Taliban district commander captured
by Katherine Tiedemann
Afghan and international forces reportedly captured the Taliban district commander for Naw Zad in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province last night, after a four hour gunfight in the northern part of the province (AP, ISAF). Some 30 Taliban fighters were also reportedly killed (AFP).
U.S. Marines have reportedly launched Operation Cobra in Helmand's Marjah, site of a coalition offensive earlier this year whose slow progress has worried many observers, to "drive insurgents sheltering in rural areas to the east and west of Marjah into even more sparsely inhabited areas" (FT). In Sangin, another area of Helmand, the Taliban are reportedly using children as young as five to plant roadside bombs; of the 44 IEDs in Sangin in the last few months, a fifth were carried out by kids, according to the Telegraph (Tel).
The Journal has today's must-read describing how new legislation in Afghanistan would put local village defense forces, which initially caused concern that the anti-Taliban militias could spin out of control, under the supervision of local police chiefs and ultimately, the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, which would issue weapons and wages (WSJ). Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to enact the legislation in the next few weeks.
Britain's defense secretary, Liam Fox, warned yesterday against a "premature" British withdrawal from Afghanistan, a few days after prime minister David Cameron said he wanted to bring British forces home by 2015 (Times, Guardian, McClatchy). Speaking at a conservative think tank in Washington, Fox said an early withdrawal would be "a shot in the arm to jihadists everywhere;" Downing Street insisted it had approved his speech beforehand and denied any policy disagreements between the defense secretary and the prime minister.
The NYT considers the futures of the top U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, Amb. Richard Holbrooke and Amb. Karl Eikenberry, and their relationships with incoming Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus, who was confirmed 99-0 yesterday by the Senate and is en route to Kabul now (NYT, AJE, AFP, Reuters, Pajhwok). At a stop at NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier today, Gen. Petraeus said that while he has no plans to changes current rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which limit the use of force to prevent civilian casualties, he would look into the application of the rules and protect the Afghan population (BBC).
As U.S. attorney general Eric Holder met yesterday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other top Afghan officials to discuss anti-corruption and narcotics investigations, Karzai and his finance minister Omar Zakhilwal pushed back against allegations of government corruption, saying the international community is responsible for some of the pervasive graft in the country (Wash Post, AP).
Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, estimated yesterday that there are "more than 300" al-Qaeda leaders and fighters in Pakistan, a rare public assessment that, when taken with last week's assertion by CIA director Leon Panetta that there are "50 to 100" al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, suggests fewer than 500 total in the border region (NYT). Leiter told an audience in Colorado that while al-Qaeda is "weaker today than it has been at any time since 2001...weaker does not mean harmless."
The Post's big story today is that Afghanistan has agreed to send between "a handful and a few dozen" military officers to Pakistan to receive training, a move which has "enormous symbolic importance" as the first visible result of talks between the Afghan government and the Pakistani military and intelligence (Wash Post). More than 300 Afghan soldiers are currently already being trained in other countries, including Turkey and India.
A Taliban spokesman has reiterated the movement's unwillingness to enter into talks with "anyone -- not to Karzai, nor to any foreigners" unless international forces withdraw from Afghanistan (BBC).
Pakistan's military has declared the northwestern tribal agency of South Waziristan, site of a major anti-Taliban offensive last fall, cleared of militant hideouts, and stated that infrastructure development and refugee resettlement is underway (ET, Dawn). Pakistan has proposed a law that, if approved by the National Assembly, would ban live media coverage of militant attacks as well as "anything defamatory against the organs of the state" (Reuters). Offenders could be fined up to 10 million rupees or sentenced to three years in jail.
The AP profiles the emergence of a new militant group in Pakistan called the Ghazi Force, made up of relatives of those killed in 2007's Red Mosque incident and reportedly responsible for several attacks previously attributed to the Taliban (AP). The leader of the group, which is reportedly headquartered in Orakzai agency, is believed to be Maulana Niaz Raheem, and there are close ties between the Ghazi Force and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Journalism job opportunity
Al-Qaeda has launched its first online English-language magazine this week, called "Inspire," run by the group's Yemen affiliate (AP, CNN, Fox, Atlantic). Yesterday's debut did not go smoothly, however; only the first three of the publication's 67 pages were viewable, while the rest appeared as computer gibberish, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a jihadist website monitoring service.AfPak Channel