Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pakistan closes Afghan supply route

Pakistan has suspended supplies to US and Nato forces in neighbouring Afghanistan as security forces launch a major offensive against suspected pro-Taliban fighters.

The Khyber Pass supply route in the troubled northwest tribal belt was closed on Tuesday, as Pakistan sent tanks, helicopter gunships and artillery units into the region.

Tariq Hayat, the Khyber region's top administrator, said a curfew had been imposed in the region and the main road leading to the Afghan border had been sealed.

"Supplies to Nato forces will remain suspended until we clear the area of militants and outlaws who have gone out of control," he said.

Hayat confirmed Pakistani security forces had launched "an operation against militants and armed groups in Jamrud" - the gateway to the Khyber Pass.

'Giant operation'

Pro-Taliban fighters have carried out a string of attacks in recent months aimed at choking off supplies transported to foreign forces in landlocked Afghanistan through northwest Pakistan.

Hundreds of Nato and US-led coalition vehicles were destroyed in a series of raids earlier this month.

"This is a giant operation. It will continue until we achieve our objective," Hayat said, adding that the operation could be extended beyond the Jamrud region if deemed necessary.

Alongside putting a stop to attacks on Nato and US supply vehicles, Hayat said the operation had been launched to tackle a spate of kidnappings for ransom in the tribal belt that straddles the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Hayat said: "We have 26 targets, we will eliminate their [pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters] hideouts."

Two weeks ago, several haulage companies in Pakistan refused to undertake journeys along the 50km route, saying the security of their drivers could not be guaranteed.

Via Al Jazeera.


The pass being closed will pose a very large problem, as most of our supplies go through it. It is, however, nice to see Pakistan going on the offensive after losing three districts the way they have.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Taliban ‘enforce sharia’ in lower Orakzai Agency

HANGU: The Taliban have announced the enforcement of sharia in the lower parts of Orakzai Agency, Taliban sources said. The Taliban announcement follows the ‘enforcement of sharia’ in the upper parts of the agency seven days ago. Sources said the Taliban were using loudspeakers in mosques to announce the decree and were asking the people to bring their issues to ‘Taliban Islamic courts’, which have been set up in Mashti Meela and Feroze Khel, for their resolution according to Islamic law. The Taliban have banned women from visiting bazaars and have imposed a complete ban on TV and CDs and video centres in the agency. They have, however, allowed women to visit bazaars for medical treatment, but that too if they are accompanied by a male elder of the family. There are 21 tribes in Orakzai and the Taliban have imposed Islamic law on 16 tribes. The other five tribes reside in areas where the Taliban have not announced sharia enforcement as yet. The tribal traditions earlier did not require women to veil their faces, but the Taliban decree has asked them to cover their bodies at all times. The Taliban have also established complaint cells in Ghiljo and Kandi Mishti (Upper Orakzai), and Mamoozai and Feroze Khel (Lower Orakzai).

Via the Daily Times.


This conflict with India could not be happening at a worse time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ethiopia set for Somalia pull out

Ethiopia has refused to reverse its decision to withdraw its forces from Somalia by the end of the year, despite a plea from the African Union (AU) to delay the move which it fears may result in a security vacuum inside the country.

The government in Addis Ababa said last month that it would pull its troops out by the scheduled time amid fears the war-torn country could descend into further anarchy unless more peacekeepers are sent.

"We appeal to Ethiopia to consider phasing out withdrawal, until such time [when] more troops from Nigeria, Uganda and Burundi are deployed in Somalia," the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the AU said in a statement at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital on Monday.

"The security situation in Somalia is alarming ... piracy is escalating against the background of weakening leadership and insurgents control nearly all the country with the exception of Mogadishu and Baidoa."

There are currently some 3,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia supporting the embattled Transitional Federal Government [TFG], which is based in the southern town of Baidoa.

A further 3,400 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi make up the AU mission in the country.

That number is well below the 8,000 troops pledged by the AU two years ago.

But despite the shortfall Ethiopian officials said the pullout of their forces would go ahead.

"The decision to withdraw troops from Somalia was a commitment made by the country's authorities to parliament and will not be changed," said Tekeda Alemu, Ethiopia's minister of state.

About 850 Nigerian troops are expected to join the AU peacekeepers already stationed in the country.


Adding to the fragility of Somalia's TFG government is a growing rift between Abdullahi Yusuf, the president, and Nur Hassan Hussein, the man he sacked as prime minister.

The AU and the US government have backed Hussein and have so far refused to recognise Mohamud Mohamed Guled, the new Somali prime minister, who was selected by the president.

The TFG is also facing an escalation in attacks from opposition fighters, that threatens to reach Mogadishu, the capital.

Fighters from al-Shabab, a group which split from the armed Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), have control of several town and cities across Somalia.

The opposition controls the south of Somalia and has launched a series of raids on Ethiopian forces which have tried to defend the government.

At least 10,000 civilians have been killed in two years of fighting, while a million people have been forced to flee their homes.

Via Al Jazeera.


Ever since the Ethiopian invasion (and indeed beginning prior to it), the remnants of the Islamic Courts Union have been becoming increasingly radicalized; this is particularly true of the successor/splinter group Al-Shabaab. Although I used to be very well informed on the situation in Somalia, I more or less gave up on it in disgust two years ago when Ethiopia invaded, and am therefore unsure how (or if) this will affect the War on Terror. I'm going to see if I can contact James Dahl, the online community's foremost expert on the matter, to see what his take on it is.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

US to bolster force in Afghanistan

The US is planning to send between 20,000 and 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by next summer, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, has said.

The planned deployment follows a request of the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, for more than 20,000 extra US soldiers.

US troops are battling rising violence in Afghanistan, seven years after they first invaded the country to oust the Taliban from power.

"The troops that were asked for in joint discussions with General McKiernan is what we're going to need for the foreseeable future. So I don't see an increase any higher at this point than 20 to 30,000," Mullen said.

Mullen said he hoped the extra troops - including four combat brigades, an aviation brigade and other support forces - could be deployed by mid-2009.

"We're looking to get them here in the spring, but certainly by the beginning of summer at the latest," he said.

The build-up could nearly double the US military presence in Afghanistan, which currently stands at 31,000 soldiers.

Cautionary note

Mullen said he could not give the "exact number" of troops that would be sent, but said 20,000-30,000 represented "the window of the overall increase where we are right now".

But he cautioned against thinking that a massive influx of US forces would automatically bring peace to Afghanistan.

"It isn't going to make a difference after those troops get here, if we haven't made progress on the development side and on the government side," Mullen said.

Some 70,000 foreign troops are already in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban with little success.

Bloodiest year

This year has been the bloodiest for international forces in Afghanistan since the Taliban fell, with nearly 290 soldiers killed.

About 1,000 Afghan troops and police, as well as more than 2,000 civilians, have also been killed in 2008.

George Bush, the outgoing US president, who made a surprise farewell visit to Afghanistan on Monday, acknowledged the difficulty of restoring peace to the country, warning that it would take time.

"This is going to be a long struggle. Ideological struggles take time," he said in Kabul.

Via Al Jazeera.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Explosives discovered in Paris shop

Explosives have been found in a central Paris department store following a bomb warning apparently from a group demanding the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan, French officials have said.

Sticks of dynamite tied together but with no detonators were found in the Printemps department store on Tuesday following a warning from the group calling itself the Afghan Revolutionary Front.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, speaking in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, urged caution but said France would "not negotiate with terrorists".

"At this point in time I would call on everyone to be very prudent and very moderate," he said.

Warning letter

The five sticks of explosives did not have detonators attached and French anti-terrorist police believe the devices had been placed as a warning.

The warning, sent to a French news agency by letter, said the explosives were in the men's restrooms on the third floor of the Printemps store in the city centre.

"If you do not send someone to intervene before Wednesday December 17, they will explode," said the letter, which was taken by police investigating the explosives.

"Send the message to your president that he must withdraw his troops from our country before the end of February 2009 or else we will take action in your capitalist department stores and this time, without warning," the letter said.

Explosives 'old'

The area where Printemps is located is crowded with large department stores which are normally packed with Christmas shoppers at this time of year.

Michele Alliot-Marie, the French interior minister, said the explosives were "relatively old" and had been hidden in the cistern of one of the lavatories.

"The explosives had not been primed which indicates there was no risk of explosion," she said outside the store on Boulevard Haussmann.

France has some 2,600 troops stationed in Afghanistan and has received threats of terrorist attacks in mainland France unless it removes the soldiers.

Via Al Jazeera.


Probably the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades.

In other news, I'm about to take my last final.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Look on my works ye mighty and despair!

TFW 8 December 2008

(Click for full size image.)

At long last, Tʜᴇ Mᴀᴘ is complete.

Due to the narrow width of Blogger's columns, I'm almost certainly going to have to migrate to WordPress.

Monday, December 8, 2008

9/11 suspects ask to 'plead guilty'

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged planner of the September 11 attacks, and four other suspects have asked to plead guilty to the charges they face at a Guantanamo Bay tribunal.

"We all five have reached an agreement to request from the commission an immediate hearing session in order to announce our confessions," said a note said to be from the five read out by the judge, Army Colonel Steven Henley, at a hearing on Monday.

The note said the confessions were being made "without being under any kind of pressure, threat, intimidations or promise from any party," Henley said.

Mohammed, a Pakistani, and four others - Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali - were charged earlier this year with conspiring with al-Qaeda to kill civilians.

The judge also allowed defendants Walid bin Attash and Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali to withdraw all their motions and go to pleas, but he refused to allow the same for two other defendants saying he had concerns over their mental competence, AFP reported.

All five face the death penalty if convicted.



I have been unable to determine why the mental competence of bin al-Shibh and Hawsawi is in question.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Crunch time

Sorry for the extreme dearth of posts; this is end of the semester crunch time. I'm working pretty much full time on my cartography final project, which is to be the first of the long awaited Afghanistan maps for this site.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Karzai urges Afghan war timeline

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for a timetable for ending the war against the Taleban in his country.

Mr Karzai made the call in a speech to a visiting UN Security Council team.

He said if Afghans had "no light at the end of the tunnel" they had the right to pursue other options, such as peace negotiations with the Taleban.

Mr Karzai also demanded an end to arrests of Afghans "in their homes, in the roads" by international forces, saying it was the job of Afghan police.


Mr Karzai said there were two options.

First would be to set a timeline, saying that what had not been achieved in the past seven years would be achieved in the next "four years, five years or another seven years".

But he added: "If we cannot give a light at the end of the tunnel to the Afghan people, [do] the Afghan people have a right to ask for negotiation for peace? [Do] the Afghan people have a right to seek other avenues?"

Mr Karzai said he would continue to fight al-Qaeda and Taleban members "who are ideologically against the rest of the world".

However, he said Taleban members who were "part of the Afghan community" could be brought back to serve Afghanistan.



That last part is the crux of the matter. Karzai has been (rightly) calling for negotiation with the reconcilables for quite some time now — indeed, he has actually engaged in some negotiation with the mediation of King Abdullah. His borrowing of the words "timeline" and "withdrawal" from Iraq is blatant electioneering, and nothing more.

The fact that he felt it would be beneficial to say it, however, is emblematic of a real problem, which is that we are running out of time. The good will of the Afghan people cannot last forever, and it is beginning to wear thin.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Zawahiri on Obama's election

Before anyone asks, the term that he used for "house negro" was zanujī al-beit, a word for word translation. The text under each of the pictures reads, from left to right, "Barack Hussein Obama", "Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri", and "Malcolm X Rahimatu'llah (mercy of God be upon him)".

This is a very worrying video. It's primary purpose seems to be to drive a wedge between Obama and the Black community, or at least elements thereof. Why on earth would al-Qaeda attempt something that obviously hopeless? Well, the only explanation that comes to my mind is that al-Qaeda has been making inroads into parts of the Black Muslim community, and that they're worried about losing them due to Obama's election. This would also explain why it took so long for them to respond; they probably wanted to very carefully gauge what their quarries responses would be— long term as well as the initial jubilation— so that they could act accordingly. It is, of course, impossible to tell which part of the Black Muslim community they've been working on— the focus on Malcolm X would initially suggest Nation of Islam, but when you think about it there aren't very many prominent Black Muslim civil rights activists they could have chosen.

The most interesting part of the video, in my opinion, was the subtitles, or, more precisely, the lack thereof during the first set of excerpts from Malcolm X's speeches. Obviously, American Muslims would not need the subtitles, but the Arabs, Pashtuns, etc. who would also be watching would, and they are provided during the rather lengthy explanation of the term "house negro" (which I suspect would be something of a nonce-word to the Arab audience). They were not, however, provided during the first set. Indeed, this is the only part of the video that lacks subtitles. This suggests that it was intended for the American Muslims, and explicitly not for the others. The reason for this becomes evident once the excerpts in question are considered. Of the three, only the last one has anything to do with the point Zawahiri was making about the global revolution. The other two are about the importance of those in America accepting help from their bretheren across the sea. Al-Qaeda seems to be trying to sell different jihads to different audiences— for the Black Muslims, it's about race, protecting the blacks from their white oppressors; for the others— especially the Arabs, who do not have a very amicable history with the blacks— it's about Islam.

Will this apparent attempt at damage control be successful? As I do not know who the Black Muslims in question are it is difficult to say, but I doubt it; indeed, I'm more inclined to think that it will backfire. Azzam al-Amriki, the presumed mastermind behind this video, has been away from his homeland for far too long; he is beginning to forget what it's like here. He does not seem to have fully understood the pure, unadulterated joy African Americans felt.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Captured battle plan shows strength and training of Taleban forces

The map tells a war story of its own. Sketched by a Taleban commander, it is of a stretch of territory fought over in Bajaur between the Pakistani Army and the insurgents. The ground has been neatly divided into specific areas of responsibility for different Taleban units.

Weapons caches, assembly areas and rendezvous points have been carefully marked and coded. This is not the work of a renegade gunman resistant to central authority; it is the assessment of a skilled and experienced fighter, and begins to explain how more than 400 Pakistani soldiers have been killed or wounded since August in Bajaur, the tribal district agency that is said to be the haunt of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Discovered along with the map in a series of recently captured tunnel complexes are other documents - radio frequency lists, guerrilla warfare manuals, students' notes, jihadist propaganda and bombmaking instructions - that provide further evidence of the Taleban's organisation and training. They prove that the Taleban in Bajaur, one of Pakistan's seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), were planning not only to fight, but also to disseminate their fighting knowledge.

“They were training people here,” Colonel Javed Baluch, whose troops seized the village of Tang Khata in an early stage of the autumn fighting, said, as he thumbed through the captured literature. “This was one of their centres. There were students here taking notes on bombmaking and guerrilla warfare. They were well trained and well organised.”

But training whom and to do what? Despite the documentary evidence in Bajaur, the Taleban's ultimate aims - and the nature of their relationship with al-Qaeda - remain contentious issues.

America and Britain claim that the terrorist network and affiliated organisations are being hosted by the Taleban in the tribal areas, which they use as a base for training camps, refuge and recruitment. This, they say, extends the threat from the tribal agencies to the rest of the world.

“If I were going to pick the next attack to hit the United States, it would come out of Fata,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently. A Western diplomat in Islamabad claimed last month that among those killed by a Predator drone strike in the tribal area - there have been at least 18 drone attacks there in the past 12 weeks - were members of a terrorist cell planning an attack on Britain.

One eminent Pakistani political figure, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that al-Qaeda and the Taleban had set up a joint headquarters in 2004 as an “Islamic emirate” in North Waziristan, headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taleban commander. (His father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the fight against the Soviet Union, was funded by the CIA 30 years ago and was once fêted at the White House by Ronald Reagan.)

“Sirajuddin ... connects the Taleban with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban with the Afghan Taleban,” the source said. “It basically runs the war and has made Fata today the same as Afghanistan was before September 11 - controlled by foreign and local militants who fight a war on both sides of the border.”

Such claims, which have been circulated widely in Pakistan, are denied strongly by the military. Many officers describe the Taleban in Fata as a disparate group of home-grown militants with little vision beyond the affairs of their own district, and claim that al-Qaeda's involvement is negligible.

“There was an al-Qaeda presence here but it didn't include their training bases or headquarters,” Colonel Nauman Saeed, commander of the Frontier Corps garrison in Khar, Bajaur's capital, said. “They [al-Qaeda] were as a pinch of salt in the flour.”

General Tariq Khan, the officer commanding the Bajaur operation, said: “I do not see a coherent stategy in any of these militants. I don't see any Islamic movement of Waziristan or an Islamic emirate ... I think that everyone is in it for himself.”

The Pakistani military claims to have killed more than 1,500 insurgents in Bajaur, and General Khan admits that many foreign fighters - “Uzbeks, Chechens, Turkmen, some Afghans” - have been among them. Of al-Qaeda's top leadership, however, not a trace has been found. “We've hit some Arab leadership there but not of a very high level,” he said.

It could be that the leaders have withdrawn to the two valley strongholds still held by the Taleban in Bajaur, or that they have escaped to Afghanistan or to a neighbouring tribal area.

Or were they ever in Bajaur at all? Shafirullah Khan is the savvy political agent in the area, himself a Pashtun and a long-term veteran of tribal affairs. “At first I would never have believed that al-Zawahiri was here,” he said of the rumours that bin Laden's deputy had been a visitor.

“But now that I have seen those tunnels and hidden shelters, I am not so sure.”

Via the Times.

CIA head says bin Laden isolated, fighting to survive

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence agencies believe Osama bin Laden is isolated from al Qaeda and spending much of his energy merely surviving, the head of the CIA said on Thursday.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said hunting down bin Laden remains his agency's priority.

"He is putting a lot of energy into his own survival -- a lot of energy into his own security," Hayden said in a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

"In fact, he appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organization he nominally heads," he said.

In recent weeks, there have been several U.S. missile strikes by unmanned drones around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The United States maintains that Taliban and al Qaeda forces operate with relative impunity in tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and use those areas as staging grounds to attack U.S. forces and their allies inside Afghanistan.

Hayden said al Qaeda has been hurt by a sustained fight with the United States and its allies, but remains a threat.

"Al Qaeda has suffered serious setbacks, but it remains a determined, adaptive enemy unlike any our nation has ever faced," Hayden said. "The war is far from over."

Regardless of whether bin Laden is actively helping lead the terrorist organization, the CIA believes capturing or killing him would be a huge blow to al Qaeda, according to Hayden.

"This is an organization that has never been through a change at the top," he said. "For 20 years, bin Laden has been the visionary, the inspiration or harmonizing force behind al Qaeda."

Hayden said it remained to be seen whether bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could maintain unity in the ranks without him.

"The truth is, we simply don't know what would happen if bin Laden is killed or captured. But I'm willing to bet that whatever happens, it would work in our favor," Hayden said.

Via CNN.


I have already put down my thoughts on this matter here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pakistanis Mired in Brutal Battle to Oust Taliban

LOE SAM, Pakistan — When Pakistan’s army retook this strategic stronghold from the Taliban last month, it discovered how deeply Islamic militants had encroached on — and literally dug into — Pakistani territory.

Behind mud-walled family compounds in the Bajaur area, a vital corridor to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s tribal belt, Taliban insurgents created a network of tunnels to store arms and move about undetected.

Some tunnels stretched for more than half a mile and were equipped with ventilation systems so that fighters could withstand a long siege. In some places, it took barrages of 500-pound bombs to break the tunnels apart.

“These were not for ordinary battle,” said Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of the Pakistan Frontier Corps, who led the army’s campaign against the Taliban in the area.

After three months of sometimes fierce fighting, the Pakistani Army controls a small slice of Bajaur. But what was initially portrayed as a paramilitary action to restore order in the area has become the most sustained military campaign by the Pakistani Army against the Taliban and its backers in Al Qaeda since Pakistan allied itself with the United States in 2001.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to make the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan a top priority. The Bajaur campaign serves as a cautionary tale of the formidable challenge that even a full-scale military effort faces in flushing the Taliban and Al Qaeda from rugged northern Pakistan.

Pakistani officials describe the area as the keystone of an arc of militancy that stretches across the semiautonomous tribal region of Pakistan and into Afghanistan.

Under heavy pressure from the United States, Pakistani officials are vowing to dislodge the Taliban fighters and their Qaeda allies who have taken refuge in the tribal areas.

But a two-day visit to Loe Sam and Khar, the capital of Bajaur, arranged for foreign journalists by the Pakistani military, suggested that Pakistan had underestimated a battle-hardened opponent fighting tenaciously to protect its mountainous stronghold.

Taliban militants remain entrenched in many areas. Even along the road to Loe Sam, which the army laboriously cleared, sniper fire from militants continues.

The Pakistanis have also resorted to scorched-earth tactics to push the Taliban out, an approach that risks pushing more of their own citizens into the Taliban’s embrace.

After the Frontier Corps failed to dislodge the Taliban from Loe Sam in early August, the army sent in 2,400 troops in early September to take on a Taliban force that has drawn militants from across the tribal region, as well as a flow of fighters from Afghanistan.

Like all Pakistani soldiers, the troops sent here had been trained and indoctrinated to fight in conventional warfare against India, considered the nation’s permanent enemy, but had barely been trained in counterinsurgency strategy and tactics.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Aṭ-Ṭaríq ilá 11 Sibtimbir — The Road to September 11

Back in 2002, Al Jazeera cooperated directly with al-Qaeda to make what is easily one of the most remarkable documentaries of all time — "The Road to September 11" (not to be confused with "The Road to 9/11"). After roughly a year of searching for it, I finally had the (in retrospect quite obvious) idea to search in the Arabic script, and not only did I immediately find it, the version that I found has English subtitles. So, without further ado, here is the story of September 11, told with the aid of those who committed it.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bali bombers killed by firing squad

Three men sentenced to death for a deadly bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 have been executed by firing squad.

Amrozi, 47, his brother Mukhlas, 48, who is also referred to as Ali Ghufron, and Imam Samudra, 38, were killed on Sunday, Jasman Pandjaitan, a spokesman for the attorney-general's office, said.

"At around 00:15 am [1715 GMT Saturday] the three convicted men on death row, Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, were executed by firing squad. The autopsy results show that all three are dead," Panjaitan said.

The twin bomb attacks on Bali nightclubs in October 2002 killed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists including 88 Australians.

Appeal fails

The family of Amrozi and Mukhlas also confirmed that the men had been executed on the prison island of Nusakambangan in central Java.

"Our family has received news of the execution... May our brothers, God willing, be invited by green birds to heaven now," Mohammad Chozin, a brother of the men, told reporters in Tenggulun, the men's home village in east Java.

Step Vaessen, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tenggulun, said the farming village has a "very hardline" school in its centre.

"The school was founded by the father of the bombers. It is where the bombers grew up," she said.

"At the moment there are a lot of guests from hardline groups gathering at that school - they are waiting to attend the funeral. The police have cordoned off the whole village and they are stopped more hardliners from coming in. They are concerned about rioting and revenge bomb attacks."

The execution of the three convicted bombers is an attempt by the Indonesian government "to show that they are serious in their fight against terrorism," Vaessen said.

"The Bali bombers, who have always said they were happy to die as martyrs, have tried endlessly to postpone their execution with several appeals, even up to the constitutional court," she said.

"They have tried to escape the firing squad because they said that was against their human rights and they wanted to be beheaded instead. But they lost all appeals."

Two days ago the families of the men sent a letter to the Indonesian president to ask to for the execution to be delayed.

Tight security

Security has been boosted across Indonesia amid fears of a backlash from a small minority who support the bombers.

"A lot of hardline groups have come to Tenggulun over the last couple of days to show their support and to be there at the [mens'] funeral," Vaessen reported.

"There is a lot of security. There are concerns about bomb threats and rioting taking place later in the day."

In recent days, police have investigated bomb threats received this week against the US and Australian embassies, and an internet letter purportedly written by the bombers threatening the life of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president.

The convicted bombers had warned of retribution in a string of authorised media appearances from prison.

The condemned men had said they wanted to die as "martyrs".

The Indonesian anti-terrorist unit Detachment 88 was credited with capturing leaders of the Jemaah Islamiyah group - allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda network -and its military wing in a series of raids last year.

Via Al Jazeera.


The relationship between al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah is quite similar to the one between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi group Ansar al-Islam. Neither group is officially a part of al-Qaeda, but they are ideologically and militarily aligned with it, and are thus part of the same phenomenon, the Apostasy.

Meanwhile, here's a status report on which of the perpetrators of our own country's worst terrorist attack have been brought to justice:

  Osama bin Laden
✔Khalid Sheikh Muhammad
✔Abu Zubaydah
✔Muhammad Atef (Abu Hafs al-Masri)
✔Ramzi bin al-Shibh
✔Muhammad Haydar Zammar
✔Mounir El Motassadeq
  Said Bahaji
  Zakariya Essabar
✔Mustafa al-Hawsawi
✔Yazid Sufaat
✔Zacarias Moussaoui
✔Muhammad al-Qahtani
  Mushabib al-Hamlan
✔Khalid al-Zahrani

Friday, November 7, 2008

'US missiles' hit Pakistan village

A suspected US drone has launched a missile strike into northwest Pakistan, reportedly killing at least 10 people.

The attack on Friday targeted a town in North Waziristan, a tribal region on the Afghan border, security officials said.

"It happened close to the border," a Pakistani military officer said.

"We have reports of 10 dead but it will take time to get more information."

The North Waziristan region is a reputed stronghold of the Taliban and al-Qaeda linked fighters.

Other Pakistani officials told the AFP news agency that up to 14 fighters were killed when the missile strike destroyed an al-Qaeda training camp.

Four missiles

Four missiles are thought to have been fired at the camp, in Kum Sham village, some 35km south of Miranshah in North Waziristan.

Security sources said the village is dominated by Wazir tribes and is near the border with South Waziristan, another hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.

"Between 11 to 14 militants, mainly foreigners, were killed in the strike," a senior military official said.

It was not immediately clear if there were any high-value targets among those killed, sources said.

An intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "The strike successfully destroyed the camp."

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, speaking from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, said: "At the moment we are being told by sources in the area that the attack took place in the Razmak village [of North Waziristan].

"We are told that up to 17 people were also wounded in this attack.

"Just a few days ago we were in this region. And we were able to observe that even at nighttime the drones have been flying over this area.

"It has also causing considerable anger in that region because the Pakistani military forces have been deployed in very large numbers along this border and every time there is a strike deep into Pakistan it creates more public resentment. Not just against the Americans but also the local forces which are not able to stop these attacks.

"In spite of opposition by the Pakistani government, the Americans have been buzzing the Pakistani tribal territories ... and they have been picking out targets with impunity."

Sovereignity violated

At least 18 such attacks by unmanned US aircraft have occured since September.

However, this is the first since General David Petraeus, the US Central Command chief, took charge of the war in Afghanistan.



I had been hoping that Petraeus would put an immediate end to the strikes, but I guess not. At least no civilians were killed this time.

In map-related news, I have finally found Tehsil-level maps of FATA. They turned out to be hiding in the 1998 Pakistani Census, which UC Berkeley has a copy of. This means that I can at last begin work on the base map.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

US commander visits Pakistan

General David Petraeus has arrived in Pakistan on his first international trip as head of US Central Command.

Petraeus, who is responsible for conducting the the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, will meet military and government officials on Monday, with relations strained over cross-border raids by US forces.

In a sign of the challenge facing Pakistani and US forces along the border with Afghanistan, just hours before his visit, eight Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed in a blast in South Waziristan.

The suicide attack at a Frontier Corps checkpoint in Zalai came after two targets in Pakistan were hit by suspected US missiles on Friday.

At least 12 suspected fighters were killed by two missiles fired by a suspected US drone near Wana.

That raid followed an attack in neighbouring North Waziristan, where two missiles killed 20 suspected Arab fighters, including al-Qaeda's propaganda chief, security officials said.

Sovereignty 'violated'

US forces or intelligence agents are suspected of carrying out at least 17 missile attacks in Pakistan since August. Pakistan has condemned them as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the raids have continued.

Petraeus's trip signals Pakistan's crucial role in Washington's so-called "war on terror", particularly in the escalating conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has deployed security forces throughout the northwest of the country in an attempt to combat fighters sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which Washington says are crossing the porous border to attack US and Nato-led troops.

Petraeus is accompanied by Richard Boucher, the US assistant secretary of state, on the visit.

"They are here for previously scheduled meetings with government and military officials," Lou Fintor, US embassy spokesman, said.

The defence ministry said the two Americans would meet Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhta, the defence minister, on Monday. While Petraeus would also hold talks with General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, a military spokesman said.

Another topic that could come up during Petraeus' visit is negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistani and Afghan leaders recently vowed to seek talks with elements of the movement in an attempt to stem the surging violence.

Petraeus, previously the senior US commander in Baghdad, has indicated support for efforts to reach out to members of the Taliban considered moderate enough to co-operate with the Afghan government.

Via Al Jazeera.


Hopefully Petraeus will understand the utter folly of Bush's new plan and be able to convince him to abandon it. If anyone can do it, it's him.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fatal clashes in northwest Pakistan

At least 15 people have been killed in clashes between suspected pro-Taliban fighters and members of an armed tribal group in northwest Pakistan, officials said.

Up to 80 members of the so-called tribal Lashkar, a group raised to tackle fighters loyal to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, were also abducted amid the fighting in the Matt area of Pakistan's Swat valley on Sunday, sources told Al Jazeera.

Three local commanders were killed in the clashes, while 12 tribal leaders were hanged, they said.

Fighting broke out when supporters of Maulana Fazlullah, a local religious leader with links with to the Pakistani Taliban, tried to abduct Pir Samiullah, leader of the Lashkar in Matta, a military official said on condition of anonymity.

"Scores of Taliban raided Mandal Daag village in the Matta district of the valley to abduct Pir Samiullah," the official told the AFP news agency.

Samiullah, who leads a 500-strong armed group of local people, and his supporters have demanded that the Taliban leave the valley.

Fazlullah has campaigned for a stricter interpretation of sharia in the Swat valley region.

Bajaur clashes

The fighting in Swat came as fresh fighting was reported in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces had claimed a rare succes in the region by retaking the town of Loi Sam, but on Sunday fighting continued with helicopters and artillery pounding targets in Bajaur.

Jamil Khan, a Pakistani official, said that eight anti-government fighters had been killed in the latest fighting in Bajaur.

Khan said reports from the region indicated several others had suffered injuries in the latest assault, but he gave no information about troop or civilian casualties.

Major-General Tariq Khan, a spokesman for the military, said government forces captured Loi Sam earlier this week "and killed the militants who were hiding there".

Reports said that nearly 200,000 civilians have fled the fighting in the town.

Civilian casualties

Kamal Matinuddin, a retired general and former ambassador to Thailand, said that there was a prospect of civilians being hurt by the fighting.

"It so happens that the militants that are in these tribal areas, particularly in Bajaur, are finding some shelter in the houses there. The job is becoming very difficult for the Pakistan army to avoid civilian casualties," he told Al Jazeera.

"Although the Pakistani army has called for civilians to leave the area so that they can carry put their military operations more successfully, unfortunately there are some civilian casualties occurring even now.

"But the fact remains that the Pakistan army has the support of the elected government and is determinted to carry out its objective in eliminating the militants from the tribal areas. They have achieved a certain amount of success."

Pakistan's tribal regions are considered a stronghold for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The army launched its offensive in Bajaur in early August, saying the region had become a "mega-sanctuary" for fighters who had set up a virtual mini-state.

Khan said troops had by Saturday overrun the area and were in "complete control" of the town, though he forecast it could take between six months and a year before authorities could gain complete control of Bajaur.

But some analysts criticised the military move.

"This is not the first time that the military or the Pakistani government has claimed that they have captured an important person or claimed to have attacked and been successful in destroying the sanctuary of the Taliban," Khalid Rahman, the director general of the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera.

"Perhaps the whole strategy is not correct ... I am really afraid that this military strategy is going to increase the problem, unless it is accompanied by a genuine, sincere dialogue."


Talks are meanwhile expected to take place in Islamabad on Monday between Pakistani and Afghan political leaders with an aim to end violence in the border regions. Ethnic Pashtun tribal chiefs are also expected to participate.

The meeting, dubbed a Pakistan-Afghanistan "Jirgagai", or mini-jirga, is a follow-up to a grand assembly in Kabul last year in which delegates called for talks with Taliban fighters.

Around 50 political leaders, Pashtun elders and Muslim clerics from both countries will discuss growing violence by al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters on both sides of their disputed border.

"The two main objectives of the jirgagai are to expedite the ongoing dialogue process with the opposition and monitor implementation of decisions of the (Kabul) jirga," Mohammad Sadiq, a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman, said.

But critics say the mini-jirga will be little more than a talking shop without the participation of representatives of the Taliban.

Via Al Jazeera.


Sorry about the lack of posts; I've been busy (and still am, which is why there's no commentary).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dozens killed in Afghan bus ambush

About 30 Afghans have been killed by the Taliban after it stopped a bus travelling from Kandahar to Helmand province, according to officials and the Taliban.

General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence minsitry spokesman, said on Sunday that 31 civilians were killed in the attack in the Maiwand district, a Taliban-controlled area just west of Kandahar city.

But a Taliban spokesman said that 27 Afghan army personnel had been killed.

Qari Yusuf Ahmadi said that Taliban fighters had checked the documents of the passengers and released all the civilians before killing the soldiers.

Azimi denied the Taliban claims saying: "Our soldiers travel by military convoy, not in civilian buses. And we have military air transportation."

Taliban ambush

Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan, reporting from Kabul, the capital, said that there were several different versions of events and it was difficult to verify the truth as journalists are unable to travel to the area because of poor security.

"The police chief in Kandahar says that two buses were attacked on the way from Kandahar to Helmand a few days ago," Nolan reported.

"He says it was a Taliban ambush, that the first bus was able to escape with minor casualties, but the second bus was not. It was hijacked by the Taliban and 50 passengers were taken hostage.

"Now they have reports of 24 dead bodies, that another 18 are still missing. They believe that there are another 18 bodies still to be found," Nolan said.

"A Taliban spokesperson gives a very different version of events ... he told Al Jazeera that they did hijack a bus but they took 27 hostages and they were all Afghan national army soldiers.

"The spokesman for the Taliban said that they were travelling on a civilian bus because they were too scared to travel through this area in an army convoy."

'Soldiers captured'

On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Ahmadi told Al Jazeera that the group had captured "at least 180 Afghan soldiers".

He said the the soldiers were seized while travelling in three buses on their way to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Ahmadi said that the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and were on a mission to reinforce government troops in the area, "to prevent the fall of Lashkar Gah into the hands of the Taliban".

Violence in Afghanistan this year has killed more than 5,100 people, mostly suspected Taliban fighters, according to an Associated Press news agency count of figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Via Al Jazeera.


Due to Al Jazeera's recent lackluster performance, I verified this story with other news sources.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More propaganda

"Afghan mayor turns Taliban leader," announces Al Jazeera's top headline. But the man in question had not been mayor since the Taliban came to power, and had defected well over a year ago after being fired from his job as head of Herat's Department of Public Works. This story is not news by any stretch of the imagination, yet Al Jazeera considered it to be more important than the current financial Armageddon the planet is facing. I am apalled at this recent spate of pro-Taliban articles, and am very seriously considering finding somewhere else to get my news.

In other news, Hekmatyar has indicated that he would not be averse to switching sides (something he has a great deal of experience with), and the TTP is saying "uncle." I doubt that anything will come of the first (though I wouldn't put it past him), but it will be interesting to see what, if anything, will come of the second, especially inasmuch as the tribes are concerned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taliban propaganda on Al Jazeera

Defections hit Afghan forces

After fighting the Taliban for the past seven years, many working for the Afghan security forces are now switching sides.

Sulieman Ameri and his 16 men were until a month ago serving the Afghan government as police patrolling the border with Iran.

Now they answer to the Taliban and their goal is to drive all foreign troops out of Afghanistan.

Ameri, now a Taliban commander, told Al Jazeera that he joined the Taliban because of what he called anti-Muslim behaviour by international soldiers.

"I have seen everything with my own eyes, I have seen prostitution, I have seen them drinking alcohol. We are Muslim and therefore jihad is our obligation," Ameri said in the mountains south of Herat.

"Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal," he added.

'Respectful behaviour'

Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said Isaf troops were "behaving in the most respectful way".

"I have no specific information about any activity that would have happened in Herat but I know for sure that the Taliban and other insurgents are conducting a propaganda campaign against us. And I can confirm to you that our troops are behaving in the most respectful way," he told Al Jazeera.

"Anytime that I would hear that somebody is joining the insurgency I think it is bad news because we know the Taliban are offering nothing for the future of this country," he said.

But Ameri and his men are not the only renegade government forces – some 70 police and soldiers have switched allegiances across the western region in the past two months.

Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan, reporting from Afghanistan, said "low wages for a dangerous jobs" did not seem to be the reason behind the desertions.

Instead, they deserted for ideological reasons, Nolan explained.

"When Russia came it was only one country, today we have 24 foreign infidel countries on our soil. All our men and women should come and join the jihad," Fida Mohammad, a new Taliban recruit, told Al Jazeera.

'Infidel' training

But though they reject the "infidels", they are not averse to receiving weapons or military training from them.

The recruits - so fresh that many have not yet grown their beards, while some are still smoking, a practice banned by the Taliban - carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training by the US.

Abdul Rahim, another new recruit, said he received training from American military contractor Blackwater for 45 days.

"I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them," he said.

The switch in allegiances comes as the UN special envoy to Afghanistan warned on Tuesday that the Taliban's influence continues to spread beyond traditional strongholds to provinces around the capital, Kabul.

Kai Eide also told the UN Security Council that Taliban attacks - at a six-year high – would probably grow in the coming weeks instead of easing, as they have in previous winters.

"We should be prepared for a situation where the insurgency will not experience the same winter lull, the same reduction in hostilities we have experienced in past winters," he said.

Eide added that attacks against humanitarian workers had also increased.

Abdul Hakim Ashir, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, denied that a high number of police officers had defected.

"I strongly refuse that 70 people [have defected to the Taliban] because this year we lost only 10 officers who maybe joined the Taliban,"

"We have increased the number of officers from 61,000 to 82,000 this year. The police recruitment process is going very well. Those from the young generation especially are joining the police forces.

"Over the last month, we have graduated 2,000 non-commissioned officers. That means there has been an increase and not a decrease in the police force."

Via Al Jazeera.


70 is less than one tenth of one percent of 82,000. That's not exactly what I'd call "many". I'm pretty disgusted with Al Jazeera on this one.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We gain one, we lose one.

There's a lot to talk about today, so I'm going to depart from my usual format.

According to Al Jazeera:

In a second battle in Helmand province, Afghan and international troops retook the Nad Ali district centre - which had been held by fighters - during a three-day fight, Ahmadi said.

That battle, which also involved airstrikes, ended on Saturday and resulted in the death of 40 Taliban fighters, officials said.

Afghan police and soldiers were now in control of the district centre.

Nato said its aircraft bombed fighters after they were seen gathering for a major attack, killing "multiple enemy forces".

"If the fighters planned a spectacular attack prior to the winter, this was a spectacular failure," Richard Blanchette, an Isaf spokesman, said.

Although I was somewhat disappointed to learn that there had been a district that I had not known was held by the Taliban, this is of course good news, as is the news, also reported in the article, that NATO had repulsed a major attack on Lashkar Gah. However, AJ did not mention this somewhat less cheerful development, which I found out about via Quqnoos:

Taliban claim to have forced NATO-led troops from a remote district

THE NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has withdrawn from a district in the north-eastern province of Nuristan, the international force said.

ISAF said it retreated from its forward operating base in the Kamdish district on Friday following advice from Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry.

But the Taliban claimed that it forced ISAF troops in the district to retreat after engaging them in fierce fighting in the district, one of the country’s most insecure.

The situation in Nuristan has been growing increasingly worrying. According to my current map prototype, the Taliban currently controls three of its eight districts, as well as the Dara-ye Pech District just across the border in Kunar Province, and a fourth district, Bargomatal, was attacked by Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan back in July. I still have been unable to determine the outcome of that battle, but am inclined to think that, even if the TTP did manage to take it, which I don't think they did, their forces have since been withdrawn to fight the Pakistani security forces in Bajaur, which would leave the district only nominally in the Taliban's hands, just as so much of the rest of the province is only nominally in the hands of NATO and the central government. I have seen reports that some of the forces currently fighting in Bajaur had previously been fighting in Afghanistan, which lends some credence to this theory.

Nuristan, for those of you who are not familiar with it (i.e. pretty much all of you), is one of the most isolated inhabited regions on the face of the Earth. Its terrain is nearly impassable, and it is so out of the way that Islam didn't reach it until the end of the 19th century. Before then it was known as Kafiristan (land of the unbelievers) and its inhabitants as the Red Kafirs; their cousins, the Black Kafirs, or Kalasha, live on the Pakistani side of the Durand line and still practice their age-old pagan religion. The Nuristanis speak languages that are unusual even for Mianistan; while most languages in the region are either Iranian (e.g. Pashto, Wakhi, Yidgha) or Indo-Aryan (e.g. Khowar, Kalasha, Torwali) (although this "Dardic" sub-group of the Indo-Aryan branch is pretty weird), the Nuristani languages form a group all of their own.

There is, however, yet another major development regarding Afghanistan in the news today. Quqnoos reports:

US wants to reduce dependence on government by arming militias

THE UNITED States plans to arm tribal militias against the Taliban, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said at a NATO summit in Hungary.

As part of a plan to create greater co-operation on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, the US wants to train tribal militias in an attempt to reduce its dependence on the central government in Kabul.

Parliament members had already suggested arming the tribes, but the idea was not given any currency at the time.

This is a superb idea. Working with the tribes worked in Iraq, is working in Pakistan, and, unlike McCain's bizarre idea to "clear and hold" some of the most impassible terrain on Earth, it would also work in Afghanistan. In case you haven't noticed, I am strongly pro-tribe, not only because of my own tribal identity (Stewart of Bote FTW!), but also simply because it works. Indeed, in regions such as Mianistan I would venture to say that it is the only strategy that will work. My friend Woke at News Hounds has often said that it is impossible for a conventional army to defeat a popular insurgency. Although it is possible to do it if you brutally punish the civilian population, as Genghis Khan did, that's not really an option if you're the good guys, so it's true so far as we are concerned. This means that if you are faced with an insurgency, the only way that you can win is if it stops being popular. The psychopathic, woman-oppressing, elder-beheading Taliban are already helping us out on this one. However, their antisocial ways can be counteracted by the collateral damage we often inflict when we fight them directly. This means that there needs to be a popular insurgency against the unpopular one. We can then support the locals rather than killing them. And in the tribal reality of Mianistan, supporting the locals means supporting the tribes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blast hits Pakistan tribal meeting

An explosion at a meeting of tribal elders in northwest Pakistan has killed at least 20 people and wounded 70 others, an official said.

The suspected suicide bombing happened on Friday in the Orakzai district, one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions, security officials said.

"We were busy in raising a lashkar [a tribal militia] to evict Taliban from the region when this attack took place," Qeemat Khan Orakzai, a member of the council, told the Reuters news agency.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The members of the Alizai tribe had met in the town of Ghaljo in mountainous Orakzai, which is the only one of the tribal regions that does not border Afghanistan.

'Hideouts' destroyed

A security official said that the attack came a day after tribesmen had targeted two hideouts belonging to pro-Taliban groups operating in the area.

"The tribesmen blew up two hideouts of the militants a day earlier and it is possible this attack was in revenge for their actions," a security official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

The bombing came a day after four tribal elders in Bajaur, a tribal region north of Orakzai, were abducted and beheaded after attending another pro-government meeting, officials said.

"People will tell you that Pakistan is already in a state of war. Every day there are suicide bombings," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from the North West Frontier province, said.

"The violence is escalating at a time that the national assembly is not able to come to grips with the situation.

"The death toll could rise further," he said.

Violence has intensified across Pakistan in recent months since the army began an offensive against the pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in the Bajaur and Swat regions.

Orakzai, near the main northwest city of Peshawar, has been relatively peaceful compared to the other tribal regions.

Via Al Jazeera.


The stupidity of the Taliban is breathtaking. I am at a loss as to how a Californian suburbanite has a better understanding of tribal politics than a group that's based in a heavily tribal region. When the tribes told the Taliban that they should leave because of the effect that their war with the Pakistani security forces was having on civilians, they should have done so. They should have pulled back to Waziristan, where the Pakistani government still has little inclination to fight them. Then, once the security forces had been withdrawn, they should have begun re-infiltrating the northern districts and agencies. That was their only real option, because the tribes are the reality, and you cannot declare war on reality and win.

Of course, the Taliban should never have let it come to this in the first place. From the very beginning, they should have been trying to bring tribal elders over to their side— through bribery, conversion, or what have you. They should have jockeyed for power within the tribes, perhaps poisoning the odd rival, or having a rival group take him out. When they did take such action towards an elder, it should never have been direct; proxies, or even false flags, should always have been used. They should have formed alliances, exploited old feuds, and arranged strategic marriages to solidify these networks of support. This would have established themselves as a major, if not the major, political power. This was the logical, reasonable thing to do. It's what the Prophet Muḥammad did. If they had done it, the security forces would have been the ones to receive the ultimatum, not them.

But they did not do it, and they did receive the ultimatum, and they are responding to it in the worst conceivable way. Beheading elders? This sends a very clear message, not only to the tribesmen of the elders in question, but also to all of the other tribesmen. If I were a Waziri elder, I would be getting very nervous right about now.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pakistan tribes attack Taliban

Tribal volunteers in Pakistan have threatened to destroy the house of Maulvi Omar, a senior Pakistani Taliban spokesman, in the north of the country.

The volunteers surrounded Omar's house on Monday and also said that the homes of other Taliban supporters would be targeted.

The threats are part of a crackdown on the Taliban some tribes people are launching in the Bajaur Agency.

The volunteers' commander says they have 20,000 men ready to carry out the campaign and that they are not asking for any government help.

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, said that a military operation in Bajaur had made it the scene of heavy fighting and displaced tens of thousands of people from the area.

"[This] caused considerable anger at both the, so called, Taliban in the region for destabilising the region, and the military coming.

"That disillusionment now seems to have turned against the fighters who have been fighting the military."

Hyder said that the locals have been burning the houses of senior commanders who have allied themselves to the Taliban and surrounded the house of Omar.

"There was some desperate attempts by the pro-Taliban elements to try and prevent the destruction of Maulvi Omar's house, but the tribals have said that they will go ahead anyway."

However, Hyder said that Afghan refugees and some Afghan commanders in the area were still attempting to resist the tribal volunteers.

Rocket attack

The attacks came a day after opposition fighters fired rockets at the home of a politician in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan.

Two rockets damaged three homes in the town of Marden on Sunday.

The rockets failed to hit the home of Amir Haider Khan Hoti, the North West Frontier Province's chief minister and the intended target.

No one was injured in the attack. Hoti was said to be in Peshwar, the provincial capital, at the time.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial information minister, said: "We expect more such incidents."

"They are not going to be stopped here. We are facing a war-like situation."

The strike followed a number of attacks targeting politicians in the lawless border area.

A suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside the house of a leading pro-government politician last week, killing four people.

Via Al Jazeera.


This is only one example of a number of tribal activities currently underway against the Taliban.

In other news, I have finally found highly detailed maps of the border region, which I am working on integrating into a single very high quality reference map.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Afghan victory hopes played down

The UK's commander in Helmand has said Britain should not expect a "decisive military victory" in Afghanistan.

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith told the Sunday Times the aim of the mission was to ensure the Afghan army was able to manage the country on its own.

He said this could involve discussing security with the Taleban.

When international troops eventually leave Afghanistan, there may still be a "low but steady" level of rural insurgency, he conceded.

He said it was unrealistic to expect that multinational forces would be able to wipe out armed bands of insurgents in the country.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says Brig Carleton-Smith's comments echo a view commonly-held, if rarely aired, by British military and diplomatic officials in Afghanistan.

Many believe certain legitimate elements of the Taleban represent the positions of the Afghan people and so should be a part of the country's future, says our correspondent.

'Taken the sting out'

Brig Carleton-Smith is the Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan.

He paid tribute to his forces and told the newspaper they had "taken the sting out of the Taleban for 2008".

But he stated: "We're not going to win this war.

"It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army."

Brig Carleton-Smith said the goal was to change how debates were resolved in the country so that violence was not the first option considered.

He said: "If the Taleban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that's precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this.

"That shouldn't make people uncomfortable."

Since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, 120 UK military personnel have been killed.

Via the BBC.


This is actually what I've been expecting to happen for a while. Provided that they hand over bin Laden, Zawahiri, etc., I don't have that much of a problem with the actual rank and file of the Taliban. It's moot at the moment, though, since the Taliban are still too strong to be willing to negotiate.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

U.S., Pakistani troops exchange fire

WASHINGTON — U.S. and Pakistani ground forces exchanged fire across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Thursday, the latest in a string of incidents that has ratcheted up diplomatic tension between the two allies.

No casualties or injuries were reported after Pakistani forces shot at two U.S. helicopters from a Pakistani border post. U.S. and Pakistani officials clashed over whether the American helicopters had entered Pakistan.

The incident follows a U.S. campaign of attacks on militant targets inside Pakistan, including a September 3 U.S. commando raid on a village compound in South Waziristan. Islamabad has protested those strikes and warned it would defend itself.

"Just as we will not let Pakistan's territory be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbors, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends," Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in New York on Thursday.

But in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman insisted the helicopters had not entered Pakistan. He described the incident as "troubling" and called on Islamabad for an explanation.

"The flight path of the helicopters at no point took them over Pakistan," he said. "The Pakistanis have to provide us with a better understanding of why this took place."

According to Pakistan's military, its soldiers fired warning shots at two U.S. helicopters after they intruded into Pakistani airspace. The U.S. military said the helicopters were protecting a patrol about one mile inside Afghanistan when Pakistani forces opened fire.


"The (helicopters) did not return fire but the ground forces fired suppressive fire at that outpost. The Pakistani forces then returned that fire. The whole exchange lasted about five minutes," said an official with U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. forces were operating under NATO command.

Thursday's confrontation followed a dispute earlier this week over reports of a downed U.S. drone in Pakistan. Pakistani officials said a small unmanned American aircraft crashed in Pakistan, but U.S. officials denied it, saying a drone went down in Afghanistan and was recovered.

The rugged border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is seen by Washington as critical to its fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Bush administration considers Pakistan an ally in counterterrorism but U.S. officials say Islamabad has not done enough against militants there.

The uncertain border also complicates efforts, making it difficult for forces to determine when they are in Afghanistan or Pakistan, both U.S. and Pakistani officials concede.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after meeting Zardari on Thursday, said she believed he was strongly committed to fighting militants.

"We talked about how we might assist Pakistan in doing what it needs to do, but I think there is a very strong commitment. And after all, it is the same enemy," she said in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Via Comcast.


The US military had better get to the bottom of this, or it risks completely alienating the tribes.

US, Pakistan, Afghanistan to create joint military force

WASHINGTON: The US is discussing with Pakistan and Afghanistan to create a joint military force to combat insurgents in the two south Asian nations, a senior US official confirmed Tuesday.

"We’re obviously taking a good look at it. We’re going to analyse it and see where we go from here," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said, adding that "We will probably have something to say once we’ve done a thorough analysis of it."

Last month, officials from the three countries began discussing the creation of a joint military force for anti-insurgency operations on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Washington Post quoted Afghan Defence Minister Rahim Wardak as saying Tuesday.

"The terrorists have not recognised any boundaries. So to fight them, we have to eventually come up with some arrangement, together with our neighbour Pakistan," Wardak said.

"Pakistan’s government is considering the plan. They say they are looking at it," he added.



This is more like it. The recent unilateral attacks on Pakistan have been nothing short of catastrophic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pakistan troops 'repel US raid'

Pakistani troops have fired warning shots at two US helicopters forcing them back into Afghanistan, local Pakistani intelligence officials say.

The helicopters flew into the tribal North Waziristan region from Afghanistan's Khost province at around midnight, the reports say.

Tensions have risen after an increase in US attacks targeting militants.

The incident comes amid mounting security fears after a militant bomb attack on the Islamabad Marriott hotel.

Pakistan's army has said it will defend the country's sovereignty and reserves the right to retaliate to any border violations.

The government has said it will take targeted action against the militants, promising raids in some "hotspots" near the border with Afghanistan.


The latest confrontation between US and Pakistani forces took place in North Waziristan's sparsely populated Ghulam Khan district, west of the main town in the region, Miranshah, local officials say.

They told the BBC that troops at border posts in the mountainous region fired at two US helicopters which crossed into Pakistani territory.

The helicopters returned to Afghanistan without retaliating.

A senior security official based in Islamabad told the AFP news agency that the helicopters had been repelled by both army troops and soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC).

"The helicopters were heading towards our border. We were alert and when they were right on the boundary line we started aerial firing. They hovered for a few minutes and went back," the official said.

"About 30 minutes later they made another attempt. We retaliated again, firing in the air and not in their direction, from both the army position and the FC position, and they went back."

A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj Murad Khan, said he had no information "on border violation by the American helicopters".

The US military in Afghanistan also said it had no information on the incident.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says after increased American incursions this month, the army stressed that it reserved the right to retaliate.

Our correspondent says standard procedure would be to first fire warning shots.



I'm not sure how much credence to give this. The sources are either local or anonymous, and the governments of both nations deny it— unlike the ground assault earlier this month. On the other hand, the politics of the situation are extremely complicated, and it may well be that the two governments are trying to minimize the incident in public while duking it out behind closed doors.

What it really comes down to, though, is the description of the event itself. We are fully aware that Pakistan has troops stationed along the border. I find it to be unlikely that our method of getting past these troops would be to bumble around in helicopters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pakistan Marriott blast shows signs of al-Qaida

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Taliban militants based near the Afghan border and their al-Qaida allies are the most likely suspects behind a massive truck bombing at Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, officials and experts said Sunday. At least 53 died in the explosion, including two U.S. Defense Department employees and the Czech ambassador.

The truck sat burning and disabled at the hotel gate for at least 3 1/2 minutes as nervous guards tried to douse the flames before they, the truck and much of the hotel forecourt vanished in a fearsome fireball on Saturday night, according to dramatic surveillance footage released Sunday.

The attack on the American hotel chain during Ramadan, among the deadliest terrorist strikes in Pakistan, will test the resolve of its pro-Western civilian rulers to crack down on growing violent extremism which many here blame on the country's role in the U.S.-led war on terror.

While no group has claimed responsibility, the scale of the blast and its high-profile target were seen by many as the signature of media-savvy al-Qaida.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said "all roads lead to FATA" in major Pakistani suicide attacks — referring to Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where U.S. officials worry that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri are hiding.

Mahmood Shah, a former government security chief for Pakistan's tribal areas, said that while the attack had "all the signatures" of an al-Qaida strike, homegrown Taliban militants probably had learned how to execute an attack of such magnitude.

Al-Qaida was providing "money, motivation, direction and all sort of leadership and using the Taliban as gun fodder," he suggested.

A Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record to media, said investigators were examining just that theory.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the attack was an attempt to "destabilize democracy" in Pakistan, which this year emerged from nine years of military rule, and destroy its already fragile economy.

Gilani also claimed that the bomber attacked the hotel only after tight security prevented him from reaching Parliament or the prime minister's office, where President Asif Ali Zardari and many dignitaries were gathered for dinner.



I had not realized how close to the seat of government the blast was. In this map, the hotel is in the upper left corner of the screen, and the two square buildings on the right are the cabinet and the parliament; just beyond them is the palatial residence of the president.

Ironically, I had just been thinking to myself that it had been a while since al-Qaeda had done anything.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A look at the Afghan frontier

This clip gave me a much better understanding of why the region has been so hard to control.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Report Says Pakistan Troops Fire on US Helos

Islamabad - Pakistani security forces and armed tribesmen on Monday foiled an attempt by US troops to enter Pakistani territory by firing shots at them, security officials said.

The attacks came as Pakistani forces killed up to 20 Taliban militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Two US military helicopters crossed into Pakistan and tried to land near Angor Adda area of South Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border before dawn, a local security official said.

"But our security forces and the tribesmen who were alert opened fire at them and forced them to flee back to Afghanistan," added the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There were conflicting official versions of the attempted US strike.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman denied the attack on U.S. forces had occurred, saying the Pakistani security official’s statement “didn’t appear to be accurate,” wire reports said.

A senior official in the country's foreign ministry said American ground troops, which were backed by US helicopter gunships, tried to cross over border, but were forced to flee by the tribesmen.

"Pakistani troops did not take part in the action," he said seeking anonymity.

No one was hurt in the incident, which an army spokesman denied took place.

"We completely deny the incident. There was no violation of our border from the Afghan side and therefore there was no question of any firing from our side," Major Murad Khan insisted.

However, he said firing was heard in the area but the army did not know where it had come from and where it was aimed.

A local resident, Sher Ali, said the tribesmen in the Angor Adda area had been on alert since September 3 when US special forces dropped by US helicopters killed more than 20 civilians.

"People had information since Sunday night that the US forces were gathering across the border so thousands of armed tribesmen were guarding their area," he added.

"Good for them (Americans) that they turned back. Otherwise, people were ready to give them the sort of welcome they deserve."

Tension has been brewing between Islamabad and Washington in recent weeks as US forces have increased missile attacks, mostly carried out by drones, at the suspected hideouts of militants who launch cross-border raids on international forces in Afghanistan.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told the US Congress last Wednesday that Washington was planning military operations to eliminate militant sanctuaries in Pakistan.

In response, Pakistan's military chief General Ishfaq Parvez Kayani has vowed to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country "at all cost."

The US attacks have also fuelled anger among the Pakistani public which is now demanding the new government in Islamabad abandon cooperation with the US in the international fight against terrorism.

But there are no indications that the government, led by the widower of slain Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari, intends to do that. The government has vowed to resolve the issue through diplomacy.

On Tuesday Zardari will meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London to discuss the matter and next week he is expected to see US President George W Bush after he arrives in Washington on an official visit.

Meanwhile, in Bajaur tribal district up to 20 militants died as Pakistani jets, helicopters and artillery pounded positions in Kamangar, Loi Sum and Banda, according to a local security official.

Army spokesman Major Murad said several militant positions were attacked on Monday but the losses had yet to be ascertained.

Via Military.com.


At this point, it is extremely difficult to determine what, if anything, happened. In addition to the versions reported above, it has also been claimed that "Pakistani paramilitary soldiers at a checkpoint opened fire into the air and the US troops decided not to continue forward."¹ Sher Ali's claim that the tribesmen had received reports that the US was preparing to launch an attack is almost certainly false, as there isn't anything to speak of on the other side of the border that they could have observed. The BBC version linked to above, which describes the troops as arriving in Chinook helicopters, is more likely to be correct, but even it makes very little sense, as it also says that the Chinooks were accompanied by helicopter gunships, which then just sat there during the actual incursion. The big problem with all of these versions, however, is that they claim that the troops ran away rather than fight. If you're engaging in a military incursion, you're probably ready for some combat.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Arrests over Afghan civilian deaths

Afghan police have arrested three men alleged to have provided "wrong information"
which led to the deaths of scores of civilians in a US air raid.

More than 90 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the village of Azizabad in western Herat's Shindand district on August 22, according to the Afghan government.

Police began an investigation into the incident on September 4 after villagers said US-led forces in Afghanistan had been fed false information about the presence of Taliban members in Azizabad following a tribal dispute, the interior ministry said.

A statement said: "After examining all the police reports and direct claims made by people in the area, three suspects who are said to be key people in giving false information regarding the bombardment of Azizabad, have been arrested in a police operation."

The three were on a list of people provided to Hamid Karzai, the president, by the villagers. Karzai visited relatives of the victims earlier this month and pledged to punish those responsible.

Karzai has already sacked two senior army commanders over the incident.

Tribal dispute

Locals told Al Jazeera that the air raid hit a memorial service at a compound belonging to Reza Khan, a tribal leader who had been in dispute with Nader Tawakal, another local leader.

"We were holding a prayer ceremony when the bombs started to fall ... it was heavy bombardment. The whole village was on fire and about 90 were killed," Abdul Rasheed, the brother of one of the dead, said.

Villagers have denied that the gathering was a meeting of the Taliban, which has been fighting Afghan and international forces since being forced from power in 2001. They said that Khan, who died in the raid, was a businessman with security contracts at a nearby US base.

"Nader gave the US special forces wrong information," Gullah Ahmed, one villager, said.

"But instead of surrounding the village they just started bombing."

Nader was not among those arrested on Friday.

The US military maintains that between 30 and 35 Taliban fighters were killed, but has agreed to reopen the investigation after a mobile phone video emerged showing bodies of people said to have been killed in the attack.

It says the original investigation found that a senior Taliban commander was among the dead in the air raid, which was called in after Afghan army US-led ground forces came under intense fire.

Civilian casualties

One resident of Azizabad said that US forces raided his house after the bombing and demanded to be shown the bodies of the dead Taliban fighters.

"I said there were no Taliban here," he told Al Jazeera. "I saw their facial expressions when they realised that civilians had been killed."

More than 500 civilians have been killed during military operations by foreign and Afghan forces so far this year, according to the Afghan government and some aid groups.

Daoud Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, said that such incidents were destroying people's faith in the Afghan government and international forces in the country.

"The weak Afghan government and weak leadership is trying to take advantage of this and trying to deflect attention from their own problems that are the root cause of these kind of things," he told Al Jazeera.

"Lack of co-ordination of our intelligence, lack of co-ordination of our security forces and lack of co-ordination of our leadership have led to these kind of problems ... if we are not careful we will cross a threshold and alienate the civilian population."

Via Al Jazeera.


This is turning out to be quite the fiasco. I had initially not covered it because the differences between the numbers provided by the military and those provided by the locals had led me to believe that it was primarily, though not necessarily entirely, an attempt by Taliban sympathizers at propagandizing. It turns out, though, that the military's figures were based on an embedded FOX news reporter, who turned out to be, almost unbelievably, Oliver North.

Al Jazeera has suggested elsewhere that Bush is apparently ratcheting up efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan in hopes of capturing Osama bin Laden before his term expires. I hope to God that this is not true. Everything that Bush has ever tried to do has failed. If he attempts to, as an American commander put it, "kill [his] way to victory," we might as well just start paying bin Laden a pension right now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The centrality of bin Laden

On News Hounds, I had said, "just as Hitler was Nazi Germany, so too is bin Laden al-Qaeda. So long as he is free, it is free; capture him, and it will be broken." Another poster expressed doubt that this was the case, and I composed a detailed response for him. Since I've been meaning to put together a post on this topic for quite some time, I am posting it here as well.

Osama bin Laden is the lynchpin that holds al-Qaeda together. Even before 9/11, al-Qaeda was very strongly focused on him; his lieutenants swore an oath of fealty to him personally, which is unheard of in other such organizations. After 9/11 seared his name into history, he became almost mythical. His immense prestige is what prompted other such organizations to join forces with him.

It is important to remember that al-Qaeda is organized in a very unusual way. It does have a very firm, hierarchical structure, but the nature of that structure is very different from that of, say, a military. In militaries, location in the hierarchy is based solely on authority; in al-Qaeda, it is based primarily — though not exclusively — on deference. In other words, the various components of al-Qaeda work together not because they have to, but because they want to. Now, this does not mean that you can just change your mind and go your own way — just ask Zarqawi — but such insubordination is usually not an issue. Furthermore, individual components are autonomous, and are thus not often called upon to show deference.

In the al-Qaeda of today, there is no question that the regional commanders defer to bin Laden. To suggest otherwise is just silly. Whether or not they would show the same deference to bin Laden's successor, though, especially if we had already gotten Zawahiri, is another matter entirely. It is entirely possible that al-Qaeda would break up into its component organizations, and even if it didn't, the inability of its new leader to gain such unquestioning authority would mean that the whole system would eventually break down. Even if it remained intact, though, it would lose most of its momentum.

'US drone' fires on Pakistan target

A suspected US drone aircraft has left at least eight people dead in northern Pakistan, while dozens of suspected fighters have been killed in the Bajaur region, Pakistani officials say.

The drone aircraft on Friday fired on a house near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, leaving another 10 people injured.

North Waziristan, seen by the US as a safehaven for supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, is part of a belt of tribally governed territory where Pakistan's government has little control.

Residents said two missiles were fired at a former government school where suspected fighters and their families were living in Tul Khail village, 5km east of Miran Shah.

Those killed were members of Al Badar, the armed Afghan group of veteran leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to an unnamed Pakistani official.

Heykmatyar is an Afghan leader who fought against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and against the Taliban in the 1990s. He reportedly allied with the deposed group after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces.

US tensions

Friday's missile attack brings to five the number of such raids in the past two weeks.

Thirty-eight people, including women and children, have been killed in the past week's missile attacks.

Both the US military and the CIA operate drone aircraft armed with missiles of the type believed to have killed two senior al-Qaeda commanders in Pakistani territory earlier this year. Pakistan says it does not have missile-equipped drones.

Tensions between the US and Pakistan have further risen after a raid last week in which helicopter-borne US commandos landed in Pakistan's South Waziristan - the first known incursion into Pakistan by US troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's military chief, on Wednesday denounced the apparent US raids, saying unilateral actions risked undermining their co-operation.

He warned that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost. No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan."

A day later, The New York Times reported that George Bush, the US president, had secretly approved orders in July to allow US special forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government.

Bajaur fighting

Concurrent with the attack in North Waziristan, Major Murad Khan, a Pakistani military spokesman, announced 32 fighters had been killed, as well as two soldiers, over the last day during violence in the Bajur region.

Pakistani officials say hundreds of fighters have been killed there during a week-long offensive, which has forced 500,000 people to flee their homes. Officials acknowledge that civilian have been killed and villages badly damaged in the fighting.

Rehman Malik, the Pakistani interior minister, had previously announced a government ceasefire with fighters in Bajaur and other tribal areas in honour of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

Via Al Jazeera.


First off, a note on the article itself. As is mentioned, only militants were killed in the raid. Nevertheless, Al Jazeera decided to include a picture of a wounded child, the explanation given being that "Earlier air raids, which have killed and wounded civilians, have angered Pakistanis." This is blatantly biased, the sort of thing I'd expect from FOX, and if it continues I may have to reconsider using Al Jazeera as my primary news source.

As for the raid, ordinarily I would not have objected to it, because if Pakistan wants to claim that it has sovereignty over Waziristan, then it needs to actually exercise that sovereignty. However, it has now begun to do just that. With Pakistan finally taking the threat from TTP seriously, there is no need for us to intervene directly. Doing so, especially against their expressly declared wishes, is foolish.

Apologies on not posting more often. I have my hands full with my Persian lit. class.