Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pakistan halts fighting for Ramadan

Pakistan has announced a suspension of military operations against fighters in the tribal regions during the month of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

But a senior official said on Saturday that security forces would respond if attacked.

Rehman Malik, an interior ministry official, said that security forces would suspend operations from Sunday night for the month of Ramadan, which ends at the beginning of October.

"If militants take any action the security forces will respond with full force," Malik told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.

"It is not a ceasefire," he stressed, "if they fire a single bullet we will respond with 10 bullets."

Military campaign

Violence has intensified in Pakistan in recent weeks with the military battling armed groups in three different parts of the country's northwest.

Troops backed by helicopter gunships and heavy artillery have for weeks been pounding what they say are pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda strongholds in the area, killing more than 560 people, according to officials.

The US says that al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are based in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border.

The suspension of military operations comes a day after Pakistan's army said it had killed 40 fighters in an air strike that targeted a rebel stronghold in the country's Swat region.

Deteriorating security in Pakistan has coincided with a faltering economy and political upheaval, with the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, last week.

That was quickly followed by a split in the ruling coalition.

Via Al Jazeera.


Hopefully the Taliban will pause the fighting, but I doubt it.

In other news, I have recently begun a course on cartography, so my eternal dream of having a good map depicting the current situation in Afghanistan at a glance will hopefully become a reality.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pakistan outlaws TTP

ISLAMABAD (PAN): The government, hours after rejecting a truce offer from militants active in the volatile tribal region near the border with Afghanistan, outlawed on Monday an umbrella insurgent group called Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Speaking to journalists in Islamabad, the advisor to prime minister on interior announced the ban on TTP, formed in December 2007. Rehman Malik, promising punitive action against militant leaders, said bank accounts of the outfit had been frozen.

Activities of the extremist organisation, led by Baitullah Mehsud who has been linked to the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, have touched off a series of military operations in Waziristan, Swat, Bajaur and other regions of the NWFP.

On Sunday, Malik scorned a Taliban offer for a ceasefire in tribal areas and said if the militants were serious about peace talks, they should first surrender their weapons. The TTP had earlier declared a unilateral truce, expressing its willingness to enter dialogue with the government if an ongoing military operation was halted.

In response to the proposal, Malik said: We will not consider it until the Taliban renounced recourse to arms. He went on to reaffirm his resolve to establish the governments writ all over the country. We will not back down from our principled decision.

The ban came soon after the group asserted responsibility for one of the country's worst-ever terrorist attacks that left ten people dead in the restive Swat Valley, the stronghold of firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah and a former tourist attraction.

"The TTP is a terrorist organisation which has been killing innocent people, the advisor remarked, accusing the fighters of continuing attacks on security forces, burning schools and damaging public buildings in violation of a much-maligned peace deal.

Anyone aiding the TTP, lending it financial assistance, having other links to it and spreading its night letters or literature would be dealt with according to the law, warned Malik. Under Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws, supporters of insurgents could be jailed for up to 10 years.

But political analysts here blame the governments lenient attitude for the increasing influence of Pakistani Taliban. The proscription should have come about long ago, believes leading commentator Shah Jehan Wagarpal. If Islamabad had taken this action in time, the guerrillas could have been prevented stepping up their activities in Bajaur, Swat and elsewhere.

Senator Raza Muhammad Raza, welcoming the announcement, hoped the government would not shrink from taking practical steps to eliminate the terrorists. In a chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, the nationalist lawmaker said the Taliban were raising anti-US slogans but killing innocent civilians. What kind of jihad it is, he exclaimed.

A day earlier, Co-Chairman of ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari called for an immediate ban on the radical group. He told an English TV channel the Taliban were a headache for the entire world, not Pakistan alone.

Via Pajhwok Afghan News.


About time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Scores killed in Algeria attack

At least 43 people have been killed in a suicide attack on an Algerian police school, the country's interior ministry has said.

The attack occurred in the town of Issers, in the Kabylie region of Algeria, 60km east of Algiers, the capital, on Tuesday, wounding 38 others.

The attacker drove a car packed with explosives at the main entrance to the school as candidates for an entry exam were waiting outside, witnesses said.

Civilians as well as police officers were among the victims, they said.


The casualty figures were still provisional, the ministry said in a statement.

But it is already the deadliest attack in the country in several months, worse than the December 2007 attack in Algiers against government and UN buildings, which killed at least 41 people and injured many others.

The explosion left a crater several metres across.

"It's utter carnage," said the father of one of those killed in the attack.

"It's a catastrophe. May God punish them for the crime they have committed against these youngsters, and their country."

Another candidate survived because he went to buy cigarettes but his father, mother and brother were killed in the blast, witnesses said.

As well as devastating the entrance to the school, the blast destroyed several nearby houses and blew out windows in nearby shops.

Emergency workers gathered up the remains of the dead, wrapping them in blankets and placing them in waiting ambulances.



It's things like this that really make me think that Apostasy must be some sort of disease. The actions of whomever is responsible for this (possibly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, though I suspect it may have been someone acting independently) have nothing to do with tactics, or strategy, or reason. This was not a part of any jihad, holy or unholy. It was an act of hate, pure and simple, of an immense loathing and a desire to cause as much suffering as possible. They have certainly succeeded.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

American terror

Most of you probably already know that Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney was recently murdered. What you do not know is that there appears to be something darker going on.

Gwatney's killer, Tim Johnson, was a follower of Neo-Nazi talk radio host Hal Turner. Turner had recently called for the assassination of county and state chairmen, and is taking credit for having inspired the killing.

Turner has recently cancelled his radio show, and his website goes offline tomorrow. On a temporary site, he has this to say:

"I decided in early July 2008 that I would end the show because the time for talking is over. The time for action is here.

"Instead of telegraphing my thoughts in public, I now move to the shadows with my bretheren to take sudden, dramatic, irreversible, direct action.

"Let us be like surgeons; carving out the cultural, religious, social and political cancer which is killing our nation.

"Let us enjoy the hunt as we make trophies of 'men' who are little more than beasts infesting urban Serengetis that used to be our cities.

"It is time once again for Whites to rule the night."

However, it has been alleged that Hal Turner is in fact an FBI informant, and this may well just be him being retired in an attempt at damage control now that his cover has been, if not blown, then at least compromised.

However, Bill Gwatney is still dead.


δβ’t x’ šyrt ’yδyt prδβnw kwn'nd w’nw ’ty wyšnt γnd’kryty prkyš'nd.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thousands flee Pakistan tribal belt

Around 135,000 residents have fled a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan to escape ongoing clashes between troops and pro-Taliban fighters, officials said.

Half of the population of some villages in the Bajaur tribal district had reportedly moved on Thursday.

There have also been reports that fighters were stopping people from leaving some areas.

"We have around 135,000 people who have left their homes there," said Habibullah Khan, the additional chief secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Rising death toll

"We have directed officials in adjoining districts to provide shelter, food and health care to the migrating families. We are setting up more camps to help these people just like refugees."

More than 460 suspected fighters and 22 army troops, have died since Pakistani forces started military operations in Bajaur a week ago, officials say.

Abdul Rehman Malik, the head of Pakistan's interior ministry, said intelligence sources claim that about 3,000 fighters remain in the northwestern region of Bajaur. He also said they included Pakistanis, Afghans and Central Asians.

Malik also vowed to "wipe out" the fighters.

Witnesses said that thousands of families had arrived in Shabqadar, a small town adjoining the tribal belt. Local residents and welfare groups were raising funds and cooking food for them, they said.

Local residents in the Mammoond area of Bajaur have said that pro-Taliban fighters had banned people from migrating, saying that if they left the area it would be a sign of defeat.



Bajaur is (or at least was) one of the Taliban's principal strongholds in Pakistan.

I'm back from vacation.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

'Split verdict' on bin Laden driver

A US military jury at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp has reached a split verdict in the trial of Osama bin Laden's former driver, clearing him of some charges but convicting him of others.

Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni citizen, was cleared on Wednesday of conspiracy to commit war crimes but was found guilty of providing material support to terrorism.

He had been held at the detention centre for more than six years and faced 10 specific charges.

Hamdan had denied the allegations against him, saying he worked for bin Laden only as a driver and had no knowledge of al-Qaeda attacks.

The trial is first US war crimes tribunal since the second world war.

Al Jazeera's Tom Ackerman, who is at the trial in Guantanamo Bay, said that the jury, comprised of US military officers, has since retired and is to resume deliberations on Hamdan's sentence on Thursday.

The jury had deliberated for about eight hours over three days following the two-week trial.

Hamdan, wearing a white turban and long white robe, stood tensely in the courtroom beside his lawyers as the verdict was announced, listening via headphones to the tribunal's English-Arabic interpreter.

He later wept into his hands when the guilty verdict was announced.

War crimes charge

The Bush administration has faced heated criticism over the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and the special tribunals, which operate under different rules to other military courts or civilian ones.

Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said after the verdict that the Bush administration was pleased that Hamdan had received a "fair trial".

However our correspondent says the prosecution is likely to be disappointed by the verdict.

Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001, allegedly with two surface-to-air missiles in his car but was cleared on conspiracy to commit war crimes.

"The jury had apparently heeded the defence's contention that it cannot be a war crime to intend to use weapons against soldiers on the field of battle," Ackerman said.



Now the question is, will the time he's spent in Guantánamo count towards his sentence?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Al-Qaeda's chemical 'expert' dead

Abu Khabab al-Masri, described as al-Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons expert, has been killed with three other fighters in a suspected US bombing in Pakistan's border region last week.

Al-Masri, who carried a $5m bounty on his head, had been earlier identified as the likely target of the attack on a house in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, a tribal area bordering Afghanistan, according to Pakistani officials.

An al-Qaeda statement posted on a variety of websites on Sunday said al-Masri, referred to as the chemical "expert", had left behind him a generation of students who would avenge his killing.

The statement, signed by al-Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, named three other fighters killed alongside al-Masri on July 28. It said some of their children also died.

Abdel Bari al-Atwan, editor-in-chief of al-Quds Al Arabi newspaper, said al-Masri "represented the old guard of al-Qaeda, so it is going to be very difficult to replace him".

"This was a huge success for the Americans in their pursuit of al-Qaeda leaders," he said.

"Al-Qaeda usually replace these people in this situations, but actually, they won't have the people with the determination and expertise of this man.

"He managed to experiment a lot with chemical and biological weapons in the Tora Bora area.

"Maybe he has disciples, but there's no one with his skills. He knows the ideology of al-Qaeda very well and I don't believe he will be easily replaced by other people."

Senior bomb maker

Al-Masri, a 55-year-old Egyptian chemist, was regarded as one of the group's senior bomb makers.

The statement said he had left behind him a generation of so-called students who would avenge his killing.

On Saturday, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman denied a US media report that Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda's deputy leader, had been wounded or killed in what was believed to be the same US missile strike that killed Masri.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Kabul, said: "Afghanistan is seeing the worst violence since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.

"The killing of Masri also comes at a time when there have been increasing reports that a number of al-Qaeda fighters are now infiltrating into Afghanistan and working here alongside the Taliban."

Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist and author, told Al Jazeera: "Masri has left behind a new generation of people that he did train."

"It is quite possible that his death could spark retaliation outside the region ... inside the region, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, we are seeing an all-out offensive."

Via Al Jazeera.


This is good news. Chief bomb maker is a very high level position.

On a personal note, later today I'm leaving to visit with family in Maine for a few weeks.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No let-up in Pakistan fighting

Fighting in Pakistan's Swat valley has continued into a fourth day between government forces and pro-Taliban fighters in the former popular tourist resort.

Pakistan's military information office said on Saturday that the clashes had so far left 45 pro-Taliban fighters and 11 soldiers dead.

The resurgence of unrest in the mountainous Swat region, 140km from the capital Islamabad, comes despite a May peace deal reached by the fighters with the government.

The current spell of fighting began when pro-Taliban groups abducted 35 Pakistani policemen, apparently responding to the arrest of six fighters, including two commanders, by Pakistan security forces.

Besides soldiers and fighters, 34 civilians have also died and 70 more seriously wounded in the clashes, as shells and mortars hit houses, gardens and even a golf course.

Policemen killed

Police said a bomb exploded at a bridge in Swat valley late on Saturday, killing at least eight police and wounding five others.

The AFP news agency quoted Bashir Khan, a police officer, as saying that the remote-controlled bomb hit a vehicle travelling from the police headquarters in Mingora, the main town in Swat valley, carrying money to pay the salaries of the staff in the nearby town of Kabal.

Khan said the bomb was planted at a bridge between the two towns and that some of the wounded policemen are in serious condition.

At least 12 civilians, including seven members of the same family, were killed on Thursday alone.

Residents said shells hit a house in the Deolai area, killing five children and their parents.

A man was also killed in the crossfire between fighters and security forces at a golf course in the town of Kabal, officials said on Thursday.

The previous day, five soldiers and 25 fighters were killed in a gun battle sparked by an attack on a security checkpoint.

The same day, mortars fired from a Pakistani force helicopters landed on a house.


Taliban threat

Even as its intelligence services face accusations of complicity, Pakistan's government forces are battling pro-Taliban groups in the Swat area.

The military has used helicopter gunships to pound Taliban fighter positions, while Taliban fighters have set fire to government buildings.

Two girls' schools were attacked on Thursday night by the fighters, who threatened to expand their onslaught on government-linked installations.

Haji Muslim Khan, the spokesman for one of the largest pro-Taliban groups in the Swat valley, said that the trend would continue throughout Pakistan.

"Who killed the innocent people they are bombing and they are shelling from helicopters? It is the Pakistani army," he told Al Jazeera.

"I don't want America in my country and I don't want our soldiers to work for America and I want the rules and regulations of Islamic sharia.

"Our government are following rules and regulations of America and we want to change it."

The warning follows a statement by Maulana Fazlullah, the Pakistan Taliban's leader in Swat with a four million rupee ($56,000) bounty on his head, that the group has an army of suicide bombers that could strike across the country at any moment.

He told Al Jazeera that the Taliban has the capacity to take control of the entire Swat valley.

Peace deal collapse

The intense fighting has brought the May peace agreement between the Pakistani government and pro-Taliban fighters to the brink of collapse.

Under the deal, the Pakistan government agreed to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system.

In exchange, the Taliban said they would halt attacks and surrender arms.

Zahid Hussain, an expert on Pakistani religious groups, told Al Jazeera that the deal was born of failure.

"I think from the beginning it was very clear that it would not work," he said.

"While the deal was signed in May, there has not been a cessation of hostilities, and I think this period only displayed the fighters' capability to further arm and organise themselves."

Al-Qaeda rumour

In other news from the region, US television channel CBS said it had obtained an intercepted letter from a pro-Taliban commander urgently requesting a doctor to treat Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's deputy leader, following an attack in northwest Pakistan last week.

A senior military official based in the area said he was checking the CBS report.

"We have seen the media report that al-Zawahiri was killed or wounded in the July 28 strike. We are investigating the authenticity of the report," the official said.

Major-General Athar Abbas, the chief Pakistani military spokesman, said that the military had no information about the report.

"There is no evidence or information in this regard. We have no reliable information," told the AFP news agency on Saturday.

CBS said the July 29 letter, written by Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban leader, carried his seal and signature, saying Zawahiri was in "severe pain" and his "injuries are infected".

Via Al Jazeera.


There is a bit more to the story than this article lets on.

Although Pakistan has made deals with the Tehreek-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP) in several regions, no such deals exist in the rest. Since no deal existed with the TTP's forces in Hangu, the government launched a campaign to drive them out of that district. The TTP, which, like HAMAS, apparently cannot be bothered to actually read the treaties it signs, claimed that the government was breaking the deal, and issued the provincial government an ultimatum: end the attacks and resign, or all peace deals throughout Pakistan will be null and void and we will take Peshawar. The day before the TTP's deadline elapsed, they kidnapped 25 cops in Swat.¹ This, along with the ultimatum, prompted the government to launch the operation described in Al Jazeera's article.

As for the report of Zawahiri being injured, I very much doubt that it is true. If it was, then the letter requesting a medical assistance would have been sent by whomever Zawahiri is staying with (or near). I have a rather hard time believing that this person would be Beitullah Mehsud, because the Apostasy would have to be insane to keep two people of such importance anywhere near each other. Also, Beitullah Mehsud would presumably already have a skilled medic stationed with him.