Daily brief: Pakistan ‘captures Taliban base’ in northwest

Violence in Pakistan Fierce fighting between the Pakistani military, backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, and Taliban militants continues in the northwestern Pakistani tribal agency of Bajaur, the site of a major military offensive in 2008 that had pushed the Taliban from their strongholds, and troops are reportedly advancing on the militants’ main training ...

TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Violence in Pakistan

Fierce fighting between the Pakistani military, backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, and Taliban militants continues in the northwestern Pakistani tribal agency of Bajaur, the site of a major military offensive in 2008 that had pushed the Taliban from their strongholds, and troops are reportedly advancing on the militants' main training area in Damadola (BBC, AP, Dawn, AFP, The News). The ongoing clashes demonstrate the resiliency of the militant movement in Pakistan's tribal regions; Pakistani authorities have imposed a curfew on several towns in Bajaur, and thousands of local residents have reportedly fled the area.

The fighting comes as speculation swirls about the fate of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud; Nick Schifrin of ABC writes that the Taliban is meeting to choose a new chief after Hakimullah reportedly succumbed to wounds sustained in a U.S. drone strike in mid-January, and suggests as possible successors Wali ur-Rehman, the group's military strategist, Qari Hussain, who trains suicide bombers, and Saeed Khan Mamozai, a local commander from Orakzai (ABC, Wash Post). Sources tell Pakistan's The News that Maulana Toofan, a commander from Orakzai, is acting as the interim chief of the Pakistani Taliban (The News). The Taliban insist Hakimullah is alive, but have backed off previous plans of releasing a video to prove it (AP). After Hakimullah's predecessor was killed by a drone strike in late August, the group did not announce a new leader for several weeks during reported infighting.

Violence in Pakistan

Fierce fighting between the Pakistani military, backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, and Taliban militants continues in the northwestern Pakistani tribal agency of Bajaur, the site of a major military offensive in 2008 that had pushed the Taliban from their strongholds, and troops are reportedly advancing on the militants’ main training area in Damadola (BBC, AP, Dawn, AFP, The News). The ongoing clashes demonstrate the resiliency of the militant movement in Pakistan’s tribal regions; Pakistani authorities have imposed a curfew on several towns in Bajaur, and thousands of local residents have reportedly fled the area.

The fighting comes as speculation swirls about the fate of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud; Nick Schifrin of ABC writes that the Taliban is meeting to choose a new chief after Hakimullah reportedly succumbed to wounds sustained in a U.S. drone strike in mid-January, and suggests as possible successors Wali ur-Rehman, the group’s military strategist, Qari Hussain, who trains suicide bombers, and Saeed Khan Mamozai, a local commander from Orakzai (ABC, Wash Post). Sources tell Pakistan’s The News that Maulana Toofan, a commander from Orakzai, is acting as the interim chief of the Pakistani Taliban (The News). The Taliban insist Hakimullah is alive, but have backed off previous plans of releasing a video to prove it (AP). After Hakimullah’s predecessor was killed by a drone strike in late August, the group did not announce a new leader for several weeks during reported infighting.

At least 26 people have died in a recent spate of targeted killings in the port city of Karachi in southern Pakistan, after violence erupted over the weekend as supporters of the ethnic Pashtun Awami National Party clashed with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which represents the city’s Urdu-speaking majority which migrated from India at the time of partition (Geo, Dawn, Reuters, BBC). Dozens have been killed in Karachi in similar cases in recent weeks; Pakistani authorities have banned carrying arms in public in Karachi’s Orangi town, the majority Pashtun community and site of much of the violence (BBC, The News, AJE).

Officially

In a rare meeting with reporters, the influential chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani yesterday offered Pakistan’s assistance in training Afghan soldiers, and said he believes it will take at least four years for the target 140,000-strong Afghan National Army to be able to take over security responsibilities in Afghanistan (Dawn, Daily Times, FT, WSJ, Wash Post). Gen. Kayani also told correspondents, "We can’t have Talibanization," and refuted recent reports that Pakistan does not intend to attack militants in North Waziristan eventually, though he said there is "no need to start a steamroller operation."

Five young American Muslims from northern Virginia detained in Pakistan in December on accusations of contacting a terrorist recruiter via the internet and planning terrorist attacks told a court in the eastern Pakistani city of Sargodha earlier today that they had been tortured in FBI and Pakistani police custody (AP, Reuters, Dawn, The News). The men have not yet been charged, and their next court hearing is scheduled for February 16, though they may have a bail hearing on February 8.

And Pakistani authorities have detained an American man in the Jamrud area of Khyber, one of Pakistan’s tribal regions that is off limits to foreigners without government permission (AP).

The budget beat

U.S. President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2011 seeks nearly $5 billion in development aid to Afghanistan and nearly $3.2 billion for Pakistan, and $1.2 billion for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund to help train and equip Pakistani forces to fight militants in the tribal areas (Reuters, Wash Post, Dawn, AFP). The White House is reportedly planning a supplemental 2010 request to Congress for $33 billion to support sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this year.

A troika of must-reads for today are C. J. Chivers’ account of the Taliban’s shadowy, evolving resistance to Marine operations in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, Yaroslav Trofimov’s report on upcoming offensives in neighboring Kandahar province, and Michael Phillips’ story on the recent increase in kill-or-capture missions in Afghanistan (NYT, WSJ, WSJ). Assault Breacher Vehicles, the U.S. Marines’ answer to how to push through Taliban barriers and outer defenses, could play a key role in an offensive in Helmand, and the threat from IEDs remains a critical issue for troops in Afghanistan (LAT, AP).

Diplomatic contacts

Afghan President Hamid Karzai left for Saudi Arabia earlier today to seek the kingdom’s help — religious authority and probably financial assistance — with his plan for reconciling and reintegrating Taliban fighters with the government (AP, Reuters, Pajhwok, AP). Saudi Arabia has in the past said that the Taliban must deny refuge to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before they will agree to mediate any talks, and the Saudi government has hosted negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives before.

The Afghan official in charge of reconciliation denied the Taliban’s dismissal of contacts between the government and the militant group, while NATO is coming up some 2,400 personnel short to train Afghan security forces (NYT, Reuters). And some two dozen Taliban insurgents have been killed in Badghis and Helmand, while four NATO soldiers were killed in action Monday, the deadliest day for the alliance in two weeks (Pajhwok, AP).

Sports diplomacy

Afghanistan’s national basketball team defeated Pakistan over the weekend in a match in Dhaka, Bangladesh during the South Asian Games (Pajhwok). Afghanistan also beat Pakistan in soccer on Sunday (Pajhwok).

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