Daily News Brief

July 5, 2011

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

- Pakistan Mounts Attack on Taliban
- Afghan Taliban Attack Checkpoint
- Syrian Forces Crack Down
- Japan Reconstruction Minister to Resign

Top of the Agenda: Pakistan Mounts Attack on Taliban

Pakistani troops backed by gunship helicopters launched an offensive against Taliban fighters (Nation) in the Kurram tribal agency bordering Afghanistan. The operation follows reports that the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network had reached a truce with local militants to use the area as transit point to launch attacks against NATO forces (AP) across the border. However, the military is likely focused on Pakistani Taliban militants who have staged attacks against Pakistani security forces; analysts believe that despite U.S. insistence, Pakistan is hesitant to target the Haqqanis because of historical ties to the group.

Many Taliban have moved to Kurram seeking refuge from stepped-up U.S. drone attacks (WSJ) in neighboring North Waziristan, where a bomb today struck a Pakistani military convoy (AFP), killing three soldiers. Kurram's border with Afghanistan offers the easiest route to capital Kabul.

Analysis:

This CFR Crisis Guide on Pakistan looks at the roots of the country's challenges, what it means for the region and the world, and explores plausible futures.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the terrorist groups that have both emerged and taken sanctuary in Pakistan.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States have diverging views about counterinsurgency operations and Taliban reconciliation. The three countries are likely to pursue different agendas as the U.S. troop drawdown starts and will likely try to maximize their own gains, says this Diplomat article.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA: Afghan Taliban Attack Pakistan Checkpoint

Pakistan says dozens of Taliban militants from Afghanistan (VOA) attacked a checkpoint, killing one soldier and at least two militants, the latest in a series of cross-border incidents that have raised tensions between the two countries.  

"The biggest problem we face in Afghanistan is hedging behaviors by Afghans and Pakistanis that make governance reform in Afghanistan very hard and that make progress against Taliban base camps in Pakistan very hard," says CFR's Steven Biddle in a recent interview.

Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the ISI, ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who wrote critical reports about the infiltration of militants in the country's military (NYT).

MIDDLE EAST: Syrian Security Forces in New Crackdown

Syrian security forces arrested dozens of people (NYT) in their largest foray into Hama, a central Syrian city, since withdrawing last month, prompting residents to build barricades to block a more ambitious assault.

Iraq: Two explosions at a municipal government building (Reuters) in the town of Taji, north of Baghdad, killed twenty-seven people and wounded fifty. A string of bomb explosions and attacks (al-Jazeera) over the past few days have left at least thirteen police and military personnel dead and eighteen others wounded in Iraq, security officials say.

As the United States prepares to withdraw troops by the end of the year, Iraqis are concerned about an increasingly authoritarian state, widespread corruption, and continuing acts of terrorism, says Iraq expert Sean Kane.

PACIFIC RIM: Japan Reconstruction Minister to Resign

Japan's newly appointed reconstruction minister Ry Matsumoto said he intends to resign (Reuters) after about a week in the job, adding pressure on the unpopular government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan. He was criticized for insensitive remarks to governors of areas hit by the March earthquake and tsunami.

Thailand: Thailand's Election Commission confirmed that the opposition party allied to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and headed by his sister Yingluck won Thailand's general election (AP) by a wide margin.

Yingluck Shinawata's victory in Sunday's general election could mean an end to the violent strife that has wracked the country for more than five years, writes Luke Hunt in the Diplomat. It was a defeat for Thailand's urban elite and military, widely blamed for last year's crackdown on pro-democracy protests that left ninety-two people dead.

AFRICA: U.S. Expands Drone Attacks into Somalia

The U.S. drone campaign (NYT) to combat al-Qaeda in Yemen is expanding to fight militant Islamists in Somalia, as evidence indicates that militant groups in the two countries are forging ties.

Morocco: Thousands of democracy activists protested (AP) in the capital of Rabat to demand more government accountability, days after voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that the king said would expand freedoms.

Morocco's approval of a new constitution granting rights to women and minorities inspired hope that the reforms could become a model for Arab monarchies (USAToday) facing uprisings.

AMERICAS: Mexico Arrests Zetas Cartel Leader

Mexican authorities announced the arrest of Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, a Zetas drug cartel leader (CNN) connected with the killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent this year. Rejon is suspected of being behind numerous deaths in northeastern Mexico, where the Zetas have been engaged in a turf battle with former allies the Gulf Cartel.

Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez returned unannounced to Venezuela (CNN) for the country's bicentennial celebrations that begin today, after being away for nearly a month in Cuba for cancer treatment.

When a government is as dominated by a single charismatic leader as Venezuela's has been, a serious illness is coterminous with a stability crisis, says Francisco Toro in the New Republic.

EUROPE: Mladic Removed From Courtroom

Radko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, was removed from the courthouse (Independent) in The Hague for interrupting the judge with complaints about his treatment during a plea hearing. Mladic is accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995.