In a gunbattle in a village near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan's Paktika province, US troops apparently killed Raz Mohammed, described by a US commander as a "high-level Taliban."
Up to 50 worshippers are dead and twice as many wounded in a bomb blast at a shrine to the 19th century Sufi saint Pir Rakhel Shah at Gandhawa in Pakistan's conflicted province of Baluchistan March 19. The bomb went off as pilgrims at the shirne had lined up for a meal and were being served food. Although the shrine is at a Shi'ite mosque, it is revered by Sunnis as well, complicating a potential sectarian motive.
Condoleezza Rice's March 18 visit to Afghanistan ironically coincided with evident setbacks for the country's nascent democracy. President Hamid Karzai announced that parliamentary elections scheduled for May have been pushed back until September due to ongoing logistical chaos. The day before Rice's arrival a bomb blast in Kandahar (blamed on Taliban insurgents) killed five and injured over 30, all civilians. Children in a passing taxi were among the casualties. Another bomb in Kandahar that day shattered the windshield of a passing UN vehicle.
Two US soldiers have now been charged in the deaths of two Afghan prisoners who died in US custody in December 2002, after they were apparently chained to the ceiling before being savagely beaten at the Bagram Control Point, just north of Kabul. (NYT, March 12)
As previously noted here, a CIA contract agent charged in a similar case plans to cite Bush in his defense.
David Passaro, a CIA contract interrogator, is on trial in Raleigh, NC, for beating an Afghan prisoner who died the next day. The case has revealed several horror stories from the prison just north of Kabul—an abandoned warehouse code-named the "Sand Pit"—where nameless "ghost detainees" were brutalized and left to die of hypothermia in freezing cells. In his defense, Passaro says he will cite policy as articulated by administration officials up to and includding President Bush.
At least 22, including both rebels and government troops, are dead in fresh fighting with presumed Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. The bloodiest clash was in Helmand province, where troops were ambushed on night patrol. "Our mujahideen killed the soldiers in an ambush," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The BBC reported a glimmer of hope Jan. 27 from Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, where Taliban-inspired movements have won local political control over the semi-autonomous Tribal Areas. Two local kids, Tariq Hussain Bacha and Zeeshan Khan (respectively 12 and 11), have formed a musical duo and are defying the ruling mullahs' ban by performing in public. They initially played secret gigs in back rooms, but since their album Joora Guloona ("two flowers" in the Pashtun language) has become a success they have become bolder. Stocked at first by a few shops in Peshawar's famous Choor Bazar (Thieves Bazaar), copies started flying off the shelves and soon there were orders from the US, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
Guerillas of the Baluchistan Liberation Army threatened to blow up Pakistan's most important oil and gas facility at Dhodak, in the central province of Punjab. The statement, phoned into several newspapers Feb. 6 by a spokesman called Azad Baluch (an apparent nom de guerre meaning Free Baluchistan), was the first threat by the rebels to strike outside Baluchistan province. The previous day, rebels reportedly struck a gas pipeline at Mangrotha in Dera Ghazi Khan district, 90 kilometers west of the central Punjab city of Multan. Bombings of rail lines and other government targets are now taking place nearly every day in Baluchistan, the largest and poorest of Pakistan's four provinces. (AFP, Feb. 7)