Words of warning: The acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Steven J. Trent, sent a letter to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on March 9 detailing a number of concerns about the impending transition from private security companies to the state-run Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) (Post). USAID has strongly rejected the letter's contentions, which include a potential increase of up to 46% in the cost of security, and the "significant risk of termination" for $899 million in USAID projects if the APPF is not "fully functioning" by the March 20 deadline.
Two hundred French troops left Afghanistan on Wednesday as part of an accelerated withdrawal plan announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy after the shooting of four French troops by an Afghan soldier in January of this year (AP). Following a recent spate of so-called "green-on-blue" violence, U.S. troops now reportedly have "guardian angels," fellow troops who watch over them while they are sleeping to guard against potential attacks from rogue Afghan soldiers (AP). Additionally, in some Afghan ministries, Americans are being allowed to carry weapons, and those who have offices were instructed to turn their desks to face the doorway so they can see who is entering.
Afghan insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami withdrew from peace talks with the United States on Wednesday because they had not produced any "practical" results, according to a statement released by the group's European representative Qaribur Rahman Saeed (AP). The move comes just weeks after the Taliban made an identical announcement, and further hampers NATO's withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan. Militants in a mountainous region of Farah Province ambushed a NATO supply truck convoy on Wednesday, sparking an intense firefight in which an Afghan soldier, five Afghan security guards and 14 insurgents were killed (AP).
The lawyer for U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians on March 11, said Wednesday that a traumatic incident during Bales' second tour in Iraq left him with "tremendous depression" and PTSD-like symptoms (AP, Post). Officials speculate that Bales might have been able to leave the base twice in order to carry out the shootings because the Afghan guards at the remote outpost did not question his departure as American soldiers may have (NYT). Bales also reportedly told another soldier during his first return to base that he had shot Afghans in a nearby village, but according to one American official this soldier "did not believe it," and decided not to alert anyone.
Gunmen killed eight people in Balochistan in two separate incidents Thursday, one targeting a vehicle carrying local employees of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and another, apparently sectarian, attack targeting a van carrying Shi'a Muslims (AP, ET, BBC, Dawn).
Top U.S. military officials Gen. James Mattis and Gen. John Allen met with Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday to discuss improvements in cooperation between forces at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, problems with which likely contributed to a NATO airstrike on Pakistani border posts in November (CNN, Reuters, WSJ, NYT, Post). It was the first meeting between senior military figures since the deadly friendly fire incident, which severely strained Pakistan-U.S. relations. Violence in Karachi dominated the Pakistani parliament's meeting on Wednesday, though it was scheduled to review bilateral ties with the United States (Dawn).
Pakistan on Thursday fired the doctor who allegedly helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Dr. Shakil Afridi, on disciplinary grounds (AFP, ET). Yemen continues to call for bin Laden's youngest wife, Yemeni citizen Amal al-Sadah, to be returned to her home country (Reuters). Al-Sadah and bin Laden reportedly lived in several Pakistani cities both before and after 9/11, according to officials investigating bin Laden's presence in Pakistan (Dawn).
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Thursday that Pakistan will look to Russia to provide funding for the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, after the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) withdrew its investment pledge earlier this month (AFP). Meanwhile, Afghanistan withdrew on Wednesday from plans for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, which the United States has urged Pakistan to pursue instead of the IP pipeline, in an effort to maintain economic pressure on Iran (DT).
Q&A with the Taliban
If you have ever had a burning desire to ask the Afghan Taliban why suicide bombings are permitted, or why they agreed to open peace talks with the United States, you can now do just that (Reuters, AFP). A new forum on the Taliban's official website entitled "Your questions and Zabihullah Mujahid's answers" gives readers a place to have their questions answered by the Taliban spokesman.