The South Asia Channel

NATO investigates Afghan drone strike after reports of civilian casualties

Drone investigation

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) launched an investigation Thursday into a recent drone strike in Kunar province that senior Afghan officials allege killed 11 civilians and three suspected insurgents (Reuters).  ISAF originally claimed that the strike, which occurred on September 7, had killed 10 militants and no civilians, but initiated an investigation due to the reports of civilian casualties.  Coalition spokeswoman Col. Jane Crichton stated: "The air strike targeted insurgents riding in a truck. There were no signs of civilians in the vicinity."  Shuja ul-Mulkh Jalala, the provincial governor, disputed this claim and said that four women, four children, two drivers, and a merchant were among the victims. 

The NATO investigation was announced the same day The Nation released data it has collected on civilian casualties occurring in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2012 (The Nation).  The data, pulled from coalition, media, and non-governmental organization reports, shows that been 2,848 and 6,481 civilians were killed by Afghan, NATO, and U.S. forces during that time. 

Three Afghan election commission employees, including one woman, were kidnapped in Faryab province on Thursday as they distributed voter registration cards in the remote area (RFE/RL).  The kidnappings came one day after another election official was killed in the city of Kunduz.  Nabi Jan Mallakhel, the provincial police chief, told reporters that the workers were abducted by unknown assailants, and that there have been no immediate claims of responsibility.

Senior Afghan government officials laid a wreath Friday on the grave of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of the country's High Peace Council, marking the two-year anniversary of his death (Pajhwok).  Rabbani was killed in September 2010 by a Taliban bomber in the district of Wazir Akbar Khan.  Afghanistan's first vice president, defense minister, and other important figures were among those who attended the service.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai hailed Rabbani's work at an event marking the anniversary, saying: "I'm constantly feeling the vacuum created by his martyrdom and wish he were alive today" (Pajhwok).  Karzai added that he believed the country had achieved Rabbani's goal of independence.

At a standstill

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the National Assembly on Thursday that the government's proposed peace talks with the Taliban had "come to a standstill" after Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi, the commander of troops in the Swat Valley, was killed by the militants on Sunday (Dawn).  Khan's statement came a little more than a week after representatives from the All Party Conference said they were open to talking to all of the militant groups operating in Pakistan, and after a number of prisoner releases that were meant to build confidence in the talks.  But everything seemed to stall on Sunday when the Taliban's Supreme Council released demands for a ceasefire, including the release of all of its imprisoned members and an army withdrawal from the country's tribal regions, that seemed unrealistic to some government leaders (Post). 

At least four people were killed in Pakistan on Thursday in three separate attacks in Peshawar, Karachi, and Quetta.  In Peshawar, unknown militants threw hand grenades at a group of Islamic clerics staying at a Sunni mosque in the village of Achini, killing three and wounding at least 15 others (ET, RFE/RL).  One person died and at least nine were wounded in Karachi in an attack on a Shi'ite mosque in the Landhi neighborhood.  And at least 10 people were injured in Quetta during a grenade attack targeting the Balochistan Constabulary, but no fatalities have been reported (ET).  As yet, no suspects have been arrested and no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps arrested 12 members of a local gang, which has been involved with burning and destroying NATO shipping containers, in the town of Hub on Thursday (AFP, ET).  According to Corps spokesman Abdul Wassey, the men confessed to attacking the vehicles and killing or wounding their drivers.  Hub lies about 400 miles southeast of Quetta, a major transit point for coalition shipments coming out of Afghanistan. 

Between 8 and 10 additional people were arrested by Pakistani police in Punjab province's Mana Ahmadi village on Thursday after making three men accused of serious crimes walk over hot coals in a "trial by fire" (AFP, Dawn).  To prove their innocence, the three men - two murder suspects and one alleged adulterer - were forced to walk a 24-foot-long strip of burning coals and were declared innocent by the local council after they emerged from the ordeal unscathed (Reuters).  Saeed Khan Leghari, a local police officer, told reporters that those arrested face charges of attempted murder and causing harm with fire.

Jurassic Park 

Islamabad's Marghazar Zoo has found an innovative solution to its inability to replace animals that have died, including its last remaining lion, which passed away last year.  The answer?  Giant fiberglass dinosaur models now fill the cages that used to hold the animals (BBC).  The reaction from the public has been mixed and there has been talk about the possible arrival of new animals, yet for now, the dinosaurs remain.

-- Bailey Cahall and David Sterman

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