Event Notice: Talking to the Taliban: Hope over History? TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said on Sunday that 14 Afghan soldiers and 64 Taliban militants had been killed in battles and roadside bomb blasts over the previous 24 hours (AP, RFE/RL, ET). The most significant operation took place in Wardak Province, west of Kabul, where 16 Taliban militants were killed and a large cache of weapons was seized in a 24-hour mission that ended on Monday. Meanwhile, a prominent member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council was in critical condition on Sunday after the vehicle he was riding in hit a roadside bomb in nearby Ghazni Province, just south of Wardak.
A suicide bomber reportedly wearing a police uniform killed a dozen policemen who were sitting down to lunch in the central province of Oruzgan on Friday (NYT, Pajhwok). Hours earlier, another suicide bomber killed a border policeman and a civilian at the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan on the edge of Kandahar Province.
Major-General Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, the commander of Afghan troops in seven southeastern provinces said Sunday that insurgents are stepping up their activity in the areas he oversees, which make up the crucial, militant-ridden border with Pakistan (Reuters). Yaftali said the number of insurgents in his jurisdiction is up 15 percent from last year -- around 5,000 now - and many of them are Pakistanis and, supposedly, Chechens. Intense fighting continues in the northeastern province of Kunar, too, where militants use the harsh geography and proximity to Pakistan to their advantage (AP).
On Thursday, six Afghan children were killed in two separate bombing incidents, according to government officials (NYT, Post). In Helmand province, four girls aged 5 to 8 were killed when they left a wedding party to fetch buckets of water and one of them stepped on a hidden bomb. Two boys, aged 10 and 12, were killed in Paktika province when they also tripped a roadside bomb as they headed home from school. Also on Thursday, a top female police officer was shot and killed in Helmand Province (BBC). Lt. Islam Bibi was the commander of 32 female police officers, and was widely regarded as a role model for other women in the province.
Maj. Gen. Manan Farahi, the Afghan Defense Ministry's head of intelligence, confirmed on Sunday that Afghan officials had arrested and were questioning Zakaria Kandahari, an interpreter believed to be responsible for torturing and killing civilians in Maidan Wardak province while he worked for a U.S. Special Forces unit (NYT, Pajhwok, Post). Kandahari was sought in connection to the disappearances and deaths of more than a dozen Afghan civilians, and was arrested in Kandahar nearly six weeks ago by members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, the country's intelligence agency (NYT).
Local residents allege that he kidnapped villagers and executed detainees at the U.S. Special Forces base in Wardak, accusations that prompted President Hamid Karzai to expel U.S. troops from the area in March (Post). U.S. officials have rejected Afghan assertions that Kandahari is an American citizen, and have repeatedly said that he acted on his own.
On Wednesday, an Afghan appeals court overturned the convictions of three people on attempted murder charges for allegedly torturing a young woman because she refused to become a prostitute (NYT). The mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and father-in-law of Sahar Gul bought her and forced her to marry in 2011 when she was 13 or 14 years old, then locked her in their basement, burned her with hot wires, pulled out her fingernails, and twisted her skin with pliers for several months after she refused to consummate the marriage. Afghanistan's Supreme Court sent the case back to an appeals court because the accusations seemed to warrant assault charges, not attempted murder. The appeals court agreed, and the three convicts were ordered released.
Pakistani tribal leaders and intelligence officials said Sunday that two top insurgent commanders were among the 17 militants killed in U.S. drone strike last Tuesday (ET, Pajhwok). "I can tell you Mullah Akhtar Zadran of the Haqqani Network and senior al-Qaeda operative Abu Saif al-Jazeri were among the fatalities," one intelligence source reportedly said. Dawn reports that the Abbottabad Commission Report, an independent Pakistani investigation into how the U.S. government found Osama bin Laden, has uncovered numerous key details of the hunt (Dawn). The report says al-Qaeda operative Khalid bin Attash, who was arrested in Karachi in 2002, was the first to give up the name of bin Laden's courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the man who eventually led the U.S. to his employer's compound. It also says that between 2009 and November 2010, the U.S. provided Pakistani intelligence with four phone numbers to track, but did not say what they were looking for.
At least five people were killed and 50 were injured in Lahore on Saturday night when a bomb exploded in a busy street filled with restaurants (Dawn, ET, NYT). According to Zulfikar Hameed, the chief police investigator, the timer-controlled device was planted next to a freezer outside a restaurant and went off around 11 p.m., when the bazaar was most crowded. Lahore has been relatively peaceful in recent months in comparison to other Pakistani cities; no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
After a 2008 moratorium banning the death penalty in Pakistan expired on June 30, Omar Hamid Khan, an interior ministry spokesman, confirmed on Friday that the current government has no intention to extend it (Dawn, ET, Guardian, Reuters, RFEFL). According to Khan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government will now execute all death row prisoners, except those pardoned on humanitarian grounds, and Sharif will approve all executions. Up to 8,000 people are currently on death row in Pakistan, according to Amnesty International; the government puts the number of prisoners closer to 400.
Pakistan's government and the International Monetary Fund reached a provisional agreement on Thursday on a $5.3 billion bailout package that will focus on reducing the country's budget deficit and overhauling its energy sector (BBC, NYT). Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif frequently voiced his opposition to international financial assistance during his recent campaign, but his government had no choice but to accept Thursday's deal (Dawn, Reuters). Pakistan faces crippling energy shortages, a severe budget deficit, and dwindling foreign reserves, as well as continued payments on the billions of dollars received from the IMF in a similar bailout six years ago.
Crazy for football
Nick Pugliese, the only American - perhaps the only foreigner - in Afghanistan's professional soccer league, chronicles his experiences in a blog titled "Nick Plays Football in Kabul" (SI). A recent graduate from Williams College in Massachusetts, Pugliese moved to Kabul to work for a telecommunications firm but quit his desk job to earn $300 a month playing for the Ferozi Football Club. While he is slated to leave Kabul in November, Pugliese says he's using the experience to "explore the types of lives that young men are living in Kabul," noting that they are often different from the media's portrayals.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images