Taliban cheers reopening of NATO supply routes

U.S. and Pakistani officials signed a memorandum of understanding today, finally reopening supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven month blockade. In a statement to the press, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan assured that public that the decision to restore supply lines was made "without any financial benefit." 

That may be true for Pakistan, but not everyone is coming out of this empty-handed. The Associated Press reports:             

"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. "Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."

A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.

"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."

The U.S. military estimates that theft, bribery and mismanagement put $360 million in the hands of the Taliban, regional war lords and criminals in 2010 alone -- with more than half that amount pinched from convoys along the supply routes.

Citing evidence "rang[ing] from sobering to shocking," a 2010 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled Warlord, Inc illustrated the extent of extortion and corruption along the Afghanistan supply routes and called for increased efforts to cut losses.  Efforts to protect supply routes and diminish the influence of local power brokers have gained little traction and convoys remain a target for attack and theft.

Though today's MOU banned the transport of arms and ammunition, the Taliban's glee remains unabated. "We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again," cheered one commander, "Now work is back to normal."



What's Romney's problem with Ecuador?

A comment made by Mitt Romney at a Jerusalem fundraiser, in which he attributed Israel's high GDP relative to the Palestinian territories to the power of culture, has been getting a lot of attention. But those weren't the only places he mentioned:

"And that exists also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador; Mexico and the United States," Romney added, before noting that culture "makes all the difference." It's a point he consistently stressed on the 2008 campaign trail.

While poorer than the United States, Mexico's actually been doing okay lately, when it comes to economic growth. It also seems a little odd, coming from Romney, that he would choose to attribute Ecuador's poverty to cultural factors rather than political mismanagement -- particularly that of leftist President Rafael Correa. I doubt, for example, he would ever say the same thing about Cuba -- a country with a pretty similar GDP per capita to Ecuador.