The apparent killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a US drone strike May 22 actually took place in Pakistan—and without the consent of Islamabad, which has demanded a "clarification" from Washington in the hit. It was also the first US drone strike in Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan, rather than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where they have mostly been concentrated. The US has flown drones out of a base in Baluchistan, but never actually carried out any strikes there until now. The FATA is seen by Islamabad as something of a special case due to al-Qaeda's presence there, and the US has been given a free hand in the Tribal Areas. The insurgency in Baluchistan, in contrast, is seen strictly as Pakistan's internal war—despite the fact that the Afghan Taliban had evidently established it as their new staging area, with FATA getting too hot. This Taliban consolidation in Baluchistan was presumably permitted (if not actually overseen) by the Pakistani state. The strike on Mansour was apparently carried out from Afghan territory, and by the Pentagon rather than the CIA. And there are other ways in which the strike seems to indicate a break between Washington and Islamabad...
About 1,000 Afghans have fled their homes due to fighting each day since the beginning of the year, and aid workers can't reach many of them, the UN says. Internal displacement due to conflict rose 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, and this year could see another increase. About 118,000 people fled their homes in the first four months of 2016, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in a report May 15 (PDF). "It's been a rather alarming rise in the number of families displaced," Stacey Winston, an OCHA spokeswoman in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told IRIN.
US Central Command released its final report April 29 on the October air-strike that hit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, finding that the strike was not a war crime. The investigation concluded that the gunship's ground crew and operators were not aware they were firing on a medical facility. Because there was no intent to fire upon a medical facility, there was no war crime, the report concluded. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressed his condolences in remarks and sent a memorandum (PDF) directing specific actions to prevent future incidents. Sixteen individuals are reportedly facing discipline for their roles in the attack. MSF said it will review the report and reiterated calls for an independent investigation.
John F. Sopko, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, gave a sobering assessment last week of the situation in the country 15 years after the fall of the Taliban. Corruption is endemic and security practically non-existent. More than 700 schools have been closed in recent months due to the ongoing insurgency. And despite at least $7 billion in counter-narcotics spending, opium production hit 3,300 tons in 2015—exactly the same level it was in 2001 when the US invaded. "Fifteen years into an unfinished work of funding and fighting, we must indeed ask, 'What went wrong?'" Sopko said in an address at at Harvard University on April 7, CNN reported.
The Independent on April 12 runs a piece by one Malik Jalal, a community leader from Pakistan's tribal areas, who traveled to the UK to speak out, claiming he has been placed on the US drone "Kill List" for his efforts to broker peace with the Taliban. He writes: " I don't want to end up a 'Bugsplat'—the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. More importantly, I don't want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized. I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead."
A suicide assault team from a faction of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan) launched an attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Jan. 20, killing more than 20 students and faculty before security forces intervened to end the siege. Four jihadists dressed in military uniforms and armed with AK-47 rifles and suicide vests opened fire indiscriminately, but were killed before they could detonate their vests. The attack came as students were gathered for a poetry recital in honor of the independence hero for whom the school is named, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan or "Bacha Khan" by his popular honorific, also known as the "Frontier Gandhi"—an advocate of non-violence and opponent of India's partition. The school was likely targeted to oppose his legacy, as well as because it is co-educational.
As the new year opened, the Taliban pushed deeper into Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province, with the Afghan army struggling to retake territory newly won by the insurgents. Kabul has sent reinforcements, but as AP reported Dec. 29, police are refusing to return to the streets even of those areas the army has supposedly secured. According to Karim Atal, director of the Helmand provincial council, security forces are for now staying inside their base in Sangin district. And this isn't just another district in Afghanistan's rugged hinterlands. Sangin is a key opium-producing district in Helmand—itself both the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and Afghan poppy cultivation. It is also straegically localted on a corridor connecting Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to the province's northern districts. So, as the BBC News states: "Regaining full control of Sangin would increase the Taliban's mobility in the north of the province and cut a key supply line for Afghan forces with Lashkar Gah. Sangin is also a rich opium production centre—meaning potential tax revenue for the Taliban from the drugs trade."
Pakistan's Anti-Narcotic Force (ANF) on Nov. 20 announced the latest in a string of mega-scale hashish busts in recent months. A 4.2-ton haul was reported from a "desolate site" near the mountain village of Tehsil Gulistan, in Qilla Abdullah district of Balochistan province. Authorities said the mega-stash had been deposited along with a smaller quantity of heroin in a hidden spot behind bushes for traffickers to collect for export. (Pakistan Today)