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THE INDEX — September 4, 2009

The Taliban and the U.S.-NATO coalition each launched targeted attacks inside Afghanistan over the last two days. On Thursday, a Taliban suicide bomber assassinated Abdullah Laghmani, the deputy director of Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS) and a dedicated Afghan official instrumental in defeating the Taliban. The attack occurred in Laghman Province, east of Kabul, after Laghmani had attended the inauguration of a mosque. The blast killed 23 others and wounded 36. Recent Taliban bombings have become increasingly sophisticated, using suicide bombers and roadside bombs in relatively secure areas; these tactics, and their increasing lethality, suggest to some analysts increasing cooperation with al Qaeda.  The next day, in northern Kunduz Province, a NATO airstrike targeted Taliban forces that had hijacked two oil tankers. A spokesman for the Kunduz government said the blast killed more than 90, including several children seeking free fuel, while NATO reported that 56 were killed, none of whom were combatants.  Airstrikes have frequently proven counterproductive for the U.S.-NATO coalition because they often inadvertently result in innocent casualties. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, issued guidelines in June to discourage airstrikes unless absolutely necessary. The United States cut off nearly $30 million in aid to Honduras after its coup-installed government rejected a proposal to return the ousted Manuel Zelaya to power. The State Department said the aid would only resume if the de facto regime, which has been internationally condemned since taking power in June, steps down and restores "democratic, constitutional governance in Honduras." The aid was suspended immediately following the coup, but certain types of development and humanitarian aid will continue. However, formally terminating aid to Roberto Micheletti's interim government serves to send a "powerful signal," said a senior State Department official. The board of the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation, which is currently slated to provide more than $200 million to Honduras over the next four years, will also consider cutting off aid to the country next week. The State Department's announcement came after Zelaya urged the United States to do more to pressure the government in a speech at George Washington University on Wednesday and in a meeting with U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Thursday. "[Obama is] risking his prestige in Latin America,” Zelaya said. "We are not asking him to intervene. We are asking him to be consistent with democratic principles. And if he does that, Latin America will applaud." North Korea is in the final stages of enriching uranium, giving the communist state a possible second way to make nuclear bombs, according to the country's official news agency. In defiance of recent United Nations sanctions and in light of a number of peace overtures this summer, the official Korean Central News Agency quoted its permanent representative to the U.N. as saying that “experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase." While the claims cannot be verified, a South Korean defense ministry spokesman said the North’s statements could be “rhetoric aimed at raising the stakes in future negotiations.” The United States’ special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, said the uranium claim was “a concern.” After the U.N. punished North Korea with sanctions following its latest nuclear test in May, the North vowed to start an enriched uranium program and to extract more plutonium from spent fuel rods. Experts estimate that the North has enough plutonium to build six to eight bombs. A uranium nuclear program is harder to monitor because it is more easily hidden from spy satellites.

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