The South Asia Channel

NATO launches inquiry into civilian deaths in airstrike

Event notice: Please join the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program TODAY at 12:15 pm for a conversation with Nelly Lahoud, the lead author of a recent report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point on the documents found in Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound last May (NAF). Accusations and denials: Afghan President Hamid ...

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Event notice: Please join the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program TODAY at 12:15 pm for a conversation with Nelly Lahoud, the lead author of a recent report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point on the documents found in Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound last May (NAF).

Accusations and denials: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO officials ordered an investigation into the reported killing of eight civilians — six children and both of their parents — in a NATO airstrike in Paktia Province on Saturday evening (NYTGuardian, ReutersTelMcClatchyLATAP). A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that ISAF and Afghan troops came under fire during a joint operation in Paktia Province, and then asked for and received close air support. Another NATO official said on condition of anonymity on Monday that NATO had not yet found evidence of civilian casualties during the operation (AP).

Four NATO service members were killed in roadside bombings on Saturday (AP). Two other NATO service members were killed in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, and one died in an insurgent attack in the south (AP). The Times’ Graham Bowley on Monday profiled Capt. Rachel Odom, who provides sore and injured U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan with much-needed physical therapy (NYT). A record proportion of American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans — are filing for disability benefits, likely due to a combination of factors including the sluggish economy, a greater number of soldiers surviving wounds, and more awareness of the impact of concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder (AP). President Barack Obama honored fallen veterans on Memorial Day on Monday with a speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall (ABCReuters).  

The Post’s Kevin Sieff reported from Afghanistan on Saturday about the danger to civilians posed by the unexploded ordinance that litters the U.S. firing range at Bagram Airfield (Post). The U.S. military reportedly decided that constructing a fence around the area would be too expensive, and children who take animals out to graze, play with friends, or collect shrapnel there are now sometimes killed or wounded by the live grenades. The Afghan parliament on Saturday approved a strategic partnership agreement with the United States, passing the measure along to the Afghan Senate, which is also expected to approve it (AP)

NATO and Afghan officials continue to struggle to contain poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, and the blight that has struck this year’s harvest is only likely to push prices higher and encourage farmers to plant more next season (NYT). Much of the progress made by NATO troops in getting Afghan farmers to harvest other crops such as wheat is in danger, as the incentives to switch crops may disappear as international troops leave over the next two years. NATO said Tuesday that ISAF troops had killed Sakhr al-Taifi, the man believed to be al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Afghanistan (AFPAPReuters). And Bamiyan Province Police Chief Juma Guldi Yardem told Reuters on Tuesday that the Taliban has stepped up attacks in Bamiyan, which has long been one of Afghanistan’s safest provinces (Reuters).

Strikes continue

A U.S. drone strike on persons inside a bakery in Miran Shah, North Waziristan killed four suspected militants on Saturday (AP). Another drone attack on Monday morning targeted a militant compound near Miran Shah, killing at least five suspected fighters, and a third strike on Monday evening killed four suspected militants in a vehicle in Datta Khel (AFPBBC,ET). The Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane on Tuesday published a must-read on President Obama’s decision to take on the responsibility of personally studying each high-level terrorist he may be asked to designate as a target for U.S. kill or capture missions (NYT). Pakistani security forces in Upper Orakzai Agency killed at least four militants on Sunday (ETDawn). Police in the northwestern district of Kohistan on Tuesday arrested the cleric responsible for sentencing four women and two men to death for singing and dancing together at a wedding party (ETAFP).

Unidentified gunmen killed at least three people and injured six others — all of whom were Shi’a Muslims — travelling in Pakistan’s northwestern Kurram Agency on Monday, in an apparent sectarian attack (ET). A roadside bomb struck a bus carrying Shi’a Muslim pilgrims from Pakistan near Falluja, Iraq on Sunday, wounding 24 passengers (CNNAFPAP). In the southwest province of Balochistan, a remote controlled bomb targeting a police van killed three pedestrians and wounded six others on Sunday (AFP, ET). On Tuesday, the Pakistani Army declared dead all of those buried in an avalanche on Siachen Glacier in April, having found the first three of 138 corpses over the weekend (AFPBBCTelThe News). Pakistan’s energy crisis continues to paralyze businesses and rile the public, leading many experts to believe that it may pose more of a threat to the country’s stability than militancy does (Post).

The family of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison last week for helping the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, dismissed his conviction as a sham on Monday, and promised to appeal the verdict (AP). Pakistan’s recently appointed intelligence chief Lt. Gen Zaheer ul-Islam is postponing his scheduled visit to the United States this week to meet with CIA Director David Petraeus due to the rift between U.S. and Pakistani officials over the jailing of Dr. Afridi (PostAFP). Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Dr. Afridi’s sentencing "disturbing" in an interview on Sunday (ABC). A 2002 Pakistani health department document reportedly assessed Dr. Afridi to be a heavy drinker, a womanizer, and obsessed with making easy money (Reuters). 

Both U.S. and Pakistani officials see little hope for quickly overcoming certain differences over counterterrorism operations in the region, and mending the severely strained diplomatic relationship between the two countries, particularly as administrations in both nations approach an election (NYT). Defense Secretary Panetta also said Sunday that the United States will not be price "gouged" by Pakistan, referring to the $5,000 per truck fee that Pakistan wants to charge NATO for shipping supplies to Afghanistan (AFP). Pakistan and India failed to sign a much-anticipated visa liberalization pact on Friday, reportedly because Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik refused to sign it after Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram declined his invitation to fly to Islamabad for the signing (WSJThe Hindu).

Fact or fiction?

NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Thursday interviewed Pakistani journalist and author Mohammed Hanif, who wrote a fictional novel exploring the conspiracy theories surrounding the death in 1988 of Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq (NPR). Hanif said after the release of his novel many Pakistani intelligence officials approached him to say, "Son, you’ve written a brilliant novel. Now tell me, who’s your source?"

 Jennifer Rowland

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