The Afghan Taliban has rejected international pleas to halt attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, saying Tuesday that it will actually increase its attacks as the "reward of fighting is much higher in the holy month" (ET, Pajhwok). And in response to an Associated Press report that the militant organization had shuttered its political office in Doha, Qatar, three senior Taliban members told Reuters that they had not closed the office; instead they had simply suspended the peace talks and removed their flag from the building (Reuters).
At least 17 Afghan Kuchis, including four children, were killed in Herat province on Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded under the motorized rickshaw they were travelling in (AP, BBC, Pajhwok, Reuters). According to local police officials, the bomb was intended to stop a joint patrol of Afghan soldiers and police that was pursuing a group of militants in the area, but struck the cart instead. While Afghan officials say the bomb was planted by Taliban insurgents, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
One Slovakian soldier was killed and three U.S. troops were wounded on Tuesday when an Afghan National Army member opened fire from a guard tower at Kandahar Airfield (AP, Pajhwok). The shooter has been arrested and is currently being investigated. The Slovak soldier is the ninth NATO service member to die in a so-called "green-on-blue" attack this year.
An article in the Washington Post on Tuesday highlighted mismanagement by the U.S. government - several multi-million dollar buildings that the U.S. will never use in Afghanistan (Post). One in particular is a 64,000-square-foot headquarters building that includes an operations center with tiered seating, a briefing theater, spacious offices, and powerful air-conditioning and was recently completed at a cost of $34 million. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said it is "the best constructed building I have seen in my travel," but that "it is unused, unoccupied, and presumably will never be used for its intended purpose." He noted that it is "an example of what is wrong with military construction" - that once a project is started, it is difficult to stop.
Reactions to Al Jazeera's release of the Abbottabad Commission report on Monday continued to dominate Pakistani headlines Wednesday as articles focused on the content of the report, the commission's recommendations, questions that were left unanswered, and the military's response to the report (Dawn, Dawn, Dawn, ET, ET, ET). The report roundly criticized Pakistan's civilian government, military apparatus, and local police force, and called for stronger democratic control over state institutions and increased civilian oversight of the country's security and intelligence agencies. It also said that dismantling the CIA network in the country and the terrorist infrastructure in the tribal regions must be national priorities.
The Pakistani Taliban announced on Tuesday that they had sacked their spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, for making comments that angered the group's Afghan allies (Reuters). In particular, Ehsan's comment that U.S.-Afghan Taliban peace talks in Doha would have no affect on the Pakistani group, as the movements are "totally different," led to his ouster, according to one Taliban commander. Ehsan was replaced by Sheik Maqbool, who has spent much of the last six years in Afghanistan and is considered to have close ties to the Afghan Taliban. Bonus read: "The Militant Web," Christopher Anzalone (AfPak).
After years of insurgent occupation, an intensive counter-offensive by the army, and damaging floods, villagers in the Swat Valley are increasingly pressuring the Pakistani military to conduct peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban (Reuters). Local leaders elected in May say their constituents are tired of the violence and are inspired by U.S. efforts to promote peace talks with the group's Afghan counterpart. While the Taliban has shown an interest in talks, they doubt the civilian government has the authority to get the powerful Pakistani military to negotiate. For its part, the military says the militants, who have killed thousands of Pakistani soldiers, cannot be trusted.
One day after the start of Ramadan was delayed in Afghanistan, it was also delayed in Pakistan (Pajhwok, ET). In both cases, the beginning of the holiday was postponed when the moon could not be seen anywhere in the two countries. According to reports, Ramadan began in Afghanistan around 3:02 a.m. on Wednesday and will begin in Pakistan on Thursday.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
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