Afghanistan Theater

Taliban behead 17 for dancing

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)

US drone strike kills Haqqani network commander?

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)

Next: nuclear Taliban?

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.

China launches bid to undermine trans-Afghan pipeline project

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 ChinaTurkmenistan 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)

Putin: victory to NATO in Afghanistan!

Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 1 called upon NATO to remain in Afghanistan until it has prevailed over the jihadist insurgency. "It is regrettable that many participants in this operation are thinking about how to pull out of there," Putin said at a meeting with paratroopers in Ulyanovsk. "They took up this burden and should carry it to the end.. If there is no order in Afghanistan, it will not be calm on our southern borders. The current [Afghan] leadership will have difficulties keeping the situation under control. NATO member states are present there, and are performing this function. We need to help them [NATO]. We should not be fighting there again. Let them sit there and fight."

The true tragedy of Alex Cockburn's passing... that it happened before he was repudiated by the American left. Here is this icon of principled journalism (please note sarcasm, irony-challenged readers) cheering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the Village Voice, Jan. 21, 1980:

We all have to go one day, but pray God let it not be over Afghanistan. An unspeakable country filled with unspeakable people, sheepshaggers and smugglers... [I]f ever a country deserved rape it's Afghanistan. Nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets, and unspeakably cruel too... [Preserved for posterity in the book The Left at War by Michael Bérubé]

UN rights expert condemns recent killing of women in Pakistan, Afghanistan

UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo on July 18 urged the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to end violence against women and to initiate investigations into the recent killings of two women. Fareeda Afridi, a human rights defender in Pakistan [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], was recently shot dead by two men when she was walking to her office. The second case involved a public execution of a woman [22 years old and identified only as Najiba] accused of adultery in Afghanistan [at an unidentified location north of Kabul]. [The report also noted the slaying of Hanifa Safi, local head of the Ministry by a roadside bomb in Laghman province.] Manjoo stated that such violence against women amounts to "State crime when tolerated by public institutions and officials—when they are unable to prevent, protect and guarantee the lives of women, who have consequently experienced multiple forms of discrimination and violence throughout their lifetime."

US to retain control of detainees at Afghanistan prison

It was reported July 9 in the Times of London that the US will retain control of non-Afghan detainees at Parwan Detention Center at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, despite plans to transfer control of the facility to the Afghan government in two months. Under the terms of the agreement with Kabul, the Afghan government is to assume control of all prisons in the country, including the Bagram facility. The US, however, will retain control over about 50 non-Afghan detainees in a separate US-run section of the compound, with US officials claiming the agreement does not cover foreign nationals. The detainees apparently will be held without access to legal assistance or prospect of release. Such quarantining of prisoners and officials' attempts to distinguish between "prison" and "detention facility" have reportedly led many commentators and human rights activists to condemn the deal, questioning its legitimacy. The Bagram facility has widely become known as "the other Guantánamo" since its opening in 2009.

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