Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai conceded this morning that the results from the U.N.-backed panel that was investigating claims of fraud from the troubled August 20 presidential contest did in fact drop him below the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff against second place candidate Abdullah Abdullah (Reuters, McClatchy, AFP, Times of London, Guardian, Al Jazeera). The runoff is reportedly set for November 7 (CNN, BBC).
The fraud investigation reportedly dropped Karzai's share of the vote from 54 percent to 48.3 percent, and Obama administration officials and their European allies apparently put a full court press on Karzai to accept the results of the fraud audit (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times). Karzai had previously said he won the first round outright.
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, the constitutional body tasked with overseeing polls and widely believed to be stacked with Karzai supporters, called for the runoff a day after the Electoral Complaints Commission released the results of its fraud investigation, showing some 1.3 million invalidated ballots or about a quarter of all votes cast (AP, BBC, Foreign Policy, Pajhwok, AFP). Several senior Afghan officials reportedly said that Karzai authorized emergency preparations for the second round of voting, in which Abdullah has indicated he would participate (Washington Post, Times of London, CNN).
Talking and talking and talking
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday that the U.S. will not wait for the outcome of the Afghan election and the emergence of a government in Kabul because "We have operations under way and we will continue to conduct those operations," a striking contrast to chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's comments over the weekend that a decision about troops must wait for a "credible" partner in Kabul (New York Times, AP, AFP). Frustration with the pace of Obama's deliberations about sending more troops to Afghanistan is on the rise in the military (New York Times).
The drama surrounding Afghanistan's election comes as U.S. involvement in the country is losing support; a new CNN poll released yesterday shows that although six in ten people think it's necessary to keep troops in Afghanistan to prevent more terrorist attacks on the U.S., 59 percent are opposed to sending more troops to the country (CNN). Media coverage of the war in Afghanistan has increased correspondingly with the Obama administration's greater emphasis on the conflict (New York Times).
Operation Path to Salvation underway
A pair of suicide bombings at an Islamabad university killed up to seven people this morning, just days after the Pakistani military began an offensive against militant strongholds in South Waziristan (AP, Dawn, BBC, CNN, AFP). A fierce battle is being waged over the hometown of both Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and the architect of the Taliban's suicide bombing campaign Qari Hussein, as Kotkai was captured yesterday by Pakistani soldiers but retaken today by Taliban militants (Reuters, Dawn, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CNN). Close to 100 militants and at least 9 Pakistani soldiers have died since the Waziristan operation began on Saturday.
Pakistani jets continue to pound targets in the mountainous tribal region on the border with Afghanistan as refugees pour out of the area; the U.N. estimated that more than 170,000 people would be displaced by the military operation, adding to the 100,000 already gone (New York Times, Washington Post, CNN). Pakistan's army has reportedly struck deals with two powerful tribal chiefs to keep them from joining the fight against the government, as Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur agreed to abstain from the battle and let the Army move through their lands unimpeded in exchange for the Army easing up on patrols and bombings in their territories (AP).
The chief of Pakistan's powerful army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvaz Kayani, yesterday released a message to the Mehsud tribe whose territorial homelands are in Waziristan, saying that the purpose of the current operation is not to target the tribe but to "liberate [them] from the clutches of cruel terrorists, who have already destroyed the peace of entire area" (Dawn, AP-Pakistan, The News).
Today's essential reading
Part three of David Rohde's harrowing account of being kidnapped and held by members of the Haqqani militant network in Pakistan is a must-read, along with Jane Mayer's in depth report on the CIA's drone strikes in Pakistan (New York Times, New Yorker-subscription). Mayer's piece includes research from a study released yesterday by the New America Foundation, finding that some one-third of people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 were civilians (New America Foundation). Under the Obama administration, about one quarter of fatalities from drone strikes were civilians.
Afghanistan's first fruit juice factory, on the outskirts of Kabul, is designed to transform pomegranates into juice and purees to be consumed around the world (AFP). The factory was converted from a Soviet-era textiles facility at a cost of some $11 million.
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