Daily brief: passports linked to 9/11 found in northwest Pakistan military operations
New feature notice: The AfPak Channel Daily Brief is launching a new occasional feature called “Wonk Watch.” We will sometimes link to valuable new research reports from think tanks, NGOs, and other sources, expert testimonies, and scholarly articles that may be of interest to the AfPak Channel’s expert audience. If you would like us to ...
New feature notice: The AfPak Channel Daily Brief is launching a new occasional feature called “Wonk Watch.” We will sometimes link to valuable new research reports from think tanks, NGOs, and other sources, expert testimonies, and scholarly articles that may be of interest to the AfPak Channel’s expert audience. If you would like us to consider featuring your research or testimony, please email it to email@example.com.
Today’s Wonk Watch: The Asia Foundation recently released polling showing that 42 percent of Afghans surveyed feel their country is heading in the right direction, up from 38 percent in 2008 and mainly due to better security conditions (Asia Foundation, 231 pp, pdf).
“An insecure follower with no personality”
As the Pakistani Army presses on toward a key strategic Taliban stronghold in its nearly two-week-old offensive in the restive tribal region of South Waziristan, security forces found the passport of an alleged member of the Hamburg cell involved in plotting the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (Wall Street Journal, CNN, Reuters, Dawn, Times of London, Dawn, BBC). The passport, which shows that Said Bahaji, a German citizen and associate of the lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta has been in Pakistan since early September 2001, is a clear demonstration that some al Qaeda militants have taken refuge among the Taliban in Pakistan. Jane Perlez and Mark Mazzetti have today’s must-read on this and the wider situation in Waziristan (New York Times).
Another passport was recently recovered in South Waziristan, belonging to Raquel Burgos Garcia, which media have reported is the name of a woman married to Amer Azizi, an alleged Moroccan al Qaeda member implicated in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (AP, Sky News, Guardian, Telegraph). The passports displayed were part of a guided tour for foreign and local journalists, who for the first time since the offensive started on October 17, were allowed by the Pakistani military to visit the war zone (AP, Guardian, Independent, Wall Street Journal).
The Pakistani military has reportedly taken control of the South Waziristan town of Sherwangai, and is purportedly en route to capturing Kani Guram, a stronghold of Uzbek militants in the region (AP, Wall Street Journal, Dawn). Nearly 300 militants have reportedly been killed so far, and the Pakistani military recently downgraded the number of militants the army is fighting in South Waziristan, from some 11,500 to a new estimate of 5,000 to 8,000, battling some 30,000 Pakistani troops (AP).
With silver tongues
On U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s last day in Pakistan, she faced Pakistani anger about alleged CIA-operated drone attacks in Pakistan’s northwest, which analysis suggests have killed some three quarters militants, one quarter civilians under U.S. President Barack Obama, and around 20 extremist leaders since 2006 (AP, The News, Bloomberg, AFP, Washington Post, CNN). Yesterday, Secretary Clinton annoyed Pakistani leaders and journalists when she remarked that she found it “hard to believe” that no one in the Pakistani government knows where al Qaeda leaders are in Pakistan (Financial Times, New York Times, BBC, AP, AFP, ABC). Secretary Clinton walked her comments back a bit today, saying, “I don’t know if anyone knows, but…. our best information is that they are somewhere in Pakistan” (ABC, AP, AFP, Reuters).
Afghan election officials are opening some 500 more polling stations than the United Nations recommended for the November 7 runoff election between incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah, adding to concerns about security risks, chances for fraud, and hurried preparations (Washington Post, McClatchy, Los Angeles Times). And as the Pentagon is being pressed to step up efforts to deal with the threat from roadside bombs in Afghanistan, a taxi carrying nine civilians in Nangahar in eastern Afghanistan this morning drove over an IED, killing a mother and child (Politico, AP, NPR, Reuters).
Obama’s review of the U.S.’s strategy in Afghanistan seems to be nearing an end, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff are reportedly expected to present the president with recommendations on troop strength and strategy today in the seventh in a series of meetings on Afghanistan (Reuters, AFP, CNN, Pajhwok). The latest media reports suggest that Obama will announce his decision sometime between November 7 and 11.
A pair of fairly moderate earthquakes shook Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday and today, with the quakes centered some 160 miles north of Kabul and some 100 miles west of Islamabad (AP, AFP, Dawn, Dawn). Tremors from one side of the border can often be felt on the other, and there have been no immediate reports of damage or casualties from either quake.
An Illinois judge yesterday sentenced an accused al Qaeda sleeper agent to more than eight years in prison, essentially giving Ali al-Marri credit for the six years he has already spent in jail after being arrested in mid-December 2001 on financial fraud charges (Reuters, AFP, BBC). Al-Marri confessed in his guilty plea to associating with September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and training in al Qaeda camps, and this sentence could have implications for how September 11 plotters are treated in the justice system (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post).
A general hospital
The United Arab Emirates is planning to build a new hospital in the capital of Pakistan to serve the needy and poor patients in Islamabad (The News). Officials say it will be modeled on the hospital the UAE constructed in Muzaffarabad after the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.
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