Strike and strife
A Pakistani provincial politician was among a handful of people wounded earlier this morning when a remote-controlled roadside bomb detonated near his home in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar, which has suffered a spate of attacks in recent months as the Pakistani military battles Islamist militants (AFP, AP, BBC, CNN, Reuters, Dawn). The secular, ruling Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party politician, Orangzeb Khan, saw his brother killed in a similar bombing last year.
Matthew Rosenberg has today’s must-read, a lengthy profile of Afghan militant commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was involved in the suicide attack on a CIA base on Khost on Dec. 30, 2009 that left seven Agency operatives and contractors dead and who has a long history of fighting Western forces in Afghanistan, including this week’s assault on Kabul (WSJ). Although he pledges allegiance to the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, Haqqani operates relatively independently and has close ties to al Qaeda and nearly every major Taliban faction. And Al Jazeera has a brief snippet of an exclusive interview with Haqqani (AJE).
Bibles and guns
Shortened citations referencing passages in the New Testament are inscribed on gunsights widely issued to U.S. Special Forces and other troops deployed to Afghanistan, including British soldiers, by a Michigan defense contracting company founded by a “devout Christian” (AP, Daily Tel, BBC, ABC, ABC). While a spokesperson for the Marine Corps said the Corps is “concerned” with how the Bible verses could be perceived in Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, a spokesperson for CENTCOM said the “perfect parallel” is with U.S. money — which has “In God We Trust” written on it, observing “we haven’t moved away from that.”
An Afghan government panel just announced a force size goal of 400,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen within five years, up from the current 191,000, bringing it in line with similar goals announced by the United States (AP). The eastern Afghan province of Paktia, which will soon see an influx of officials from a variety of U.S. government agencies, is a preview of the Obama administration’s strategy for Afghanistan, but civilian aid workers in Afghanistan, like their military counterparts, are reportedly frustrated by a lack of trained Afghan partners (McClatchy, Wash Post).
Some 10,000 U.S. Marines are being positioned for an assault on the strategically important town of Marjah, in the southern Afghan province of Helmand (AFP). And Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles have helped lower the percentage of troops killed by IEDs in Afghanistan, as the figure for U.S. soldiers fell from 50 percent to 40 percent between 2008 and 2009, as more MRAPs went into use in the country (McClatchy).
Alissa Rubin has a fascinating follow-on piece to the attacks in Kabul earlier this week in which seven insurgents were able to paralyze the Afghan capital for hours, finding that those interviewed believe the Afghan government is too weak to prevent such assaults, while others speculated that the United States had organized it in order to justify a prolonged stay in the country (NYT). Afghans also wondered why the attackers didn’t kill more civilians, which Afghan intelligence officials attributed “more to chance than intent.” Pamela Constable and Keith Richburg observe that Monday’s “battle seemed to leave residents more shaken than previous attacks” (Wash Post).
The International Republican Institute yesterday released November 2009 opinion polling in Afghanistan, finding that 56 percent of Afghans believe the country is heading in the right direction, down from 62 percent in July but up from only 30 percent in May (IRI (PDF)-pdf). 80 percent of those surveyed believe Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s performance is very good, good, or fair.
The day in court
A 37-year-old U.S.-trained Pakistani neuroscientist who is accused of shooting at her U.S. interrogators while in custody in Afghanistan in July 2008 was thrown out of a New York courtroom yesterday after shouting several outbursts denouncing the start of her trial (AFP, Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, WSJ, AFP, Reuters, Dawn). Although Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was allegedly carrying notes referencing “dirty bombs,” “cells,” and a “mass casualty attack” when she was arrested, her trial is focusing on the attempted murder and not terrorism charges.
Unions on strike?
Hundreds of workers for two coal companies in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan have gone on strike, alleging non-payment of their salaries for the past several months (Pajhwok). The director of one of the companies confirmed the men have not been paid, blaming a “lack of market” for coal in Afghanistan.