30 dead as fighting in Helmand comes to an end
Site Launch: See the New America Foundation’s updated drone site here. Event Notice: What’s next for Pakistan’s new government? TOMORROW, May 23, 2013; 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF). Winding down A two-day battle in the Sangin district of Helmand appeared to be ending Tuesday night with Afghan forces saying as many as 26 Taliban insurgents and four policemen were ...
Site Launch: See the New America Foundation’s updated drone site here.
Event Notice: What’s next for Pakistan’s new government? TOMORROW, May 23, 2013; 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
A two-day battle in the Sangin district of Helmand appeared to be ending Tuesday night with Afghan forces saying as many as 26 Taliban insurgents and four policemen were dead (Pajhwok, WSJ). The governor’s spokesman claimed hundreds of Taliban fighters launched coordinated attacks on police posts in the district and that they had no help from coalition forces. Spokesmen for the NATO contingent were more circumspect, saying the Taliban force totaled between 80 and 100 fighters, that the attacks were no more than "drive-by shootings," and that U.S. Marines in the area would have joined the fighting had the Taliban presented a significant threat to Afghan forces (NYT).
In separate incidents on Tuesday, at least eight insurgents and one civilian were killed in Helmand and Ghazni provinces (Pajhwok). One civilian was killed and three others were wounded in a roadside bombing in Helmand, while in Ghazni, eight insurgents were killed and four were wounded during an operation by Afghan forces. The Taliban gave a different account of the Ghazni attack, saying it was 11 policemen who died and four civilians who were injured.
Five other civilians were injured in Ghazni on Wednesday when a suicide bomber on a bicycle tried to detonate his explosives near a police vehicle but crashed into a rickshaw instead (Pahjwok). The bomber was killed and the five civilians on the rickshaw were wounded, two critically. A day earlier, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement that while it is concerned about suicide attacks, they do not represent any strategic threat to the transition process or the 2014 elections (Pajhwok). Instead, they represent the last option for groups trying to make their presence felt.
Evidence of that transition came Tuesday evening as the first military convoy carrying coalition equipment out of Afghanistan arrived in Quetta, Pakistan (Dawn). About 50 trucks and armored vehicles reached the Balochistan capital amid tight security measures, and will head to Port Qasim in Karachi on Wednesday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai made clear on Wednesday that there is "no circumstance that will allow [him] to stay as president," and he will not make any attempt to run in the April 2014 elections (NYT). Karzai gave two reasons: "One is, I’m exhausted. Really, totally exhausted and I would like to be retired. And second, why would I ruin my legacy by staying on and taking an opportunity away from Afghanistan to become an institutionalized democracy?"
And finally, the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg reports on the evolution of the militant group Hezb-i-Islami (HIG), which was a powerful fighting force at the beginning of the war, but has since come to rely more on its political wing to wield influence (NYT). While some analysts say HIG is morphing into a primarily political group, others believe it has no intention of giving up militancy, and is using an increasingly popular anti-Western political party to shore up its waning military strength.
Decline of the drones
Ahead of President Obama’s long-awaited address on drones at Washington’s National Defense University on Thursday, the New York Times reports that drone strikes in Pakistan have fallen sharply since their peak in 2010, perhaps in response to increasing scrutiny of the program from Congress and the American public (NYT). The pace of strikes in Yemen has also slowed and there’s been no report of a strike in Somalia for over a year. Many expect Obama’s speech will be his most ambitious attempt to define his justification for the strikes and what they’ve achieved.
The British Foreign Office also revealed that it had conducted opinion polls on the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan and that the proportion of respondents in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas who believed the strikes were "never justified" had risen to 63 percent in 2011, from 59 percent in 2010 (ET). And in Brussels, the International Crisis Group released a report on Tuesday stating the CIA campaign may disrupt militant attacks, but it cannot destroy insurgent networks (RFEFL).
China’s premier, Li Keqiang, arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday for a two-day visit, his first to the country since becoming premier in March (Dawn, ET). The two countries are expected to sign agreements relating to energy, technology, and space, though increased trade is something else Pakistan is interested in. A lunch held in Keqiang’s honor was attended by Pakistan prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif, who sees China as an important partner in turning around Pakistan’s economy.
Two months after being kidnapped by gunmen in Quetta, former Balochistan Advocate General Salahuddin Mengal returned home Tuesday night (Dawn, ET). It was unclear, however, whether his recovery was the result of paying a ransom to the kidnappers or a law enforcement operation to secure his release.
Free at last
After much anticipation, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan left the hospital Wednesday, two weeks after sustaining a fall that broke several vertebrae and ribs (Dawn, ET). The cricketer-turned-politician who electrified
much of the Pakistani electorate was seen walking gingerly but unaided from his hospital room on the third floor to the exit. He is expected to return to a fully functional capacity in six to eight weeks.
— Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
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