In the wake of Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says trying to talk peace with the Taliban is futile, that the real power behind the insurgents is Pakistan, and that Afghanistan's best option is to negotiate with Islamabad. Hundreds of Rabbani's supporters marched in Kabul on Sept. 25 to protest his killing, chanting "Death to Pakistan, death to the Taliban!" They demanded the government scrap plans to hold dialogue with the insurgents. Preliminary investigations into Rabbani's killing, presented to Karzai by his intelligence chiefs that day, said the attack was plotted outside Afghanistan and named the Taliban’s Pakistan-based Quetta Shura as key suspects.
A soldier with the US Army was sentenced on Sept. 23 for his role in murdering an unarmed teenage Afghan civilian. Pvt. Andrew Holmes was sentenced to seven years in prison as part of a plea deal that he agreed to the day before. Holmes pleaded guilty to shooting the civilian, but pleaded not guilty to previous charges of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Holmes also pleaded guilty to one count each of possessing a finger bone of the victim and using marijuana. As part of the deal, Holmes will receive 499 days of time served and will be dishonorably discharged from the Army. Holmes is the third soldier to strike a plea deal of the five charged with murder as part of a plot contrived with fellow soldiers to kill Afghan civilians, which took place between January and May of last year in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Holmes has alleged that his co-defendant, Spc. Jeremy Morlock, ordered soldiers to fire at villagers. Morlock pleaded guilty n March to three counts of murder, as well as one count each of assault, conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison.
Gunmen in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan attacked a bus carrying Shi'ite pilgrims to Iran on Sept. 20, killing at least 25. The driver of the bus told police that some 10 assailants ordered the pilgrims off the bus and then opened fire on them. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an extremist Sunni group believed to be responsible for previous attacks on Shi'ites in Baluchistan, claimed responsibility. The Shi'ites of Baluchistan are mostly members of the Hazara ethnic minority (which was the target of a campaign of genocide by the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1990s).
It is nonetheless sickening for being de rigueur to hear Barack Obama mourning the death of the war criminal Burhanuddin Rabbani as a "tragic loss." Rabbani had recently been appointed to lead a "High Peace Council" to start negotiations with the Taliban. He was killed at his home in Kabul by a visitor with explosives hidden in his turban. President Hamid Karzai, at the start of talks with Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, said Rabbani's death "will not deter us" from continuing the quest for peace. (Reuters, LAT, Sept. 20) Rabbani ruled Afghanistan from 1992 until the Taliban take-over of '96, and then led the Northern Alliance insurgency. He has been perceived as the real power behind President Karzai. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) decried Rabbani as leader of the "Northern Alliance mafia" made up of "millionaire rapists busy in the opium trade under the very nose of the US troops."
Pakistan's military announced Sept. 6 the arrest of senior al-Qaeda leader Younis al-Mauritani along with two other top operatives, Abdul Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami. Younis al-Mauritani is said to be head of al-Qaeda’s international operations, charged with planning and preparing attacks on the US, Europe and Australia. The arrests, in the city of Quetta, have been hailed as the fruit of cooperation between Pakistan's ISI and the CIA—despite recent friction between Islamabad and Washington over drone strikes. "I think it’s a tribute to the Pakistanis who worked with us in this effort," CIA director Leon Panetta told reporters on a visit to New York City to commemorate the 9-11 attacks. Asked whether the US would seek access to al-Mauritani, who is in Pakistani custody, Panetta said: "I assume that we will work with the Pakistanis to try to obtain access and try to gather intelligence from that individual." (Daily Times, Pakistan, AFP, Sept. 7; Reuters, Sept. 6)
Some 300 militants crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan's territory and stormed seven security checkpoints along the Durand Line Aug. 27. There were conflicting reports about the casualties suffered by Pakistani security personnel in the coordinated attacks by apparent Taliban militants. Pakistan's military put the figure at 25, while the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Malakand division, which claimed responsibility for the attack, claimed killing 80 troops and capturing another six. Islamabad said 16 of the dead belonged to the Chitral Scouts, a wing of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. (The News, Pakistan, Aug. 28)
A new report from a team of British and Pakistani journalists released by the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds one US drone strike occurs every four days in Pakistan, and that the attacks have killed as many as 775 civilians, including 168 children, since 2004. The report also challenges a recent claim by President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that no civilians have been killed in the drone attacks for nearly a year. According to the Bureau’s researchers, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 drone attacks during the last year.
A woman and seven young children were killed in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province when a NATO patrol called in an airstrike against insurgents firing on them from a mud compound, local Afghan officials said Aug. 6. Habibullah Shamlani, the governor of Nad-Ali district, said the foot patrol came under fire from the compound the previous day. One soldier was killed, and an Afghan interpreter was wounded. The home belonged to Mullah Abdul Hadi, a local imam who Afghan officials say was assisting the Taliban. He was killed along with one of his two wives and his seven children, all younger than seven years old, Shamlani said. "People from the area said the imam was involved in making IEDs," or improvised explosive devices, Shamlani said. "We found three hand grenades in his house." NATO would not confirm whether any civilians were killed, but did say in a statement that "shortly following the engagement, coalition forces received reports that civilians were being held captive by the insurgents and may have been present during the airstrike." (NYT, Aug. 6)