Monday, August 10, 2009

Taliban still a major threat 8 years later

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- It has been nearly eight years since U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan, but the war against the Taliban insurgency is bloodier than ever.

The number of Afghan civilians killed in the wake of the war has increased 24 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same time period last year, according to the United Nations. And NATO and American forces suffered record losses this summer, with 75 troops killed in the month of July, making it the deadliest month for Western troops in the country since American warplanes first began bombing the Taliban in October 2001.

The U.S. death toll will remain high for some time as the Taliban has gained the upper hand, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday.

"It's a very aggressive enemy right now," McChrystal told the newspaper in the interview Saturday at his office in Kabul, Afghanistan. "We've got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It's hard work."

The Taliban insurgency has blossomed in northern Afghan provinces such as Kunduz and Baghlan, long considered some of the safest territory in the country. And just 20 miles east of Kabul, Taliban "judges" operate openly in the back of pickup trucks, settling legal disputes between villagers in makeshift "mobile courts."

The insurgents are filling a vacuum left by Afghanistan's Western-backed government, which foreign diplomats and military commanders concede suffers from nepotism, corruption and predatory practices.

Challenge to the Afghan government

Afghans will go to the polls on August 20 to vote in the nation's second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Opposition candidates have blamed the Taliban insurgency's continued growth on Hamid Karzai, the man who has occupied the presidential palace in Kabul for the past seven years.

"Because of the failure of the current administration, in losing the support of its own people, there is a vacuum, and that vacuum has led to a deterioration of security as well as in all parts of life," said Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

McChrystal, a former U.S. joint special operations commander who recently took command of the U.S.-NATO operation in Afghanistan, said the Taliban are challenging the very legitimacy of his partners in the Afghan government.

"The fundamental conflict in any insurgency is fighting for legitimacy with the people and the support of the population," he explained in a recent interview with CNN.

"Who do they look to as their legitimate government? Who do they pay taxes to? Who do they look to for rule of law? Who do they look to as protection? In the case of this insurgency, what we have is an Afghan government that is trying to establish itself around the country. It has problems with corruption. It has problems in some cases with predatory behavior."

Along the traffic-choked streets of Kabul, residents rarely complain about the Taliban. Instead, they often rail against the Western-backed Afghan state.

"What service has this government provided us?" asked Fawad, a young street vendor who sells watermelons for 20 cents apiece. He said that at least once a week, Afghan police show up and demand bribes of up to $100 from vendors, who must pay if they want to continue selling their goods.

"We don't want a tyrant who oppresses the people," Fawad said when asked who he would vote for in the elections. "What we want is security."

Earlier this month, an Afghan employee for CNN, who prefers not to be named for security reasons, witnessed how locals turn to the Taliban to resolve their disputes, in a village barely 20 miles east of the Afghan capital.

He said openly armed insurgents rolled up in a pickup truck, and a Taliban judge began mediating local disputes. In one case, the Taliban official resolved a disagreement between two shepherds whose flocks of sheep had gotten intermixed while grazing.

"I was shocked," said the Afghan eyewitness, who was visiting the village to attend a funeral. "The villagers were lining up asking for help from the Taliban."

NATO commanders say they have had reports of Taliban "mobile courts" operating in similar fashion just outside the southern city of Kandahar.

"There are cases of rule of law being taken care of by the Taliban instead of the Afghan government," said Col. Paul Kolken, a Dutch military spokesman at Kandahar Air Base. He said the Taliban are operating mobile courts as close as possible to the city of Kandahar.

Afghan corruption at the highest levels?

Human rights activists accuse the Karzai government of making deals with some of the country's most notorious warlords ahead of the August 20 presidential elections.

"A lot of Afghans are telling us they're quite disappointed that Karzai's not even running on a platform of promises or performance, but just an old fashioned Afghan cutting of deals," said Sam Zarifi of Amnesty International. He pointed to a recent article by Elizabeth Rubin, in the New York Times Magazine, that describes Karzai's choice of Mohammed Fahim, a former Northern Alliance militia commander, as vice presidential running mate. Fahim has long been accused of committing human rights abuses.

"Starting on the top and bringing Fahim back, this is horrific," Zarifi said. He lamented that Afghan politicians are rarely prosecuted for crimes, and if they are, they are often pardoned.

"Karzai has really regressed over the past seven or eight years," Zarifi said.

Many Afghan observers argue this culture of impunity runs directly to the presidential palace. For years, Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali, has been dogged by accusations that he is a major player in the booming drug trade in southern Afghanistan.

One high-ranking Western diplomat stationed in Kabul described discussing the allegations with Karzai in a one-on-one meeting. Karzai asked for advice on how best to address his brother's alleged illicit business dealings, the diplomat said. At one point, the diplomat said, Karzai looked up helplessly, asking, "He's my brother. What can I do?"

Both Karzai and his brother have repeatedly dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.

This month, Karzai made a rare trip outside his presidential palace to woo voters in Baghlan province. He conceded that Afghanistan is still far from stable, but promised that if re-elected he would redouble his efforts to rebuild the country.

"Terrorism is still harassing us. It is still killing us. It is still destroying this land," he told a crowd of several thousand supporters. "The moment I become the president of Afghanistan -- again -- through your vote, through your able hands, my first attempt will be to ensure perpetual peace."

Several days later, at a press conference with Karzai, the newly appointed secretary general of the NATO military alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called for NATO countries to contribute more troops to support the Afghan government.

"NATO-ISAF is here to protect your elections," the former Danish prime minister said at Kabul's presidential palace. "What we need are credible elections that reflect the will of the people."

ISAF -- the International Security Assistance Force -- is the United Nations-mandated U.S.-NATO presence in Afghanistan.

U.S. needs a strong Afghan partner

President Obama's administration has committed more resources and troops to battling the insurgency and training Afghan security forces, while also sending additional diplomats and civilian aid workers to focus on reconstruction and development.

When Obama took office, he vowed to redirect military resources from the war in Iraq to Afghanistan, which he described as being -- along with neighboring Pakistan -- the "central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism."

McChrystal told The Wall Street Journal that he is still considering a request to send 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan in addition to the planned 68,000 troops that are expected to be in place by the end of the year.

The information is a preview of a strategic assessment he plans to deliver to Washington later this month.

The military initiative is an effort to bolster Afghanistan's weak government, which many Afghan observers argue has been, more than anything, a source of frustration and popular disappointment.

"If the same trend continues, if the same failing of the administration continues, more troops, more resources, more civilian advisors will not be a substitute," argued presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah.

Security will be on the minds of most Afghan voters as they head to the polls, according to Jahid Mohseni, the Australian-Afghan head of Tolo TV, Afghanistan's most influential TV channel.

"People are frustrated with things not happening," Mohseni said. "In terms of day-to-day life, the development that they wanted in government has not been happening."

"They are looking at being able to walk down the street at night without ... risking getting attacked, et cetera. They want to make sure that their kids don't get kidnapped."

Opium barons at top of kill or capture list as US targets the Taleban

The Pentagon has put 50 of Afghanistan’s powerful opium barons on a “kill or capture” list, signalling a radical shift in tactics against the Taleban.

The announcement came as the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, admitted that the insurgency, nurtured by tens of millions of dollars from the country’s vast poppy fields, now held the upper hand.

The existence of the “joint integrated prioritised target list” — a rogues’ gallery of drug lords who are earmarked for arrest or assassination — is revealed in an unpublished Senate report obtained yesterday by The Times.

It was confirmed by Rear-Admiral Gregory Smith, the top US military spokesman in Afghanistan. “The list of targets are those that are contributing to the insurgency — the key leadership — and part of that obviously is the link between the narco-industry and the militants,” he said.

The report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not give names but it spells out the new military objectives clearly: “We have a list of 367 ‘kill or capture’ targets, including 50 targets who link drugs and insurgency,” a US general told the panel.

“The military places no restrictions on the use of force with these selected targets, which means they can be killed or captured on the battlefield,” the report states.

The generals insisted, however, that no targeted assassinations were authorised “away from the battlefield”. They did not provide their definition of “battlefield”.

Most of the drug lords linked to the Taleban are known to live in Quetta, Pakistan, and targeting them would probably have to involve operations similar to the missile strike last week that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban.

Such cross-border strikes have become increasingly frequent in the war on the insurgency, often provoking the ire of the Pakistani Government. The new strategy of aiming Hellfire missiles at drug dealers, and even corrupt Afghan officials, as one officer suggested, will be even more controversial.

The Senate report notes that several Nato members opposed the tactic earlier this year, questioning “whether killing traffickers and destroying drug labs complied with international law”.

Two US generals told the panel that the rules of engagement governing the conduct of US forces in Afghanistan and the international law of war “had been interpreted to allow them to put drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list”.

The aggressive new approach to Afghanistan’s drug trade and its links to the militants reflects America’s frustration with the authorities in Kabul, the capital. The US previously sought the arrest of suspected drug lords but has found that they tended to get lost in the corrupt jungle that is the Afghan judiciary.

No extradition treaty exists between the two countries, so sometimes loopholes have to be found. The Senate report details one such “creative response” involving British and US agents.

“In October 2008, agents from the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] and Britain’s Soca [Serious Organised Crime Agency] tricked Haji Juma Khan, a major kingpin linked to the Taleban who ran his empire out of Quetta, into flying into Indonesia,” it says.

He was promptly arrested and flown to New York to face charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and supporting a terrorist organisation.

Estimates of the Taleban’s annual takings from the Afghan opium trade range between $75 million (£45 million) and $125 million.

According to the report, the largest source of the Taleban's drug income is the tax paid by traffickers to the Quetta shura, the insurgents' governing council based in the Pakistani city.

The urgency of curbing the Taleban’s power was highlighted by General McChrystal, who gave a bleak assessment of the progress of a war that has been dragging on for eight years. “It’s a very agressive enemy right now,” he said. “We’ve got to stop their momentum, stop their initiative. It’s hard work.”

As if to illustrate his point, a small group of Taleban fighters infiltrated a provincial capital 40 miles south of Kabul yesterday. The fighters - some disguised as women, with suicide vests hidden under their burqas - fired rocket-propelled grenades at government buildings in the city of Pul-i-Alam. Three policemen and two civilians were killed, along with six militants, said a local government spokesman.

Afghanistan closes Kabul route for Kurram people

PESHAWAR: The only road linking Kurram Agency with the outside world was closed after the Afghan government told tribesmen that they could not travel to Peshawar via Kabul because of the presidential election to be held there on August 20.Sources said the Afghan government had informed the authorities in Upper and Lower Kurram that the border with Pakistan would remain closed till the completion of election process.
People of the region have been travelling to Peshawar and other parts of the country via Kabul and Jalalabad for almost two years since the main highway linking Parachinar with Thall cannot be used because of militancy.At present, a Cessna plane is the only means of transportation for the people of Kurram. Its one-way fare is Rs7,000 per passenger. The air strip in Parachinar has proper landing facilities built by the Civil Aviation Authority in late 1980s.President Asif Ali Zardari had recently directed the ministry of defence to arrange flights between Peshawar and Parachinar, but no action has been taken so far.

Solidarity Walk in Rawalpindi by Christians

Islamabad: On behalf of Pakistan Christian Congress Xavier William and the Churches Association of Rawalpindi and Islamabad organized a Solidarity Walk in Rawalpindi to support the Christians of Gojra. This Walk was organized at the St. Paul Church, Mall road, Rawalpindi. We invited all the Churches or Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The walk started with prayer and praise at the St. Paul Church, then Mr. Xavier William the Coordinator of Pakistan Christian Congress led a special prayer for the martyrs of the Gojra incident.

The Bishops and the pastors gave a message on peace, some of the leading personalities like Pastor Sohail Samar, Mr. Robinson Asghar, Mr. Jeffard Daniel, Pastor Lamuel George, Mr. Patras William, Mr. George Boota and Retired Col. Treslor were present for the Solidarity Walk. Then the walk started towards the Rawalpindi Press Club. There were around 1500 people present at the walk.

The Bishops, Pastors and the organizers requested the participants to join us for the "Black Day".

In the end the Bishops, Pastors prayed for the Christian Community of Pakistan and thanked all the participants.

Shut Out at Home, Americans Go to China

BEIJING — Shanghai and Beijing are becoming new lands of opportunity for recent American college graduates who face unemployment nearing double digits at home.

Even those with limited or no knowledge of Chinese are heeding the call. They are lured by China’s surging economy, the lower cost of living and a chance to bypass some of the dues-paying that is common to first jobs in the United States.

“I’ve seen a surge of young people coming to work in China over the last few years,” said Jack Perkowski, founder of Asimco Technologies, one of the largest automotive parts companies in China.

“When I came over to China in 1994, that was the first wave of Americans coming to China,” he said. “These young people are part of this big second wave.”

One of those in the latest wave is Joshua Arjuna Stephens, who graduated from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in American studies. Two years ago, he decided to take a temporary summer position in Shanghai with China Prep, an educational travel company.

“I didn’t know anything about China,” said Mr. Stephens, who worked on market research and program development. “People thought I was nuts to go not speaking the language, but I wanted to do something off the beaten track.”

Two years later, after stints in the nonprofit sector and at a large public relations firm in Beijing, he is highly proficient in Mandarin and works as a manager for XPD Media, a social media company based in Beijing that makes online games.

Jonathan Woetzel, a partner with McKinsey & Company in Shanghai who has lived in China since the mid-1980s, says that compared with just a few years ago, he was seeing more young Americans arriving in China to be part of an entrepreneurial boom. “There’s a lot of experimentation going on in China right now, particularly in the energy sphere, and when people are young they are willing to come and try something new,” he said

And the Chinese economy is more hospitable for both entrepreneurs and job seekers, with a gross domestic product that rose 7.9 percent in the most recent quarter compared with the period a year earlier. Unemployment in urban areas is 4.3 percent, according to government data.

Grace Hsieh, president of the Yale Club in Beijing and a 2007 graduate, says she’s seen a rise in the number of Yale graduates who have come to work in Beijing since she arrived in China two years ago. She is working as an account executive in Beijing for Hill & Knowlton, the public relations company.

Sarabeth Berman, a 2006 graduate of Barnard College with a major in urban studies, initially arrived in Beijing to take a job that would have been difficult for a 23-year-old to land in the United States: program director at BeijingDance/LDTX, the first modern dance company in China to be founded independently of the government.

Ms. Berman said she was hired for her familiarity with Western modern dance rather than a deep knowledge of China. “Despite my lack of language skills and the fact that I had no experience working in China, I was given the opportunity to manage the touring, international projects, and produce and program our annual Beijing Dance Festival.”

After two years of living and working in China, Ms. Berman is proficient in Mandarin. She travels throughout China, Europe and the United States with the dance company.

Willy Tsao, the artistic director of BeijingDance/LDTX, said he hired Ms. Berman because of her ability to make connections beyond China. “I needed someone who was capable of communicating with the Western world.”

Another dynamic in the hiring process, Mr. Tsao says, is that Westerners can often bring a skill set that is harder to find among the Chinese.

“Sarabeth is always taking initiative and thinking what we can do,” he said, “while I think the more standard Chinese approach is to take orders.” He sees the difference as rooted in the educational system. “In Chinese schools students are encouraged to be quiet and less outspoken; it fosters a culture of listening more than initiating.”

Mr. Perkowski says many Chinese companies are looking to hire native English speakers to help them navigate the American market.

“I’m working with a company right now that wants me to help them find young American professionals who can be their liaisons to the U.S.,” he said. “They want people who understand the social and cultural nuances of the West.”

Mr. Perkowski’s latest venture, JFP Holdings, a merchant bank based in Beijing, hasn’t posted any job openings, but has received more than 60 résumés; a third of them are from young people in the United States who want to come work in China, he said.

Mick Zomnir, 20, a soon-to-be junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is working as a summer intern for JFP. “As things have gotten more difficult in the U.S., I started to think about opportunities elsewhere,” he said. He does not speak Chinese but says he will begin studying Mandarin when he returns to M.I.T. in the fall.

A big draw of working in China, many young people say, is that they feel it has allowed them to skip a rung or two on the career ladder.

Ms. Berman said: “There is no doubt that China is an awesome place to jump-start your career. Back in the U.S., I would be intern No. 3 at some company or selling tickets at Lincoln Center.”

For others, like Jason Misium, 23, China has solved the cash flow problem of starting a business. After graduating with a degree in biology from Harvard in 2008, Mr. Misium came to China to study the language. Then he started Sophos Academic Group, an academic consulting firm that works with Chinese students who want to study in the United States. “It’s China’s fault that I’m still here,” he says. “It’s just so cheap to start a business.” It cost him the equivalent of $12,000, which he had in savings, he said.

Among many young Americans, the China exit strategy is a common topic of conversation. Mr. Stephens, Ms. Berman and Mr. Misium all said they were planning to return to the United States eventually.

Mr. Woetzel of McKinsey said work experience in China was not an automatic ticket to a great job back home. He said it was not a marker the way an Ivy League education is: “The mere fact of just showing up and working in China and speaking Chinese is not enough.”

That said, Mr. Woetzel added, someone who has been able to make their mark in China is a valuable hire. “At McKinsey, we are looking for people who have demonstrated leadership,” he said, “and working in a context like China builds character, requires you to be a lot more entrepreneurial and forces you to innovate.”

Gilani, Kiyani and Hoti arrive in Swat

SWAT : Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kiyani and Chief Minister Pukhtunkhwa Ameer Haider Khan Hoti have arrived here on Monday.During the visit they are expected to visit Seedo Sharif Hospital. Prime minister is also due to address the jirga in Seedo Sharif.High security measures have been put in place on the occasion in Mangora and Seedo Sharif.

Terrorists on the run; to be eliminated soon; Gilani

SWAT : Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday said that the terrorists were on the run, the differences between them are widening and they will soon be eliminated.Addressing a large gathering of elders here, the prime minister said that government had to ensure its writ and resorted to the use of military to counter the miscreants.
"No one will any longer be allowed to dishonour our women, deny education to them, make their lives miserable, create lawlessness," Gilani said in his first visit since the return of the displaced people.

He asked the people of Swat and Malakand to be wary of "blacksheep" who mislead them and create problems for them and the country.

Governor NWFP Owais Ghani, Chief minister NWFP Ameer Haider Khan Hoti and Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif attended the public meeting.

The prime minister who made an unannounced visit to the scenic Swat valley, that was forcefully vacated from groups of militants, said the valley as more beautiful than Switzerland and vowed to revive its main tourism industry.

He urged the locals to come up with suggestions so as to revive the business activities that grounded to a halt and assured full government support.

The prime minister said the government would soon introduce a special package for Swat that includes its reconstruction, rehabilitation of affected people besides initiating new development projects for the areas' uplift.

He said the federal government would provide as much financial assistance for Swat and the rehabilitation of locals.

"Money does not matter before your safety and development," he said while addressing to the Swat locals.

He said the government had already allocated Rs 50 billion for rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), so as to continue the development projects.

Gilani announced setting up of Navtec in Swat besides relaxing the age limit to 28 and lowering the qualification to Bachelors so as to enable the local youth get skilled training with a stipend of Rs 10,000.

The prime minister also announced construction of Dargai- Mingora dual carriageway and said funds for the project will be sought through the Friends of Democratic Pakistan.

Terrorists have neither any religion nor any conscience and the people are witness that they turned their guns towards their own people.

He said the of people of Swat and Malakand have sacrificed their today for a bright and prosperous future of the country.

"I salute you all on behalf of the nation," Gilani said.

He asked all the four chief ministers to nominate a minister each to represent at the flag hoisting ceremony on 14th August in Swat.

He also paid rich tributes to all those who participated in this operation to rid the country of the elements who were bent upon creating chaos.

The prime minister said the people who hosted hundreds of thousands of displaced families deserve rich tributes as they exhibited the spirit of Ansaar-e-Madinah.

He assured the people of Swat, Malakand and adjoining areas that the government will extend full support to the people and take all necessary measures to provide best possible facilities to these people.

He hoped peace and tranquility will soon return to the affected areas as the government gears up its machinery to rebuild the devastated areas.

The prime minister said it was vital that the new generation be enlightened enough to differentiate between what is right and wrong and the real message of Islam, that is against violence and preaches tolerance.

Earlier the prime minister and the Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvaiz Kayani were also briefed about the measures taken for return of the Internally Displaced Persons and reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.

US admits Pak role in Baitullah’s killing

WASHINGTON : US National Security Adisor James Jones Sunday said evidence suggests Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is dead, noting that his ouster and dissension within the Taliban represents an important moment in the struggle against violent extremism in Pakistan. Jones described the US relationship with Pakistan as very positive and credited Islamabad for major blow to the Taliban, which he described as a "positive indication that things are turning for the better" in Pakistan. "We think so. The Pakistani government believes that he is (killed) and all evidence that we have suggests that. But there are reports from the Mehsud organization that he is not, but we think it looks like he is," he told FOX News Sunday when asked if the feared militant is dead. The retired Marines general said the dissension in the Taliban ranks is "not a bad thing for us" but said he could not confirm at the moment the death of one or both top contenders for Pakistani Taliban leadership. "It goes to show that I think the strategy that we are engaged with Pakistan is actually having some effect, and that is good." Questioned what does the development say about President Barack Obama's fight against extremism, Jones praised Islamabad's anti-terrorism efforts and said the US and Pakistan are moving in the right direction. "I think in terms of Pakistan, it means that the Pakistani government and the army is and our relationship with the army are having a good effect and I think that we are moving in the right direction. "Mehsud was a very bad individual, he was responsible for a lot of violence, a lot of innocnent pepople losing their lives and I think that if there is dissenion in their (Taliban) ranks and if, in fact, he is - as we think - is dead this is a positive indication that in Pakistan things are turning for the better." Jones also cited Pakistan's effective offensive against the Taliban in Swat valley region while also showing sensitivity for the displaced people and said the two countries have a growing relationship. "We have a growing relationship in terms of intelligence sharing and I think the relationships between the two countries is certainly very positive right now. And also, the reltionship with Afghanistan, dont forget that this is a theater of wider engagement.

Eleven militants, five Lashkar men killed in clash

GHALANAI: Eleven militants and five members of an anti-Taliban Lashkar were killed in a fierce gun battle in Khwaizai tehsil in Mohmand tribal region on Sunday morning.
According to official sources, a group of militants attacked the residence of the pro-government chief of the local peace committee in Khwaizai at about 2am. The attack was repulsed by the Lashkar and the clash ended at around dawn.The sources said that Malak Ajmal, the chief of the peace committee, suffered serious injuries and was taken to the agency headquarters hospital in Ghalani where he died. Four men of the Lashkar were killed and seven are missing.During the clash 11 militants, a key local commander among them, were killed and seven injured.Both sides used heavy weapons during the clash and security forces also pounded militants’ positions with artillery from Ghalani.
In Spinki Tangi area, a child and two women suffered injuries when an artillery shell fell on a house.

Claims Differ on Pakistani Taliban Struggle

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Amid contested claims over a reported falling out among factions struggling for control of the Pakistani Taliban, two bomb explosions Monday in the restive northwest of the country suggested that militants were still active in the region, according to news reports.

The Associated Press quoted intelligence officials as saying Pakistani troops struck back after a remote-controlled bomb exploded near a security checkpoint in the lawless North Waziristan tribal region.

The events came days after the Pakistan Taliban supreme leader, Baitullah Mehsud was said by aides last Friday to have been killed in an American drone strike in South Waziristan two days earlier.

Mr. Mehsud’s death has not yet been officially confirmed, but American and Pakistani officials have grown increasingly sure that he was killed.

After the latest bombings, the intelligence officials, who spoke in return for anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said troops killed three militants after the bombing. Police said that a second bomb exploded near a local government official’s vehicle in the city of Peshawar, but there were no immediate details on casualties, The A.P. said.

Pakistani officials said Saturday that Hakimullah Mehsud, a young and aggressive commander, had been shot dead in a fight with another leader, Waliur Rehman, during a meeting in a remote area of South Waziristan. The officials said the men were fighting over who would take over the Pakistani Taliban after the apparent death of Baitullah Mehsud.

But on Sunday, Reuters reported that in a phone call, Mr. Rehman denied that any special meeting or fight had occurred, and insisted that Hakimullah Mehsud was still alive.

“He definitely will call you and tell you everything,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The Reuters reporter, Alamgir Bhitani, said that he was certain that the caller was Mr. Rehman, with whom he had spoken before, but that he waited hours for a call from Mr. Mehsud that never came.

With Baitullah Mehsud’s death also unconfirmed, the United States national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said on Fox News on Sunday that even without conclusive proof of his death, the evidence all pointed to it.

“I think that if there’s dissention in the ranks and if, in fact, he is, as we think, dead, this is a positive indication that in Pakistan, things are turning for the better,” he said.

But an American adviser in Pakistan, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his relationship with the government, cautioned Sunday that even if the Mehsuds are proved to be dead, that would be no guarantee that the Pakistani Taliban would fall apart.

“There is broad recognition that this is no longer an old-fashioned test of wills with troublesome Pashtun warlords and that eliminating Baitullah Mehsud would not end the insurgency in South Waziristan nor its influence on the insurgencies in North-West Frontier Province,” the official wrote in an e-mail message.

The adviser also cast doubt on the idea that the Pakistani military would move quickly to exploit any weaknesses, suggesting instead that the government was more in a mood to come to some negotiated settlement with the Mehsud faction — something that American officials have opposed.

“I think there will be, and probably are right now, furtive negotiations going on, but the military option remains,” the American adviser wrote.

A nearly total information blackout has settled over the remote area in northwestern Pakistan since the airstrike on Wednesday.

The Mehsud tribe, officials say, has gone underground, trying to choose a successor.

The blackout is so complete that even longtime Taliban sources became difficult to reach, indicating some sort of turmoil. Many phone lines in the area have been down altogether.

Those who were reached said they knew little. Speaking by phone on Sunday, a resident in the area said he had been listening to hand-held radio communications among fighters, and that there had been no reports of a struggle.

He also said few people in the area believed that Baitullah Mehsud had been killed.

Early on Saturday, before reports of a gunfight had surfaced, Hakimullah Mehsud talked to the BBC by telephone to claim that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive.

Meanwhile, Pakistani government officials stood by their information that a fight had occurred and that both Baitullah and Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed in the past few days. And both Pakistani and American officials said Sunday that they had news of a power struggle in the wake of Baitullah Mehsud’s reported death.

U.S. to Hunt Down Afghan Drug Lords Tied to Taliban

WASHINGTON — Fifty Afghans believed to be drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be captured or killed, reflecting a major shift in American counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, according to a Congressional study to be released this week.

United States military commanders have told Congress that they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military’s rules of engagement and international law. They also said the move is an essential part of their new plan to disrupt the flow of drug money that is helping finance the Taliban insurgency.

In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report, two American generals serving in Afghanistan said that major traffickers with proven links to the insurgency have been put on the “joint integrated prioritized target list.” That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time.

The generals told Senate staff members that two credible sources and substantial additional evidence were required before a trafficker was placed on the list, and only those providing support to the insurgency would be made targets.

Currently, they said, there are about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list.

“We have a list of 367 ‘kill or capture’ targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency,” one of the generals told the committee staff. The generals were not identified in the Senate report, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The shift in policy comes as the Obama administration, deep into the war in Afghanistan, makes significant changes to its strategy for dealing with that country’s lucrative drug trade, which provides 90 percent of the world’s heroin and has led to substantial government corruption.

The Senate report’s disclosure of a hit list for drug traffickers may lead to criticism in the United States over the expansion of the military’s mission, and NATO allies have already raised questions about the strategy of killing individuals who are not traditional military targets.

For years the American-led mission in Afghanistan had focused on destroying poppy crops. Pentagon officials have said their new emphasis is on weaning local farmers off the drug trade — including the possibility of paying them to grow nothing — and going after the drug runners and drug lords. But the Senate report is the first account of a policy to actually place drug chieftains aligned with the Taliban on a “kill or capture” list.

Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, would not comment on the Senate report, but said that “there is a positive, well-known connection between the drug trade and financing for the insurgency and terrorism.” Without directly addressing the existence of the target list, he said that it was “important to clarify that we are targeting terrorists with links to the drug trade, rather than targeting drug traffickers with links to terrorism.”

Several individuals suspected of ties to drug trafficking have already been apprehended and others have been killed by the United States military since the new policy went into effect earlier this year, a senior military official with direct knowledge of the matter said in an interview. Most of the targets are in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where both the drug trade and the insurgency are the most intense.

One American military officer serving in Afghanistan described the purpose of the target list for the Senate committee. “Our long-term approach is to identify the regional drug figures,” the unidentified officer is quoted as saying in the Senate report. The goal, he said, is to “persuade them to choose legitimacy, or remove them from the battlefield.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing delicate policy matters.

When Donald H. Rumsfeld was defense secretary, the Pentagon fiercely resisted efforts to draw the United States military into supporting counternarcotics efforts. Top military commanders feared that trying to prevent drug trafficking would only antagonize corrupt regional warlords whose support they needed, and might turn more of the populace against American troops.

It was only in the last year or two of the Bush administration that the United States began to recognize that the Taliban insurgency was being revived with the help of drug money.

The policy of going after drug lords is likely to raise legal concerns from some NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan. Several NATO countries initially questioned whether the new policy would comply with international law.

“This was a hard sell in NATO,” said retired Gen. John Craddock, who was supreme allied commander of NATO forces until he retired in July.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO until last month, told the Senate committee staff that to deal with the concerns of other nations with troops in Afghanistan, safeguards had been put in place to make sure the alliance remained within legal bounds while pursuing drug traffickers. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, is also informed before a mission takes place, according to a senior military official.

General Craddock said that some NATO countries were also concerned that the new policy would draw the drug lords closer to the Taliban, because they would turn to them for more protection. “But the opposite is the case, since it weakens the Taliban, so they can’t provide that protection,” General Craddock said. “If we continue to push on this, we will see progress,” he added. “It’s causing them problems.”

In a surprise, the Senate report reveals that the United States intelligence community believes that the Taliban has been getting less money from the drug trade than previous public studies have suggested. The Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency both estimate that the Taliban obtains about $70 million a year from drugs.

The Senate report found that American officials did not believe that Afghan drug money was fueling Al Qaeda, which instead relies on contributions from wealthy individuals and charities in Persian Gulf countries, as well as aid organizations working inside Afghanistan.

But even with the new, more cautious estimates, the Taliban has plenty of drug money to finance its relatively inexpensive insurgency. Taliban foot soldiers are paid just $10 a day — more if they plant an improvised explosive device.

Not all those suspected of drug trafficking will end up on the Pentagon’s list. Intelligence gathered by the United States and Afghanistan will more often be used for prosecutions, although American officials are frustrated that they still have not been able to negotiate an extradition treaty with the Afghan government.

A major unresolved problem in the counternarcotics strategy is the fact that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains wide open, and the Pakistanis are doing little to close down drug smuggling routes.

A senior American law enforcement official in the region is quoted in the report as saying that cooperation with Pakistan on counternarcotics is so poor that traffickers cross the border with impunity.

“We give them leads on targets,” the official said in describing the Pakistani government’s counternarcotics tactics, adding, “We get smiles, a decent cup of tea, occasional reheated sandwiches and assertions of progress, and we all leave with smiles on our faces.”