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Two Lopsided Battles Bloody Taliban in Afghanistan

Amid reports of uneven al-Qaeda-Taliban strength in different parts of Afghanistan, two separate battles have resulted in killing approximately 165 Taliban. An ambush on a joint Coalition-Afghan patrol in northern Helmand province resulted in a day-long fight in which Coalition artillery and aerial attacks killed more than 100 enemy, with one Coalition soldier killed and four wounded. In another Taliiban attack in neighboring Uruzgan province, artillery and airstrikes were once again effectively employed, killing 65 of the 80-man enemy attacking force.

But there are growing concerns about NATO-member commitment to the mission in Afghanistan as well as concerns of growing al-Qaeda-Taliban strength in Uruzgan province in particular. Radio Netherlands, with reporters and sources on the ground there, reported that a surge in enemy strength is due primarily to the import of foreign fighters - though few will acknowledge officially - including battle-hardened and experienced Chechens. According to their report, "the presence of fighters from Pakistan and Bosnia is known beyond any doubt - in fact, prisoners have been taken from their ranks and handed over to the Afghan authorities. It is assumed that Chechen fighters are also active in Dihrawud district."

At the same time, an Afghan parliament member remarked that around the Kandahar birthplace of the Taliban they are proving to be 'weaker than last year' though still deadly. "The Taliban are much weaker than last year," said Habibullah Jan. "They can't stay and fight if they're confronted." They have been effectively confronted there primarily by Canadian and British troops.

Musharraf Cleared To Run, Opposition to Resign From Parliament

The Pakistani Supreme Court rejected various legal challenges to Musharraf, clearing the way for his candidacy in the October 6 presidential election, which is a vote of the Pakistani parliament. A national general election will be held in the weeks following, where the Pakistani public elects their representatives to parliament. The Pakistani Supreme Court, however, also ordered Musharraf to free opposition members recently arrested ahead of planned protests. Musharraf responded, as over 200 were freed, including top leaders of former PM Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party.

In protest to Musharraf's expected election, the opposition movement All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) has announced their plan for mass resignations on Oct 02 ahead of the parliamentary vote expected to bring Musharraf another term as president. APDM, a coalition whose primary party is the Islamist-backed MMA, plans not only resignation from the national parliament, but also from provincial assemblies as well. It is unclear whether the APDM would continue their disengagement within government after seats are gained in the upcoming general elections.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Geo-TV reports that member of Pakistani security forces was killed in an IED attack on a convoy in Tank, bordering South Waziristan. 19 others were reported injured in the attack. It is unclear whether the convoy was one from the Pakistani Army or from the NWFP Frontier Corps or constabulary.

Bomber Kills 24 in Baquba

While Sunni and Shi'a broke their fast together at the Shi'a Shifta mosque a suicide bomber attacked and killed at least 24 while wounding at least 37. The gathering included both Sunni and Shi'a members of government and police forces.

As mentioned yesterday, in a Roundtable discussion with deputy commanding general of operations for Multinational Division North, Brigadier General Mick Bednarek, the reconciliation of Sunni and Shi'a in the Diyala province, like other MNF-N provinces, requires both Iraqi boots on the ground - police and Army - and trust in the command elements. This attack killed two Sunni leaders in the Diyala province - Baquba police Chief Ali al-Deylan and Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Obaidi, commander of Diyala's police operations.

Opposition Arrests In Pakistan Criticized

Pakistani police have arrested opposition leaders in order to blunt their efforts to stage nationwide protests ahead of the October 6 elections in which it is expected that Musharraf will retain Pakistan's presidency. The leaders are from the coalition group All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), which includes Islamists from Jamaat Ulema-i-Islami and members of Nawaz Sharif's PML-N.

The United States embassy in Islamabad released a statement criticizing the move, saying in part, "We wish to express our serious concern about these developments. These detainees should be released as soon as possible." It is a rare public US criticism of Pervez Musharraf.

The arrests occurred over the weekend ahead of the protests as well as during the protests that were not prevented Monday. Former Supreme Court judge Wajih-udin Ahmad has emerged as Musharraf's first political challenger in the October 6 elections and would have broad support from lawyers and much of the public. The Pakistani president is, however, elected by the Parliament, and the Pakistani parliament is still constituted by a majority of Musharraf supporters.

Iraq Violence Lowest Since 2006 Askaria Mosque Bombing

Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, MNF-I #2 commander, reported that Iraq violence is at its lowest level since the February 2006 al-Askaria mosque bombing by al-Qaeda that touched off the wave of sectarian violence al-Qaeda desired. Lt. Gen. Odierno pointed to Baghdad specifically, where attacks have "dropped about 50 percent since January, and the number of civilian casualties also has fallen."

After Commanding General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ray Crocker warned of "devastating consequences" if Britain withdraws from Iraq, General Petraeus met with British leaders in London. While the general did not disclose detail of disagreements between the US and the British leadership, General Petraeus said "what we did discuss was the tasks" at hand in southern Iraq. Britain has withdrawn from violent downtown Basra and garrisoned at an airbase outside the city.

Antoine Ghanem Assassinated

Antoine Ghanem, of the Christian Phalange, a Lebanese MP and critic of Syria, was killed, along with at least nine others, in a car-bombing in Sin al-Fil district of Beirut today. The 64 year-old Ghanem became the eight prominent anti-Syria politician to be killed since February 2005.

Ghanem had spent the summer out of Lebanon due to death threats and returned just two days ago.

The Lebanese parliament is expected to delay the election of a new President scheduled for September 25 and required before November 23.

Kidnapper Killed, And Further Offensives

ABC News reports that "Mullah Abdullah Jan, the Taliban commander of Qara Bagh district in Ghazni province, was among 12 killed in the strike on a mud-brick housing compound" Tuesday. Jan becomes the fifth Taliban leader killed who was believed to have been involved in the kidnapping of 23 South Koreans, two of which were killed.

Ghazni Province has recently seen increased coalition attacks on Taliban forces, as noted by Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary on Monday.

"In the past 20 days of operations in Ghazni province, 120 enemies of the peace and stability of Afghanistan have been killed. Five commanders of the enemy have been captured."

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, in the Helmand province NATO and Afghan forces launched Operation Palk Wahel. The offensive operation, which began today, consists of approximately 2500 ISAF and Afghan forces aiming to "protect areas within Helmand Province where we have previously made gains against the Taliban and pushed them further out.'

Pakistani Army 'Losing Will to Fight'?

Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf vowed to quit his post as Army Chief of Staff if he wins re-election as Pakistan's president. His vow was met with criticism from opposition leaders who object that he has broken promises before.

Last week, former Pakistani prime minister and current Musharraf rival Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan and was promptly deported back to Saudi Arabia. He and Benazir Bhutto both seek to replace Musharraf at the head of a civilian Pakistani government.

Meanwhile, there are grumblings inside Pakistan that much of its military has lost faith in the 'War on Terror', with a retired Pakistani general writing that "Perhaps they are not convinced to fight against their own people." Talat Masood added that the recent al-Qaeda-Taliban capture of over 240 troops without a shot fired illustrates this. Over 30% of Pakistan's enlisted Army ranks are, like the Taliban, ethnic Pashtuns.

Petraeus and Crocker Brief Congress

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker presented their findings on US efforts in Iraq to members of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

Both gentlemen had prepared remarks made available to the public. General Petraeus' testimony is available here, along with his slides here. Ambassador Crocker's remarks are available here.

The joint hearing was interrupted on multiple occasions by opponents of the war.

Sharif Returns - Is Arrested - And 'Deported'

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan for the first time since his ouster in 1999, was arrested upon his arrival, and has been deported to Saudi Arabia.

Sharif agreed to not return to Pakistan for 10 years in 2000. That agreement has been challenged in the Pakistan courts and the Pakistani Supreme Court has ruled that he must not be arrested upon his return to Pakistan. The Pakistani government has denied that Sharif was deported offering instead that his departure was according to the terms of the 2000 agreement between Sharif and Musharraf.

Al-Qaeda Bomb Plots Foiled in Germany, Denmark

In Germany, authorities arrested three suspected al-Qaeda terrorists believed to be planning 'massive bombings of US targets, including Ramstein Airbase near Frankfurt. The three, 2 Germans and one Turk, were part of a group called Jihad Union, with ties to al-Qaeda. Police recovered bomb-making materials and military triggers, disrupting "one of the worst terror acts ever planned in Germany."

In Denmark, eight Muslims were arrested in a bomb plot foiled by Danish intelligence. Of the eight arrested, "six were Danish citizens, but they had Afghan, Pakistani, Somali or Turkish backgrounds," while information on the two non-Danish citizens was not immediately reported. The suspects were under surveillance for some time, and the arrests were made as they began to acquire and accumulate chemicals required for explosives. The head of Danish intelligence, Jakob Scharf, said some of the men detained had connections to “high-ranking members of Al Qaeda.”

Two Key Leadership Changes In Iran

Just as Iranian President Ahmadinejad declared that God and mathematics convinced him that Iran would not face American attack, two key leadership changes in Iran have been announced. It was announced on Tuesday that former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has been elected as the new head of the Assembly of Experts, the Iranian body which appoints and can ultimately remove the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Khameini. Rafsanjani is an opponent of Ahmadinejad and his election to head the Council is seen as a blow to the Iranian president and his allies, though Rafsanjani should not be characterized as a 'moderate.'

Last week, in an unexpected move, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was relieved of duties and a replacement named. General Yahya Rahim Safavi was removed as the IRGC's commander following the announcement that the US may place the IRGC on a terrorism list. His replacement, 50-year old General Mohammad Ali Jafari, was nearly captured by American forces earlier this year while operating in Iraq. In addition to managing Iran's sponsorship of international terrorist groups through its Quds Force, the elite IRGC also maintains military oversight of Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran nevertheless maintains is for 'peaceful purposes.'

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