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.