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Category — Afghanistan

Use carrot and stick in ties with Pakistan, US Senate urges Trump: Report

Report in Dawn, July 31st, 2017
WASHINGTON: The US Senate is urging the Trump administration to use a combination of sanction threats and offers of a long-term partnership to persuade Pakistan to stop “supporting Afghan insurgents”.

An amendment to the US National Defence Authorisation Act 2018 also suggests strictly conditioning further US military, economic and governance assistance programmes for Afghanistan upon measurable progress in achieving the benchmarks for implementing necessary institutional reforms, especially those related to anti-corruption, financial transparency and the rule of law.

Senator John McCain, who moved the amendment, chairs the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and his legislative moves often get through Congress.

The section on Pakistan wants the US administration to “pursue an integrated civil-military strategy” that would achieve Washington’s strategic objectives by “imposing graduated diplomatic, military and economic costs on Pakistan as long as it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani network”.

To achieve this target, the amendment suggests “simultaneously outlining the potential benefits of a long-term US-Pakistan strategic partnership that could result from the cessation by Pakistan of support for all terrorist and insurgent groups and constructive role in bringing about a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan”.

The proposed legislation emphasises the need for intensifying US regional diplomatic efforts, working through flexible frameworks for regional dialogue together with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other nations. Such efforts should aim to promote political reconciliation in Afghanistan by advancing regional cooperation on issues such as border security, intelligence sharing, counternarcotics, transportation and trade, says the amendment which was moved in the Senate on Friday, but its text was released on Saturday.

The move requires the US government to work with governments in the greater South Asian region to reduce mistrust and build confidence among regional states.

Sense of Congress: The Senate amendment 609 to NDAA-2018 includes a sense of Congress, requiring the administration to deny, disrupt, degrade and destroy the ability of terrorist groups to conduct attacks against the US, its allies and its core interests. The amendment also allows it to prevent the Taliban from using force to overthrow the Afghan government and reduce the Taliban’s control of the Afghan population.

The proposed legislation calls for strengthening the Afghan security forces and provides authorisation for using US forces to target militants of the Haqqani network, the Taliban and others.

The amendment asks the US president to ensure that the Secretary of Defence, the Secretary of State and US military commanders have all the necessary means based on political and security conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and unconstrained by arbitrary timelines, to carry out an integrated civil-military strategy in the war-torn country.

On July 14, the US House of Representatives adopted three legislative amendments seeking tougher conditions for reimbursement of defence funding to Pakistan.

The amendments require Pakistan to make satisfactory progress in the fight against terrorism if it wants to continue receiving the US assistance. Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Ted Poe, who moved the three amendments, have also sponsored a resolution that seeks to declare the country a state sponsor of terrorism.

Through a separate resolution, they are seeking to remove Pakistan from the list of major non-Nato allies, a designation that confers a variety of military and financial advantages that otherwise are not obtainable to non-Nato countries. Pakistan became a major non-Nato ally in 2004.

Last week, the Pentagon informed Pakistan that it would not make the remaining military reimbursements for the fiscal year 2016 because Defence Secretary Jim Mattis cannot certify that Islamabad had taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network.

The decision will immediately affect a reimbursement of about $50 million, as Congress had already reprogrammed $300m. Pakistan had already received $550m of the $900m reimbursement the country was authorised in 2016.

Pakistan is authorised to receive up to $900m of reimbursements in the current fiscal year. “Pakistan still has time to take action against the Haqqani network in order to influence the secretary’s certification decision in FY17,” the Pentagon said.https://www.dawn.com/news/1348732/use-carrot-and-stick-in-ties-with-pakistan-us-senate-urges-trump

July 31, 2017   No Comments

Pakistani diplomatic officials abducted in Afghanistan rescued in operation

by Naveed Siddiqui in Dawn, July 27th, 2017
Two Pakistani diplomatic officials abducted in Afghanistan last month were recovered in an operation conducted by Afghan security forces, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told Pakistani officials in Kabul on Wednesday.

The two were members of staff of the Consulate General of Pakistan in Jalalabad. They were kidnapped while they were travelling from Jalalabad to Torkham.

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal had assured the Pakistani government that Afghanistan’s security institutions and intelligence agencies were looking for the abducted officials.

President Ghani personally phoned Pakistan’s charge d’affaires in Kabul to inform the mission that Afghan security forces had recovered the officials.

Subsequently, the two officials were handed over to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are expected to return to Pakistan soon.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua conveyed the Pakistani government’s gratitude over the safe recovery of the diplomats to Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai.

July 27, 2017   No Comments

A much-feared Taliban offshoot returns from the dead: The Washington Post, July 19 at 4:08 AM

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — When a fake sewage tanker truck carrying 3,000 pounds of explosives managed to reach a high-security district of Kabul on May 31, then detonated in an explosion that left 150 people dead and 400 wounded, no insurgent or terrorist group asserted responsibility. But immediately, the rumors began to spread.
The Haqqanis. It had to be the Haqqani network, people said. No one else could have pulled off such a precise and spectacular crime. The Afghan intelligence police soon publicly accused the group, too, adding that it had gotten help from Pakistan’s spy agency. Seven weeks later, the bombing remains unclaimed, and the Afghan capital is still reeling from it.
By rights, the Haqqanis should be barely standing. For years, this clan-based Taliban offshoot has been a high-priority target for Afghan forces and their U.S.-led allies. The group’s charismatic founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is believed to have died of illness, and most of his sons and senior commanders have been killed or imprisoned. Pakistan, which once allowed the Haqqanis to rule their own ministate in the border badlands, now claims to have driven them out.
So why does the name “Haq¬qani network” still evoke such dread? Why is this group of a few thousand fighters still center stage in a grinding 16-year war, and why have their elusive whereabouts become Exhibit A among those who say that the Trump administration must punish Pakistan, a longtime security and military ally, for harboring terrorists?
The answers to the Haqqanis’ survival have much to do with qualities that Jalaluddin Haq-qani, a former Taliban minister and friend of Osama bin Laden, cultivated and passed on to his surviving son and successor, Sira¬juddin. These include kinship bonds and unwavering religious ideology, strong discipline and careful planning, and an enduring ability to attract supporters, whether young suicide-bomber trainees or generous Middle Eastern backers.
This mix of assets helped the Haqqanis carry out a long list of deadly and high-profile attacks in Kabul during the past decade, including an assault on the Indian Embassyand another on the fortresslike Serena hotel. The group, always close to al-Qaeda, is widely said to have introduced suicide bombings to the Afghan conflict, and the one on May 31 was especially horrific.
U.S. officials have accused Pakistan of providing sanctuary to the Haqqanis — keeping them as a proxy force while purporting to want peace in the region. The issue has sharpened as the Trump administration grapples with what policies to take in the conflicted region and as U.S. military officials have argued for a stepped-up military presence.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, told a Senate committee in February that the Taliban and the Haqqanis in particular are “the greatest threats to security in Afghanistan” and that their leaders “enjoy freedom of action within Pakistan safe havens.” The Haqqani network was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the Obama administration in 2012.
Pakistan has repeatedly denied that it harbors or assists the Haqqanis, saying they were driven out of its border tribal region of North Waziristan, along with other insurgent groups, in a counterterrorism campaign by the Pakistani army in 2014-2015.
“The Haqqani network has no presence in Pakistan. It is being operated from Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said last month. He said that Afghans and their foreign allies are blaming Pakistan for their own failures. “The terrorists are on the run, and they have settled in the ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan,” he said.
An Afghan Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in a telephone interview that while some families of Taliban commanders may still live in Pakistan as part of the Afghan refugee community, there is “no truth to the allegations that any Taliban, including the Haqqani network, are being supported by Pakistan or living freely there.”
In early June, the usually elusive Sirajuddin Haqqani posted a long audio message in Afghan Pashto on the Taliban WhatsApp account. In it, he condemned the May 31 bombing and said his fighters had been ordered to avoid attacks in public places where “innocent civilians” were likely to be harmed.
Yet he accused Afghanistan’s foreign allies of trying to “occupy our land and take away the Islamic system from Afghanistan. How could we close our eyes?” he said. “Our aim is to free Afghanistan from their control and influence and enforce the Islamic system. We have lost thousands of lives, made thousands of widows and orphans in this jihad. So we have to take it to its logical ends.”
Haqqani, believed to be in his 40s, has kept a low profile since succeeding his father as commander of the Taliban faction. With a $5 million U.S. bounty for his capture and a history of drone strikes killing his associates, he is said to be permanently on the move. Local supporters in Pakistan said they have not seen him in two years.
But southeastern Afghanistan, especially Khost province along the Pakistan border, remains the Haqqanis’ wartime comfort zone. Sirajuddin Haqqani commands a guerrilla force of at least 5,000 motivated fighters who address him as “khalifa,” or Islamic spiritual leader. One civilian supporter said he had also met Afghan government soldiers and police who helped the Haqqanis carry out attacks in “highly sensitive zones.”
A spokesman for the Haqqanis in Pakistan declined to answer questions by phone. Supporters and analysts said that the group maintains ties with Pakistan’s intelligence service from their anti-Soviet collaboration but that it no longer enjoys free rein, largely due to U.S. pressure.
“Pakistan is no longer a safe place for the Afghan Taliban,” said Muhammad Israr Madani, an Islamic cleric and researcher in Pakistan.
In the past, he said, “some got national identity cards, but now the government has blocked them. I can’t deny the presence of Afghan Taliban and Haqqanis still living in Pakistan, but now it is very difficult for them to live here in peace.”
Maulana Samiul Haq, a cleric whose seminary near Peshawar has produced many Afghan Taliban fighters, said that the Haqqani network is still “the most active and dreaded” Taliban entity but that Pakistan’s influence on the fighters has “weakened” under U.S. pressure. Once, he said, top military and spy officials “welcomed them, but now they avoid meeting them.”
Yet despite Pakistan’s efforts to distance itself from the Haq¬qanis, some of their supporters are convinced this is only a tactical retreat in Pakistan’s long-term campaign to dominate and weaken Afghanistan. “Khalifa is the last hope, and Pakistan will not want to lose him,” said a tribal cleric who is close to the Haq¬qanis.
From their murky border hideouts and camps, the Haqqanis are also known for kidnapping foreigners as hostages. A Canadian American family has been in their custody since 2012, when they were seized on a hiking trip. In a video released by the group in December, the American mother, Caitlin Coleman, 31, pleaded with then-President-elect Donald Trump to save them from “our Kafkaesque nightmare.”
The group has demanded that one of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brothers, who is in prison in Kabul under a death sentence, be spared. If he is executed, it has threatened to kill the family. www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/ruthless-taliban-branch-is-center-stage-in-us-pakistan-tensions/2017/07/18/dc03b2b4-5a89-11e7-aa69-3964a7d55207_story.html?utm_term=.2fa96f089391

July 20, 2017   No Comments

Afghanistan More Deadly for Women and Children, U.N. Says

By MUJIB MASHAL and TAIMOOR SHAH in The NY Times, July 17, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan has grown more deadly this year for women, children and other residents of the capital, the United Nations mission in the country said on Monday, even as the violence is expected to intensify in the coming months with no hope of peace talks any time soon.

A record number of civilians — 1,662 — were killed in the first six months of 2017, a 2 percent increase from the same period last year, the mission reported. An additional 3,581 civilians were wounded.

“The human cost of this ugly war in Afghanistan — loss of life, destruction and immense suffering — is far too high,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the United Nations secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan. He cited the threat posed by homemade bombs or improvised explosive devices, I.E.D.s, used by insurgent groups. “The continued use of indiscriminate, disproportionate and illegal I.E.D. devices by antigovernment elements is particularly appalling and must immediately stop,” he said.

There was a 23 percent rise in the number of women killed. The leading causes of casualties among women were attacks, including suicide bombings, in highly populated civilian areas like Kabul, the capital. These assaults accounted for almost three-quarters of the 174 women killed and 462 injured in the first half of the year.

As more women have joined the work force in Afghanistan, they have become more vulnerable to insurgents targeting government workers during rush hours in crowded parts of the capital, the U.N. report said. Another reason for the increase in women killed or injured in attacks has been the growing intensity of urban assaults.

A huge truck bomb detonated at a crowded traffic circle in Kabul in May was one of the deadliest strikes in the long Afghan war, and a reminder of how the battlefield has extended to the capital. That attack killed around 80 people, and though many of the people killed and injured were commuters on the streets, many other casualties were in office buildings close to the blast site. (Three women were killed in the bombing and another 52 injured.)

Children were again killed in large numbers. They made up more than a quarter of the total casualties, and child deaths were up 9 percent compared with the same period last year.

“These civilian attacks need to stop,” said David Skinner, the country director for the nongovernmental organization Save the Children. “Not only do they injure and kill innocent people in the most horrific way, but they cause untold distress and trauma, especially for children, often leading to serious psychosocial issues and impacting their longer-term development.”

The report blamed antigovernment forces for 67 percent of the civilian casualties, holding the Taliban responsible for 43 percent, the Islamic State for 5 percent and unidentified groups for 19 percent. But Afghans also suffer at the hands of government and allied forces, sometimes as they come across their unexploded ordnance.

The use of homemade bombs has increased. The report commended government forces for reducing civilian casualties from ground engagements, including indiscriminate firing of mortars and other heavy weapons in civilian areas. In the meantime, it said, casualties caused by the insurgents’ use of homemade bombs had only increased. Roughly 40 percent of all civilian casualties — 596 deaths and 1,483 injuries — resulted from the insurgents’ use of such explosives, including suicide bombs, the report said.

The Taliban rejected the report in a statement, calling it one-sided and politically motivated.

Homemade bombs continue to be one of the Taliban’s main weapons, one that was on display again this week as Afghan forces tried to recapture the district of Nawa in the southern province of Helmand.

As Afghan forces pushed toward the district center this week, they had to defuse as many as 100 Taliban bombs, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand.

Kabul, the capital, had the most casualties. Even as violence has increased in 15 of the country’s 34 provinces, mass-casualty attacks in the capital have killed the most civilians, the U.N. report said.

Ninety-four percent of the roughly 1,000 casualties in Kabul resulted from suicide bombings, the largest of which killed more than 90 people and wounded close to 500 when a truck full of explosives went off near the city’s diplomatic enclave. (President Ashraf Ghani put the death toll from that bombing at 150.)

A drastically different case of civilian casualties occurred over the weekend in Kabul, an increasingly militarized city where checkpoints and security barriers have been proliferating. Guards for a senior government official opened fire on a wedding convoy passing in front of his heavily fortified street, killing the bride and another woman.

The Kabul police said that members of the wedding convoy had fired celebratory shots into the air as they were passing the home of Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq, deputy chief executive of the Afghan government, and that his guards had thought they were under attack. Two of the guards have been arrested, said a police spokesman, Abdul Basir Mujahid.

Afghans are also killed by government and allied forces.

A United States military raid last Thursday on the outskirts of Tarinkot city, the capital of Uruzgan Province in the south, resulted in civilian casualties, residents and officials said. Dust Muhammad Nayab, a spokesman for the governor of Uruzgan, said Taliban from all over had come to the rescue of the militants’ shadow governor, the target of the raid, so the fighting had become intense.

“Six civilians have been killed and 12 others injured, including women and children in the cross-fighting,” Mr. Nayab said.

Faiz Muhammad, 60, who lives on the outskirts of Tarinkot, said life had become difficult for his village even before the raid, with the Taliban warning people to leave before each offensive. He would take his family to the forested area of Sajawal, sometimes five times a month, and they would return after the fighting quieted down.

Last week, his family fled, but Mr. Muhammad stayed home to take care of the cattle. One night he heard planes, and the next morning he learned that a raid had taken place in Sajawal. Eight members of his family were killed, he said: his wife, Shapirai, 45; his son Abdul Khaliq, 28; a daughter-in-law; three other sons; and two young grandsons. Five other family members were wounded.

“My heart is just bleeding,” Mr. Muhammad said at the bedside of his 25-year-old son, Mujahid, in a hospital in nearby Kandahar. “The doctors say my son’s leg might need amputation. I am worried about his health — if they do amputate, he will be half a man.”

Capt. Bill Salvin of the United States Navy, a spokesman for the American military in Afghanistan, said the military had “looked at the tapes” and did not see evidence that civilians had been targeted. But he said a preliminary inquiry had been started, a routine response to any claim of civilian casualties. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/world/asia/afghanistan-civilian-deaths-united-nations-report.html

July 18, 2017   No Comments

U.S Senators Call For Elimination Of Taliban Safe Havens

By Samim Faramarz in Tolo News, July 4, 2017 at 10:30 PM
A U.S. congressional delegation on Tuesday warned that Washington will change its approach towards Pakistan if Islamabad fails to tackle militants effectively.
The five-member bipartisan delegation which comprises senator John McCain and fellow senators Lindsey Graham, Elizabeth Warren, David Perdue and Sheldon Whitehouse arrived in Kabul on Tuesday after holding discussions with Pakistani officials in Islamabad.
The congressional delegation stressed the need for the elimination of the Taliban and its brutal offshoot Haqqani Network and their safe havens in Pakistan.
They said that the deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan was needed and that more authorities should be given to these forces to win the war in the country.
“We told them (Pakistan) that in our view, the Haqqani having a safe zone in their country was not acceptable. They (Pakistan) responded that they have taken some measures which is true, such as clearing Waziristan and doing some other work that I think has been important. We told them that we would be discussing the entire situation with the president, with general Mattis and General McMaster. We made it very clear that we expect them to help us in cooperating in our struggle particularly against Haqqani as well as other terror organizations,” said McCain.
“The time for strategy has come. We need a strategy in the United States that defines our role in Afghanistan, defines our objective and explains how we are going to get from here to there,” said senator Elizabeth Warren.
“To Pakistan, if they don’t change their behavior, we are not going to give the right answer, if they don’t change their behavior, then maybe we should change our behavior toward Pakistan as a nation. I will say that I went to North Waziristan and South Waziristan and one thing I will tell him after this visit; you need to pull all our troops out, because eighty six hundred will not get the job done, or add to their number. I think more American forces with NATO forces with more aggressive roles of engagement, utilization of American air power will turn stalemate into success, but we will not win this war to kinetic activity and all of us realize,” said senator Lindsey Graham.
In the past, the U.S senators have said that the existence of Taliban hideouts and safe havens on the other side of the Durand Line pose serious threats to the stability and security in Afghanistan.
The delegation was taken by Pakistan’s military to the semi-autonomous South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
South Waziristan and the neighboring North Waziristan district – part of which is known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area or FATA – have for years harbored local and foreign militants that have been blamed for terrorist attacks in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan.
The lawmakers’ trip comes as Islamabad faces mounting criticism for providing sanctuaries to Taliban-linked groups, who are plotting attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistan. www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/us-senators-call-elimination-taliban-safe-havens

July 5, 2017   No Comments

Pak fighting ‘undeclared war of aggression’ against Afghanistan

KABUL: Afghanistan’s president said Tuesday that last week’s suicide truck bombing in the heart of the capital killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest single attack in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban.

The attack added to growing concerns about whether Afghan forces can defeat the Taliban or an increasingly destructive Islamic State affiliate without further aid from U.S. and international forces, which formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, switching to a support and counterterrorism role.

No one immediately claimed the bombing, but Afghanistan has alleged Pakistani involvement, accusations denied by Islamabad.

President Ashraf Ghani spoke at the opening of the so-called Kabul Process, a gathering of 23 nations, the EU, U.N. and NATO to discuss security and political issues in the country. He again invited the Taliban to peace talks, calling it their “last chance” to give up their 16-year insurgency and join the political process.

“If Taliban wants to join peace talks, the Afghan government will allow them to open an office, but this is their last chance,” Ghani said.

The Taliban have steadily expanded their reach over the last two years, seizing control of several districts in different parts of the country. Past attempts at peace talks have failed. The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government until all foreign forces leave, and still refer to themselves as a government in exile, angering authorities in Kabul.

The U.S.-backed government is also struggling to combat an IS affiliate that has carried out a series of major attacks. Ghani said that over the past two years as many as 11,000 foreign fighters have joined the group.

Ghani also renewed his criticism of neighboring Pakistan, saying it was waging an “undeclared war of aggression” against his country. The two countries have long accused each other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along their porous border, and their forces exchanged fire over a border dispute last month.

Ghani said if the Taliban did not soon begin negotiations, he would seek new sanctions against the group as a sponsor of terrorism.

“This is the last chance, take it or face the consequences,” he said.

Afghanistan accuses elements in Pakistan, worried about old rival India gaining influence in Afghanistan, of providing support for militant groups like the Taliban, an accusation Pakistan denies.

“What will it take to convince Pakistan that a stable Afghanistan helps them and helps our region,” Ghani said.

Afghan security forces say they are still investigating, but that the explosives used appear to have originated in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz rejected the allegations, which he said were part of a “malicious agenda” to damage relations between the two countries.

MORE U.S. TROOPS?: Ghani said Afghanistan had provided its preconditions for negotiations to the Taliban, but it remains unclear whether the group’s leaders represented all factions.

A spokesman for the Taliban said he was not prepared to make immediate comment on the conference.

The militants have said no talks are possible until all foreign troops leave.

The last significant peace effort foundered in 2015 when news broke that long-time Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had died.

The push for a new peace process comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has yet to announce his plans for the region, with at least 8,400 American troops training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

Another 6,000 foreign troops contribute to the advising mission.

U.S. military commanders have proposed sending 3,000 to 5,000 more advisers to Afghanistan in a bid to break the “stalemate”.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires Hugo Llorens, who is overseeing the American embassy as no new ambassador has been nominated by Trump, said the conference was a chance to send the message that “the enemies of Afghanistan cannot win”.

“The conference will be a visible reminder to all those who seek to harm Afghanistan that the Afghan people are never alone, especially in the wake of last week’s attack,” Llorens said in a statement.

But some analysts were skeptical that the Kabul Process meetings would lead to peace talks.

“Signing mutual non-interference or anti-terror support agreements won’t change anything,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, noting that similar accords had been signed in the past. http://nation.com.pk/international/06-Jun-2017/pakistan-waging-undeclared-war-of-aggression-against-afghanistan-ghani

June 7, 2017   No Comments

Afghan Taliban vow to continue fighting throughout Ramazan

By Tahir Khan in Daily Times, 28-May-17
ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban on Saturday ruled out cessation of fighting in Ramazan, saying they would instead step up attacks, as the reward is “highest” in the holy Muslim month.

On the first day of Ramazan, a suicide bomber killed and injured scores of people in Khost, bordering Pakistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Afghanistan’s Tolo TV reported that a suicide car bomber targeted vehicles belonging to members of the local police force campaign in Khost. But officials were quoted as saying that the attack caused mostly civilian casualties. Calls have been made for a halt to fighting as Ramazan begins; however, the Taliban rejected any truce.

“Our fighting is jihad and an obligation. Every obligatory act has 70 times more reward in Ramazan,” a Taliban spokesman said. “Those who advise us to stop jihad in this sacred month are unaware of the religion,” the spokesman claimed in a statement, issued hours after the deadly attack in Khost.

President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah condemned the Taliban attack and said that terrorist groups show no “respect for religious values and sacred days”. “Terrorists have once again committed war crime[s] and unforgivable act[s] and have proved they are merciless,” President Ghani said in a statement. The Taliban have stepped up attacks since they have launched their annual “spring offensive”. Nearly 60 soldiers were killed in a series of attacks in Kandahar, the Taliban birthplace, this week. In April, a group of Taliban bombers attacked a major military centre in the relatively peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing around 150 security personnel. The UN mission in Afghanistan, Afghan leaders and the High Peace Council routinely launch Ramazan truce appeals to the Taliban to respect the holy month.

Meanwhile, the first round of China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Cooperation Dialogue was held in Beijing on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said in Islamabad. The three sides exchanged in-depth views on trilateral cooperation in a friendly atmosphere and agreed to promote practical measures for cooperation, a statement said.

The three sides noted that trilateral cooperation among Pakistan, Afghanistan and China was conducive to peace, stability and development of Afghanistan and the region. The three countries appreciated the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its benefits for promoting regional connectivity. They agreed to advance practical cooperation in various areas so as to promote mutual benefit and regional economic integration under the framework of the Belt and Road initiative. The three sides agreed to organise workshops, seminars and different forums. China and Pakistan will explore trilateral cooperation in areas of infrastructure, energy, education, health, agriculture, human resource training and capacity building, based on the needs of Afghanistan and according to China’s and Pakistan’s respective assistance programmes for Afghanistan. The three sides highly appreciated the outcome of discussions and agreed to make the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Cooperation Dialogue a regular forum. The dialogue was co-chaired by Director General Mansoor Ahmad Khan of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Director General Xiao Qian from Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Director General Khalid Payenda of Afghan Ministry of Finance. http://dailytimes.com.pk/pakistan/28-May-17/afghan-taliban-vow-to-continue-fighting-throughout-ramazan

May 28, 2017   No Comments

Bin Laden’s son steps into father’s shoes at al-Qaeda

By Joby Warrick and Souad Mekhennet in The Washington Post, May 27, 2017 at 6:10 PM
The voice is that of a soft-spoken 28-year-old, but the message is vintage Osama bin Laden, giving orders to kill. When the audio recording began turning up on jihadist websites two weeks ago, it was as if the dead terrorist was channeling himself through his favorite son.

“Prepare diligently to inflict crippling losses on those who have disbelieved,” Hamza bin Laden, scion of the Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind, says in a thin baritone that eerily echoes his father. “Follow in the footsteps of martyrdom-seekers before you.”

The recording, first aired May 13, is one in a string of recent pronouncements by the man who many terrorism experts regard as the crown prince of al-Qaeda’s global network. Posted just two weeks before Monday’s suicide bombing in Manchester, England, the message includes a specific call for attacks on European and North American cities to avenge the deaths of Syrian children killed in airstrikes.

The recording provides fresh evidence of ominous changes underway within the embattled organization that declared war against the West nearly two decades ago, according to U.S., European and Middle Eastern intelligence officials and terrorism experts. Decimated by U.S. military strikes and overshadowed for years by its terrorist rival, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda appears to be signaling the start of a violent new chapter in the group’s history, led by a new bin Laden — one who has vowed to seek revenge for his father’s death.

Encouraged by the Islamic State’s setbacks in Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda is making a play for the allegiance of the Islamic State’s disaffected followers as well as legions of sympathizers around the world, analysts say. The promotion of a youthful figurehead with an iconic family name appears to be a key element in a rebranding effort that includes a shift to Islamic State-style terrorist attacks against adversaries across the Middle East, Europe and North America.

“Al-Qaeda is trying to use the moment — [with] Daesh being under attack — to offer jihadists a new alternative,” said a Middle Eastern security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss counterterrorism assessments and using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “And what could be more effective than a bin Laden?”

Hamza bin Laden is hardly new to the Islamist militant world. His coronation as a terrorist figurehead has been underway since at least 2015, when longtime al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri introduced him in a video message as a “lion from the den” of bin Laden’s terrorist network. But in recent months, he has been promoted as a rising star on pro-al-Qaeda websites, with audio recordings from him urging followers to carry out attacks or commenting on current events. Longtime terrorism analysts say the promotion of Hamza bin Laden appears calculated to appeal to young Islamist militants who still admire Osama bin Laden but see al-Qaeda as outdated or irrelevant.

“Hamza is the most charismatic and potent individual in the next generation of jihadis simply because of his lineage and history,” said Bruce Riedel, who spent 30 years in the CIA and is now director of the Brookings Institution’s Intelligence Project. “At a time when Zawahiri and al-Baghdadi seem to be fading, Hamza is the heir apparent.” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the Islamic State’s leader.

But Hamza bin Laden is not advocating his father’s style of jihad. Osama bin Laden was notorious for his ambitious, carefully planned terrorist operations, directed by al-Qaeda’s generals and aimed at strategic targets. His son, by contrast, urges followers to seize any opportunity to strike at Jewish interests, Americans, Europeans and pro-Western Muslims, using whatever weapon happens to be available.

“It is not necessary that it should be a military tool,” he says in the May 13 recording. “If you are able to pick a firearm, well and good; if not, the options are many.”

The faceless man: Strikingly, for a man who aspires to be the jihadist world’s next rock star, Hamza bin Laden insists on keeping most of his personal details hidden from public view. Even his face.

No confirmed photographs exist of the young terrorist since his boyhood, when he was portrayed multiple times as an adoring son posing with his famous father. He is believed to be married, with at least two children, and he lived for a time in the tribal region of northwestern Pakistan, although his whereabouts are unknown.

His refusal to allow his image to be published may reflect a well-founded concern about his personal safety, but it complicates the militants’ task of making him a terrorist icon, said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that monitors Islamist militancy on social media.

“People loyal to al-Qaeda and against the Islamic State are looking for inspiration, and they realize that he can provide it,” Stalinsky said. “But for today’s youth, you need more than audio and an old photograph.”

What is known about Hamza bin Laden comes from his numerous recordings as well as intelligence reports and scores of documents seized during the 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALS on Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Included in the document trove were personal letters from Hamza to his father, as well as written instructions from the elder bin Laden to his aides on how Hamza was to be educated and provided for.

The documents reveal a special bond between Hamza bin Laden and his father that persisted despite long periods of separation. The 15th of Osama bin Laden’s estimated 20 children, Hamza was the only son born to the terrorist’s third wife, and by some accounts his favorite, Khairiah Sabar, a Saudi woman whose family traces its lineage to the prophet Muhammad.

He spent his early childhood years with his parents, first in Saudi Arabia and later in Sudan and Afghanistan, where his father began to assemble the pieces of his worldwide terrorism network. A family friend who knew Hamza bin Laden as a child said he showed both promise and early flashes of ambition.

“He was a very intelligent and smart boy, very fond of horseback riding, like his father,” said the friend, a longtime associate of the al-Qaeda network, contacted through a social-media chat service. “While his parents wanted him to stay away from battlefields, he had arguments with them about it.”

Then came the 9/11 attacks, which brought the bin Ladens international notoriety and made Hamza’s father the world’s most wanted man. As U.S.-backed Afghan militias closed in on al-Qaeda’s mountain redoubt at Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden dispatched several of his wives and children to Iran, believing that the Islamic republic’s leaders could offer protection from U.S. airstrikes.

Hamza rarely, if ever, saw his father after that. He was still in Iran in his early 20s, living under a kind of house arrest, when he wrote a long missive to his father complaining about his life “behind iron bars” and expressing a longing to join his father as a mujahid, or holy warrior, in his fight against the West, according to a copy of the letter found in bin Laden’s safe house.

“What truly makes me sad,” he wrote in 2009, “is the mujahideen legions have marched and I have not joined them.”

Iran allowed the bin Laden clan to leave the country the following year, and by the time of the 2011 Navy SEAL raid, Hamza’s mother and other family members were living at the elder terrorist’s Pakistan hideout. Notably absent from the Abbottabad compound was Hamza. On Osama bin Laden’s orders, aides had kept him in a separate hideout with the intention of sending him to Qatar to be educated, according to U.S. and Pakistani counterterrorism officials. Already, the patriarch was beginning to see his son as a future al-Qaeda leader, judging from the letters he wrote to his aides shortly before his death.

“Hamza is one of the mujahideen, and he bears their thoughts and worries,” Osama bin Laden wrote in one such letter. “And at the same time, he can interact with the [Muslim] nation.”

Jihadist royalty: Hamza bin Laden’s sense of personal destiny only deepened with the death of his father and half brother Khalid at the hands of U.S. commandos.

By 2015, when Zawahiri introduced Hamza to the world as an al-Qaeda “lion,” the then-26-year-old already had the voice of a veteran Islamist militant, urging followers in an audio recording to inflict the “highest number of painful attacks” on Western cities, from Washington to Paris.

A year later, he delivered a more personal message intended as a tribute to his dead father. Titled “We are all Osama,” the 21-minute spoken essay included a vow for vengeance.

“If you think that the crime you perpetrated in Abbottabad has gone by with no reckoning, you are wrong,” he said. “Yours will be a harsh reckoning. We are a nation that does not rest over injustice.”

Terrorism analysts have noted several recurring themes in Hamza bin Laden’s audio postings that distinguish his Islamist militant philosophy from the views expressed by both his father and putative al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri. One difference: Unlike Zawahiri, Hamza bin Laden has eschewed overt criticism of the Islamic State, perhaps to avoid antagonizing any followers of that terrorist group who might be inclined to shift to al-Qaeda.

The bin Laden family friend suggested that the omission is deliberate, part of an effort to position Hamza bin Laden as a unifying figure for Islamist militants. The associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely, noted that Hamza bin Laden enjoys multiple advantages in this regard, as he can claim to be both a descendant of the prophet and a son of jihadist royalty.

“The calculation is that it will be very difficult for the Daesh leadership to denounce Hamza, given who he is,” the family friend said.

The other distinction is Hamza bin Laden’s persistent calls for self-directed, lone-wolf attacks against a wide array of targets. Here, he appears to be borrowing directly from the playbook of the Islamic State, which has fostered a kind of Everyman’s jihad that does not depend on instructions or permission from higher-ups. His Internet postings have lauded Army psychiatrist and convicted Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 people in a rampage on the base in Texas in 2009, and the two Britons of Ni­ger­ian descent who hacked British soldier Lee Rigby to death on a street outside his London barracks in 2013.

None of those assailants were known al-Qaeda members. Yet, by applauding such attacks, Hamza bin Laden appears to associate himself with a more aggressive style of terrorism that appeals to young Islamist militants, analysts and experts said. Such messages also convey an impression of a terrorist network that, while battered, is far from defeated, said Bruce Hoffman, a former U.S. adviser on counterterrorism and director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

“He brings assurance that, even though al-Qaeda has been hammered in recent years, it’s still in good hands, with a junior bin Laden who is ideally situated to carry on the struggle,” Hoffman said. “Since a very young age, Hamza bin Laden wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. And from al-Qaeda’s perspective, now is the critical time for him to come of age and assume the reins of authority.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/bin-ladens-son-steps-into-fathers-shoes-as-al-qaeda-attempts-a-comeback/2017/05/27/0c89ffc0-4198-11e7-9869-bac8b446820a_story.html?utm_term=.e607039a2fb5

May 28, 2017   No Comments

6250 kg of ammonium seized from a Pakistani bus in Nangarhar

KHAAMA PRESS, May 22 2017, 9:46 pm
The Afghan security forces have seized 6,250 kilograms of ammonium nitrate placed inside 125 sacks from a Pakistani transportation bus in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.
The provincial police commandment in a statement said the ammonium nitrate was placed in a professional way inside the bus as the driver was attempting to transport it to Jalalabad city, the provincial capital of Nangarhar province.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) in a statement also confirmed that the Afghan National Police (ANP) seized 6250 kilos of Ammonium Nitrate, a key component used to make Improvised Explosive Devices.
The Ammonium Nitrate was placed in a bus transporting goods to Afghanistan, the statement said, adding that “The police searched the bus and found the Ammonium Nitrate hidden under the goods in Marco region, Ghani Khil district of eastern Nangarhar province.”
According to MoI, one suspect was arrested on accusation of this case and an investigation was underway into the case.
Taliban insurgents and militants belonging to the other insurgent groups frequently use ammonium nitrate to produce roadside bombs and car bombs which are used for the major attacks.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said earlier this year that the mission has documented 11,418 civilian casualties between 1st January 2016 to 31st December, 2016.
According to the report by UNAMA, 61 percent of all civilian casualties were incurred through attacks by the anti-government elements which includes a total of 6,994 civilian casualties (2,131 deaths and 4,863 injured).http://www.khaama.com/6250-kg-of-ammonium-seized-from-a-pakistani-bus-in-nangarhar-02806

May 23, 2017   No Comments

Afghan Taliban reject Kabul’s ‘un-Islamic’ peace agreement with Hizb-e-Islami

By: Tahir Khan in daily times, 16-May-17
ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban on Monday rejected a peace deal between the Afghan government and Hizb-e-Islami. The deal had been signed in September, 2016.

The Taliban have so far avoided commenting on the peace agreement. However, the insurgents denounced the deal after a senior Hizb spokesman, Qareebur Rehman Saeed, claimed that several Taliban leaders had ‘contacted’ him and agreed to join the peace process.

Saeed had told the Pajhwok news agency in Kabul that members of the Taliban political circles, who had contacted the Hizb-e-Islami, were inside and outside the country.

“The Taliban group has realised that the war is not a solution to the conflict,” Saeed had claimed. The Taliban issued a statement to dismiss as “misplaced, contrary to facts and propaganda” remarks by Hizb-e-Islami spokesman that Taliban officials had contacted him.

“We categorically reject the claim. We have not established any contact with him and the Hizb officials should not involve themselves in such propaganda,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

“The Hizb-e-Islami’s leaders should not take political mileage of the Islamic Emirate’s policies,” the spokesman said. The Taliban use ‘Islamic Emirate’ the name they used during their 1996-2001 rule of Afghanistan.

“The stance of the Islamic Emirate is that laying arms to the enemy and cooperating in realisation of their sinister designs is inadmissible in Shariah and is contrary to the wishes of millions of martyrs,” the Taliban spokesman said in a Pashto-language statement emailed to media persons.

Hizb chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who returned to Kabul this month under the peace deal, had been critical of the Taliban since he re-emerged for the first time in nearly 16 years. Hizb put a stop to its armed resistance as per the 25-point peace agreement. The government has allowed the party to carry out political activities.

Hekmatyar had also offered his mediation between the government and the Taliban. However, the Taliban spokesman had earlier stated they “do not give any importance” to Hekmatyar’s statements. The Taliban’s angry reaction has raised concerns over the possible tension between the Hizb and the Taliban as both have never been on good terms.

Taliban bombers had attacked the house of an MP Mir Wali, who had been associated with Hizb, in Kabul in December, killing at least eight people while injuring Wali and his wife. Son of another MP Obaidullah Barikzai from Kandahar, also a Hizb leader, was killed in the attack. Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami had earlier been involved in clashes in parts of the country including Maidan Wardak, Kunar and Kunduz. Taliban have serious apprehensions over the Hizb’s joining the government. A Hizb-e-Islami spokesman said last week that the party had handed over a list of nearly 4,000 of its former fighters to be recruited in defence forces.

Several Hizb-e-Islami leaders have already joined the government, including Haji Sharafat, who has been made adviser in the Tribal and Border Affairs Ministry. Haji Abdul Malik has been given a senior position in the country’s intelligence agency. As Hizb is now part of the government, it can also be the target of the Taliban as the insurgents have declared war on all organs of the state. http://dailytimes.com.pk/pakistan/16-May-17/afghan-taliban-reject-kabuls-un-islamic-peace-agreement-with-hizb-e-islami

May 16, 2017   No Comments