A Sept. 30 checkpoint shooting in eastern Afghanistan's Wardak province brought the US military's death toll in the war past 2,000, by official count. A report by the Brookings Institution (PDF) estimates that 40.2% of US deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices and 30.3% by gun attacks. The independent organization iCasualties estimates a higher US death toll, recording 2,125 to date. This same source reports 1,066 deaths of non-US coalition troops in Afghanistan. (BBC News, Sept. 30) Note that the US military death toll reached 1,000 in 2010—a grim indication of how the rate of US casualties is growing. The death toll for Afghan civilians last year alone topped 3,000—lives claimed by both insurgent and coalition forces. Afghan civilian death (at that point mostly at the hands of US bombardment) topped 3,000 by the end of 2001. The figure, poetically, is the same as the death toll from 9-11.
Well, exactly what we feared is happening. Protests against the stupid Islamophobic "film" spread to Afghanistan Sept. 16, with hundreds of students from Kabul University marching, blocking roads and chanting "death to America!" There was no violence, but protesters in Herat burned a US flag and pictures of Barack Obama. (AFP, Sept. 16) Meanwhile, the Taliban launched an audacious attack on a British base, Camp Bastion in Helmand province, killing two US Marines there—and astutely claimed they were doing it in retaliation for the stupid "film." "The aim of this attack was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf said. (Radio Australia, Sept. 16; VOA, Sept. 15)
On Sept. 11, just one day after the prison at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul was officially handed over the Afghan forces, the air base came under insurgent fire, destroying a NATO Chinook CH-47 transport helicopter. Days earlier, four teen-age youths riding skateboards in Kabul were among six killed in a suicide bombing in central Kabul. The attack may have targeted the nearby NATO headquarters, but the youths were part of a nonprofit program that runs a skateboard school for Kabul kids, called Skateistan. (LAT, Sept. 12; NYT, CSM, Sept. 11; CBS, Sept. 10)
Government officials from both the US and Afghanistan have said that the US military will maintain control over foreign detainees at Bagram Air Base for the indefinite future, and will also continue holding and screening newly captured Afghans. According to the New York Times, the US commitment to the control and maintenance of dozens of foreign prisoners comes despite preparing to hand over its detention operations to the Afghan government on Sept. 9, as agreed to in a pact in March in the prelude to the countries' Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement (text, PDF). Given that the March pact covered only the 3,100 Afghan detainees at the time of its enactment, there has been relative uncertainty as to the fate of the additional 600 detainees added to Bagram since the signing. While concerns of arbitrary detentions have been raised by the Afghan government, namely that the agreement's no-trial detention system is contrary to Afghanistan's constitution (text, PDF), William Lietzau, the Pentagon's top detainee policy official, maintains that the system is lawful as long as the war continues. The Afghan government has refused to ratify the Bagram agreement.
Presumed Taliban militants attacked a family gathering where men and women were dancing together at a village in Musa Qala district of Afghanistan's Helmand province Aug. 26, beheading 17, including two women. "The victims threw a late-night dance and music party when the Taliban attacked," said district governor Nimatullah, who only goes by one name. The bodies were found in the morning by authorities. (Khaama, AP, Reuters, AFP, Aug. 27)
Afghanistan's intelligence agency said Aug. 26 that the operational commander of the Haqqani network, held responsible for audacious on Kabul, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. "We confirm that Badruddin Haqqani, who was the mastermind of almost all sophisticated attacks in Kabul, was killed in a drone strike," National Directorate of Security spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP. "Our information is based on interception of the conversation of the guys [Haqqani members] on the ground who confirmed he was dead," Mashal said. The death of Badruddin, the son of network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, has been rumoured for days despite denials from the closely allied Taliban, whose spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP: "This is propaganda of the enemy. Badruddin is alive and he will soon talk to the media. He is inside Afghanistan and busy with operations." In Pakistan, senior Haqqani network commander Maulvi Ahmed Jan also denied Badruddin had been killed. He told Reuters that a distant relative, aged 13, was killed in the strike and his funeral had been mistaken by locals for Badruddin's. (AFP, Aug. 26; Reuters, Aug. 25)
What great timing. On Aug. 16, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about a new report from the Congressional Research Service entitled "Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues" (online as a PDF at the Federation of American Scientists). Panetta said: "The great danger we've always feared is that if terrorism is not controlled in their country then those nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands." That same day, militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attacked Minhas Air Force Base near Kamra, outside Islamabad—a site where aviation research takes place, and is believed to be closely linked to Pakistan's nuclear program. Nine attackers and one guard were killed, a senior officer injured, and a surveillance plane damaged. It was the fourth and most audacious attack on the base. Pakistan Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for the death of leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in 2009, and the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Regional security has been seen as the biggest challenge for the planned trans-Afghan gas pipeline—officially the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project, which would pass the war-torn Afghan provinces of Herat and Kandahar as well as Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province. But recent reports of a rival pipeline project being negotiated between China, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan may pose a more fundamental threat to the TAPI. On June 6-8, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperations Organization summit in Beijing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) head Jiang Jiemin to discuss the proposal. CNPC offered to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study for the proposed project on Afghan and Tajik territories. That the route would avoid the conflicted Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan, making the project more attractive for investors. India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses says the Chinese pipeline could undermine the TAPI "akin to the manner in which TAPI played spoiler to the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." (IDSA, July 31)