frills

In a country where fuel shortages, corruption, and mismanagement of state rail companies have caused massive train delays, a luxury railway has begun in Pakistan to service the wealthy traveling between Lahore and Karachi, (AFP). The luxury cars come complete with flat-screen televisions, afternoon tea and full dinner service, crisp bed sheets, and of course armed guards patrolling the corridors.

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Jennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.

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