THE INDEX — February 17, 2010

In NATO’s ongoing offensive against the Taliban, a coalition of Afghan and NATO forces captured the town of Marjah, in southern Afghanistan, on Tuesday. Marjah, which is thought to be the seat of the Taliban’s shadow government in Helmand province, is also located in a region of the country known as Afghanistan’s heroin capital. The takeover of Marjah is part of Operation Moshtarak, the single largest NATO operation in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. Moshtarak, which means “together” in the Afghan language of Dari, is designed to target Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, with the goal of disrupting the group’s governing headquarters and poppy economy. Previous operations against Taliban fighters had dubious rates of success, especially after NATO forces left the area, because of the inability of the coalition to protect the territory captured in battle. However, current U.S. efforts have focused on training Afghan troops to maintain a coalition presence after NATO forces leave an area. In addition to the NATO-Afghan offensive in Helmand province, a secret joint operation between American and Pakistani intelligence operatives succeeded in apprehending the Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Karachi, Pakistan last week. While the New York Times reportedly received news of Baradar’s capture shortly after it happened, White House officials requested that the paper refrain from immediately reporting the capture, for fear of disrupting early intelligence gathering efforts. While some American officials believed that Pakistani intelligence officers were aware of Baradar’s whereabouts for some time, reports suggest that Pakistan was motivated to act after feeling sidelined in American and Afghan efforts. “You cannot say that we are important allies and then you are negotiating with people whom we are hunting and you don’t include us,” said an unnamed Pakistani intelligence officer.

A court in Ukraine temporarily suspended the results of the country’s February 7 presidential election after agreeing to consider a complaint lodged by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a main contender in the race who was narrowly defeated by the purported winner, Viktor Yanukovich. While the country’s election commission certified the results of last week’s vote, Tymoshenko refused to concede defeat, charging her opponent with electoral fraud, despite the contention of international election observers that the vote was free and fair. According to Tymoshenko, the polls were marred by “systemic, fundamental, and general falsifications,” which necessitated a full recount. Viktor Yanukovich’s win in this year’s race was a buoyant comeback after his participation in the country’s 2004 elections. He initially won that vote, too, but a court overturned those election results after charges of fraud were substantiated. The country’s current sitting president, Viktor Yushchenko—who, along with Tymoshenko, led Ukraine’s Orange Revolution—went on to assume the highest office in the land. While President Yushchenko was a contender for reelection in this year’s race, he was defeated in an early round of voting. The court reviewing the current allegations of fraud against Yanukovich will reportedly hand down its decision by the end of this week.

In the aftermath of an assassination of a senior Hamas figure in the United Arab Emirates last month, Hamas is accusing the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of the murder. The assassination, which took place on January 20 in the UAE capital of Dubai, killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas commander who was suspected of traveling to Dubai to purchase weapons for his fighters. In response to accusations of Mossad activity on foreign soil, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said on Wednesday, "There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad, and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief.” However, Lieberman also acknowledged that Israel has a “policy of ambiguity” when it comes to disclosing state intelligence matters. The case took on an additional level of intrigue this week, after officials in Dubai released the names, photos, and passport numbers of 11 of the purported assassins, all of whom seemed to have traveled to the UAE on falsified European passports from Britain, Ireland, France, and Germany. Even more odd is the fact that the falsified passports seem to coincide with the European passport information of at least five Israeli citizens who hold dual passports. However, while the names and passport numbers matched those of the unsuspecting Israeli citizens, the photos did not. According to once such individual, a British-born repairman living in Israel, “I don’t know who a person calls when his identity is stolen," he said. "I’m waiting for someone from the British or Israeli government to contact me and give me answers. I don’t understand how something like this could happen.”

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