2 Americans Killed in Afghanistan; Pakistani Army advances on Mingora, Peochar

A roadside bomb hit a US convoy 35 miles outside Kabul, killing one American soldier and one civilian, on Wednesday morning.

Aljazeera English reports on the arrival of further US troops in Afghanistan:

Meanwhile, the State Department foreign service officers are behind the scenes seething at the possibility that Neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad may attempt to insert himself, unelected, into Afghanistan politics.

On the other AfPak front, the Pakistani army continued its advance on the city of Mingora, at 200,000 the largest in Swat District, on Wednesday morning, according to the newspaper Jang and Geo TV. The operation is in its sixth day, and has cut the local population off from most services, as well as resulting in large-scale displacements. The News reports:

‘The military said there were fierce clashes in the Taliban-held town of Matta, as well as in Kanju, which is a short distance from Mingora, with four soldiers and 14 insurgents killed in the two towns. In the last 24 hours, 16 militants were also killed, the army said. Footage broadcast on a private TV channel showed armed soldiers standing outside locked shops in Matta, a bastion of the Swat Taliban. “Troops continue to close in on Mingora, from where the Taliban are trying to escape but our strategy is not to let them flee,î a security official said.’

Dozens of persons have been killed in the fighting, including militants and Pakistani troops.

In other words, the Pakistani military appears to be attempting to avoid a Tora Bora-type scenario where the Taliban slip out the back door in the face of a frontal assault. Its ultimate goal is to close in on the obscure town of Peochar or Peuchar, the HQ of Pakistan Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah. See Shaun Appleby at MyDD for analysis and map of the operation. H/t The Agonist

The Pakistani president claimed that his forces had taken Maidan and Matta, though other sources talk about ongoing fighting in those areas.

The desperate Taliban are conducting forced marriages with local families, presumably to bind them politically to the movement and raise operatives’ morale. They are also said to be forcibly inducting local young men into their forces. It is hard to gauge the accuracy of these charges, since some may emanate from families that had shifted to the Taliban but now are afraid of the central government reasserting itself.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged $110 mn for the 1.5 million Pakistani refugees created by the current military campaign. The I.D.P. crisis is among the biggest since the 2006-7 exodus of Iraqis in the Sunni-Shiite civil war there, which was on a similar scale. Whether such massive displacement calms things or makes for more radicalism is yet to be seen. Part of the answer lies in whether the Pakistani government can and will actually assert itself and provide needed services in Swat after the campaign ends. Pakistan, like many third world countries, does not collect much money in income taxes. As a result, it is inadequate in providing services and security, since the state is poor, and tends to try to extract strategic rent from the international community to strengthen its security forces against outside threats. (Strategic rent would include the $10 bn the US gave the military dicatatorship in the past 8 years.)

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