News & Current Affairs

January 9, 2009

Pakistan al-Qaeda leaders ‘dead’

Pakistan al-Qaeda leaders ‘dead’

An undated photograph of Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan released in 1998 by the US district attorney's office

Swedan is said to have been Kini’s top aide

Al-Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan and another top aide are believed to have been killed, US sources say.

Usama al-Kini and his lieutenant, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, were both killed in recent days, US counter-terrorism officials said.

Unconfirmed reports say the two men were killed by a missile fired by a US drone near the Afghan border.

Kini was believed to be behind last year’s deadly attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, they said.

Fifty-five people were killed when a truck packed with explosives rammed the hotel in September 2008.

‘Significant’

Both al-Qaeda suspects died in South Waziristan, on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, an unidentified US counter-terrorism official told Reuters news agency.

“These deaths are a significant near-term degradation of al-Qaeda’s leadership,” he added.

Aftermath of the blast at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, on 20 September 2008

Kini was involved in the Islamabad Marriott attack, officials say

He gave no details of how the men died.

However, the Washington Post, also citing intelligence sources, said they were killed in a missile strike by a CIA drone aircraft on a building on 1 January.

“They died preparing new acts of terror,” the US daily quoted a counter-terrorism official as saying.

The men – both born in Kenya – were on the FBI’s most-wanted list over the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Kini was also thought to have been behind an unsuccessful attempt on the life of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was later killed in a separate attack, US officials said.

The website reported on 1 January that an unmanned CIA aircraft had fired three missiles in the Karikot area of South Waziristan, killing three suspected militants.

The US has launched dozens of similar attacks in recent months, mostly targeting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

‘Violation’

The lawless tribal areas on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan are considered a sanctuary for the insurgents.

The US says the militants regularly cross over the porous border into Afghanistan where the US troops have been fighting since 2001.

The drone attacks are believed to have been largely on-target, hitting Taleban and al-Qaeda hideouts.

There have been few civilian casualties, officials say.

But Pakistani media and opposition parties term these attacks a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the government has been under immense public pressure to defend its territory against them.

Islamabad says the attacks are counter-productive as they help offset the negative popularity the Islamist militants have gained in areas under their control.

Advertisements

September 25, 2008

Pakistan fires on Nato aircraft

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:10 pm

Pakistan fires on Nato aircraft

Pakistani soldier in Bajur

US action across the Pakistan border has raised tensions

Pakistan says its troops fired warning shots at two Nato helicopters as they crossed the border from Afghanistan.

It is the first time the Pakistan army has admitted opening fire near US or Nato forces, as tension grows over cross border military action.

Nato said its aircraft were not in Pakistani airspace when shots were fired over Khost province.

The Pentagon said they were US helicopters and that Pakistan would have to explain what had happened.

Chief Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that the helicopters had “crossed into our territory in Ghulam Khan area”.

“They passed over our checkpost so our troops fired warning shots,” he said.

He added that the matter was being taken up with the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Kabul.

‘Flares’ fired

However, Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, appeared to contradict his military spokesman, insisting that his troops had only fired “flares” to warn the helicopters they were near the Pakistan border.

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan, in Islamabad, says that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is very unclear.

Map locator

There is an imaginary border called the Durand line which each side marks differently.

Our correspondent says that, in reality, the border is marked by a 3-4km (1-2 mile) stretch of no man’s land.

Pakistan says that this is its territory and Afghanistan makes similar claims.

In a statement, Isaf said its helicopters had received small-arms fire from a Pakistan military checkpoint along the border near Tanai district, Khost, on 25 September “while conducting routine operations in Afghanistan”.

“At no time did Isaf helicopters cross into Pakistani airspace,” it added.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “The flight path of the helicopters at no point took them over Pakistan.”

He said US and Nato officials were speaking to their Pakistani counterparts to determine what had happened and to ensure there was no recurrence.

“The Pakistanis have to provide us with a better understanding of why this took place,” he said.

Local tribesmen in the area told the BBC that two helicopters were trying to cross into Pakistani territory near Ghulam Khan, in North Waziristan, when Pakistani troops at posts near the border fired at them.

There are currently two Western military operations in Afghanistan – a US-led coalition and the Nato-led Isaf mission.

It appears the helicopters involved in Thursday’s incident were US OH-58 reconnaissance aircraft operating under the Nato flag.

The BBC’s Martin Patience, in Kabul, says it is believed to be the first time Nato helicopters have been fired on in this fashion.

BORDER TENSIONS
3 Sept: First reported ground assault by US troops in Pakistan – Islamabad responds furiously
15 Sept: Pakistani troops reportedly fire in air to stop US troops crossing in S Waziristan
17 Sept: Top US military chief Adm Mike Mullen visits Pakistan to calm tensions
16 Sept: Pakistan says it was not told of fresh US missile strike
22 Sept: Pakistani troops in fresh firing to deter US incursion into N Waziristan, officials say
25 Sept: Pakistani troops fire warning shots at Nato helicopters on border with Khost

Correspondents say there is growing anger in Pakistan at US forces in Afghanistan allegedly violating Pakistani sovereignty.

The remote Afghan-Pakistani frontier is rife with militant groups.

BBC defence correspondent Rob Watson says the US doubts Pakistan’s capability – and even willingness in some quarters – to tackle Islamic extremists.

There has been growing tension between the two countries since 3 September when the US conducted its first ground assault in Pakistani territory on what it said was a militant target in South Waziristan.

Pakistan reacted angrily to the action, saying 20 innocent villagers had been killed by US troops.

Local officials have said that on two occasions since then Pakistani troops or tribesmen have opened fire to stop US forces crossing the border. The claims were not officially confirmed.

On Wednesday, a drone believed to be operated by the CIA crashed inside Pakistan.

The US and Nato have called on Pakistan to do more to curb militants operating in the border area.

September 15, 2008

Pakistan soldiers ‘confront US’

Pakistan soldiers ‘confront US’

Map

Pakistani troops have fired shots into the air to stop US troops crossing into the South Waziristan region of Pakistan, local officials say.

Reports say nine US helicopters landed on the Afghan side of the border and US troops then tried to cross the border.

South Waziristan is one of the main areas from which Islamist militants launch attacks into Afghanistan.

The incident comes amid growing anger in Pakistan over US attacks along the border region.

The confrontation began at around midnight, local people say.

They say seven US helicopter gunships and two troop-carrying Chinook helicopters landed in the Afghan province of Paktika near the Zohba mountain range.

US troops from the Chinooks then tried to cross the border. As they did so, Pakistani paramilitary soldiers at a checkpoint opened fire into the air and the US troops decided not to continue forward, local Pakistani officials say.

Reports say the firing lasted for several hours. Local people evacuated their homes and tribesmen took up defensive positions in the mountains.

The incident happened close to the town of Angoor Adda, some 30km (20 miles) from Wana, the main town of South Waziristan.

A Pakistani military spokesman in Islamabad confirmed that there was firing but denied that Pakistani troops were involved.

Diplomatic fury

It emerged last week that US President George W Bush has in recent months authorised military raids against militants inside Pakistan without prior approval from Islamabad.

There have been a number of missile attacks aimed at militants in Pakistan territory in recent weeks.

Pakistan reacted with diplomatic fury when US helicopters landed troops in South Waziristan on 3 September. It was the first ground assault by US troops in Pakistan.

Locals in the Musa Nikeh area said American soldiers attacked a target with gunfire and bombs, and said women and children were among some 20 civilians who died in the attack.

September 10, 2008

The Afghan-Pakistan militant nexus

The Afghan-Pakistan militant nexus

Mapping where militants operate in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, seven years into America’s self-declared war on terror. (Text: M Ilyas Khan)

Helmand, Chaghai

Kabul’s writ has never run strong in the remote southern plains of Helmand province. Further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of Balochistan province.

Since 9/11, this region has been in turmoil. In the Baramcha area on the Afghan side of the border, the Taleban have a major base. The chief commander is Mansoor Dadullah. From there they control militant activities as far afield as Nimroz and Farah provinces in the west, Oruzgan in the north and parts of Kandahar province in the east. They also link up with groups based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The Helmand Taleban, unlike comrades elsewhere in Afghanistan, have been able to capture territory and hold it, mostly in the southern parts of the province. They constantly threaten traffic on the highway that connects Kandahar with Herat.

Kandahar, Quetta

Kandahar has the symbolic importance of being the spiritual centre of the Taleban movement and also the place of its origin. The supreme Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, made the city his headquarters when the Taleban came to power in 1996. Top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, preferred it to the country’s political capital, Kabul.

As such, the control of Kandahar province is a matter of great prestige. The first suicide attacks in Afghanistan took place in Kandahar in 2005-06, and were linked to al-Qaeda. Kandahar has seen some high-profile jailbreaks and assassination bids, including one on President Karzai.

The Afghan government has prevented the Taleban from seizing control of any significant district centre or town. International forces have large bases in the airport area as well as at the former residence of Mullah Omar in the western suburbs of Kandahar city.

But the Taleban have a strong presence in the countryside, especially in southern and eastern areas along the border with Pakistan. Afghan and Western officials have in the past said the Taleban have used Quetta, the capital of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, as a major hideout as well as other Pakistani towns along the Kandahar border.

Mullah Omar is probably in hiding in Kandahar or Helmand.

Zabul, Toba Kakar

Afghanistan’s Zabul province lies to the north of Kandahar, along the Toba Kakar mountain range that separates it from the Pakistani districts of Killa Saifullah and Killa Abdullah. The mountans are remote, and have been largely quiet except for a couple of occasions when Pakistani security forces scoured them for al-Qaeda suspects.

Reports from Afghanistan say militants use the area in special circumstances. In early 2002, Taleban militants fleeing US forces in Paktia and Paktika provinces took a detour through South Waziristan to re-enter Afghanistan via Zabul. Occasionally, Taleban insurgents use the Toba Kakar passes when infiltration through South Waziristan is difficult due to intensified vigilance by Pakistani and Afghan border guards.

Zabul provides access to the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Oruzgan and Kandahar. There are few Afghan or foreign forces in the area, except on the highway that connects Qalat, the capital of Zabul, to Kandahar in the south-west, and Ghazni and Kabul in the north.

South Waziristan, Paktika

South Waziristan, a tribal district in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), is the first significant sanctuary Islamic militants carved for themselves outside Afghanistan after 9/11. Militants driven by US troops from the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province in late 2001, and later from the Shahikot mountains of Paktia in early 2002, poured into the main town, Wana, in their hundreds. They included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Uighur Chinese, Afghans and Pakistanis. Some moved on to urban centers in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Others slipped back into Afghanistan or headed west to Quetta and onwards to Iran. But most stayed back and fought the Pakistani army during 2004-05.

The eastern half of South Waziristan is inhabited by the Mehsud tribe and the main militant commander here is Baitullah Mehsud. The western half, along the border with Afghanistan, is Ahmedzai Wazir territory where the chief commander is Maulvi Nazir. The Mehsuds only live on the Pakistani side, while the Wazirs inhabit both sides of the border.

These sanctuaries directly threaten Afghanistan’s Paktika province, where the US-led forces have a base in the Barmal region and several outposts along the border to counter infiltration. Pakistani security forces also man scores of border checkposts in the region.

However, infiltration has continued unabated and the number of hit-and-run attacks on foreign troops has been one of the highest in this region. Militants based in the region are known to have carried out strikes as far away as the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

North Waziristan, Paktia, Khost

The North Waziristan region is dominated by the Wazir tribe that also inhabits the adjoining Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost. North and South Waziristan form the most lethal zone from where militants have been successfully destabilising not only Paktika and Khost, but other Afghan provinces such as Paktia, Ghazni, Wardak and Logar. Groups based in Waziristan region are known to have carried out some recent attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well.

Tribal identities are particularly strong in Paktika, Khost and Paktia. During the Taleban rule of 1997-2001, these provinces were ruled by their own tribal governors instead of the Kandahari Taleban who held power over the rest of the country. In the current phase of the fighting they coordinate with the militants in Kandahar and Helmand, but they have stuck with their own leadership that dates back to the war against the Soviets in 1980s.

The veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani is based in North Waziristan. He has wielded considerable influence over the top commanders in South and North Waziristan. He is also reported to have maintained links with sections of the Pakistani security establishment and is known to have mediated peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Wazir and Mehsud commanders in the region. Mr Haqqani is now an old man, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over most of his work.

There are many Arab and other foreign fighters in North and South Waziristan. This is due to Jalaluddin Haqqani’s close links with the al-Qaeda leadership. He married an Arab woman in the 1980s.

In view of the sensitivity of Waziristan region, US-led forces have set up a large base in Khost from where they conduct operations not only along the Waziristan region to the south but also in parts of the border region in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces to the north.

Kurram, Khyber, Nangarhar

As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan guerillas against the Soviets in the ’80s discovered to their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is just 90km away. But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that opposes the Taleban for religious reasons, the Taleban have not been able to get a foothold here. Analysts say this is the main reason why the Taleban have taken so long to improve their strength in areas around Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.

Some militant groups in the Khyber tribal district have carried out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. But the Pakistani government has kept a close watch on them. One reason may be to curb the ability of these groups to block the highway through Khyber which serves as the main conduit for supplies to international forces in Afghanistan that come via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

Mohmand, Bajaur, Kunar

Analysts have long suspected Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders. The Mohmand and Bajaur tribal districts are also believed to be the stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the main Afghan guerrilla leaders of the 1980s. Mr Hekmatyar fought the Taleban in 1990s, but after 9/11 started working with them. The actual extent of cooperation is not known. The groups in Mohmand and Bajaur are members of an umbrella organisation which is headed by South Waziristan’s Baitullah Mehsud known as the Tehreek-e-Taleban (Pakistan Taleban).

Militants based in Mohmand and Bajaur have been striking at installations and supply lines of international forces based in the Narai region of Afghanistan’s Kunar province. In recent months, they are also reported to have crossed the Hindu Kush foothills to carry out attacks on foreign troops in the Sarobi, Tagab and Nejrab areas around Kabul.

Oruzgan, Ghazni, Wardak, Logar

For a long time the Taleban were unable to maintain sustained pressure on the country’s south-central highlands. But with safe sanctuaries in the border region – from the Baramcha area of Helmand province in the south, to some parts of Pakistani Balochistan, the Waziristan country and Bajaur-Mohmand territory to the east – the Taleban finally have the capacity to challenge the government in this region. The roads in Ghazni and Oruzgan are not as safe as they were a couple of years ago and officials are losing the will to maintain the government’s authority.

Training camps run by al-Qaeda and Taleban groups have multiplied in secure border regions over the last few years. Safe havens have also afforded the militants endless opportunities to find new recruits. The Waziristan region is also known to be a haven for young suicide bombers and trained in remote camps. The Taleban also appear to have had access to sophisticated military equipment and professionally drawn-up battle plans.

The strategy appears to be the same as in 1980s – ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Sporadic attacks on the security forces and the police have grown more frequent over the years, and have also crept closer to Kabul. At the same time, the Taleban have destroyed most of the education infrastructure in the countryside, a vital link between the central government and the isolated agrarian citizenry.

Oruzgan has mostly come under pressure from groups in Kandahar and Helmand. These groups, as well as those based in the Waziristan-Paktika-Khost region, have also moved up the highway via Ghazni to infiltrate Wardak on the left and Logar on the right. Safe and quiet until less than two years ago, both these provinces are now said to be increasingly infiltrated by Taleban fighters. The same is true of militants putting pressure on Kabul from Sarobi and Tagab in the east, with their tentacles stretching back to Laghman, Kunar and Bajaur.

Swat

A former princely state, Swat, in northern Pakistan, was governed by a British era law which a court declared unconstitutional in early 1990s, triggering a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic law in the district.

The insurgency was effectively put down in 1994, but it re-emerged after 9/11, and was joined by many battle-hardened militants from Waziristan, Bajaur and the neighbouring district of Dir. During a 10-month long operation that still continues, the security forces have disrupted the infrastructure of the militants but is still to clear them out of the area. The militants have been targeting the security forces, the police, secular politicians and government-run schools.

September 4, 2008

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan

Tension in Pakistan’s north-west has increased in recent months

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest at an alleged cross-border raid which officials say killed at least 15 villagers in the north-west.

A number of civilians were reported killed in the raid, which Pakistan says was a violation of its sovereignty.

Correspondents say the raid appears to have been the first ever ground assault by foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

US-led and Nato forces said they had no reports of any such incursion. Border tensions have risen in recent weeks.

US aircraft have carried out air strikes in the region, but a ground assault would be unprecedented.

It is not clear who the target of any attack might have been.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any foreign power to carry out attacks on its territory.

He was speaking hours after his motorcade was hit by sniper fire near the capital, Islamabad. Senior government officials say he was not in the car at the time.

‘Act of aggression’

Pakistani military and political officials say ground troops brought in by US-led coalition helicopters launched the attack in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border early on Wednesday morning.

Map

Locals say soldiers attacked with gunfire and bombs. Women and children were among those reported killed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said a “very strong protest” had been delivered to the ambassador, Anne Paterson.

“The ambassador said that she would convey it to her government,” he said.

The army called the attack an act of aggression which undermined the fight against militancy.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, who is in administrative charge of the tribal areas, called the attack “cowardly”.

“At least 20 innocent citizens of Pakistan, including women and children, were martyred,” he said in a statement.

There is mounting US pressure on Pakistan – a key ally in the “war on terror” – to crack down on militants, who use the border region to launch raids into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and Nato say the border region is a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan says it is doing all it can to curb militancy.

On Monday, Pakistan’s military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in the neighboring Bajaur tribal area.

The government said this suspension of fighting was to respect the fasting month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

August 25, 2008

Pakistan government bans Taleban

Pakistan government bans Taleban

Baitullah Mehsud

Baitullah Mehsud is the head of Pakistan’s Taleban

Pakistan has banned the Taleban militant group which has been behind many suicide attacks in the country since 2007.

The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) will have its bank accounts and assets frozen, the interior ministry said.

Last week the Taleban claimed responsibility for an attack on a munitions plant in Punjab province in which 67 people were killed.

It is not yet clear what impact the ban will have on the militants.

The TTP is a loose grouping of militants headed by Baitullah Mehsud who is based in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal district on Afghanistan’s border.

The ban on the Taleban comes a day after the man likely to be Pakistan’s next president, Asif Ali Zardari, advocated such a move in a BBC interview.

‘Created mayhem’

“We have banned Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan because of their involvement in a series of suicide attacks,” interior ministry chief Rehman Malik said.

“They themselves have claimed responsibility of several suicide attacks and the government cannot engage in a dialogue with such people,” he said.

Mr Malik said the Taleban had “created mayhem against the public life”.

A ministry official told that the state bank had been asked to freeze any accounts the organization might have.

The Pakistan Taleban is fighting for an Islamic state. They see it as their religious duty to fight the international forces currently in Afghanistan.

Meeting journalists in May, Baitullah Mehsud said his organization did not want to fight Pakistan’s army, but that it was being forced to because the army were “slaves to US demands”.

There have been a number of local ceasefire deals with the Taleban and other militants but none have been successful in stopping the violence or preventing incursions into Afghanistan, our correspondent says.

Blog at WordPress.com.