Daily brief: Obama to convene Afghan war council today
A critical capture Pakistani military officials have confirmed the arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command Mullah Baradar, which came last week after months of intense pressure from the U.S., reportedly including U.S. officials showing Pakistan details about its powerful intelligence services’ involvement in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan (AFP, Reuters, WSJ). Baradar, normally one of the ...
A critical capture
A critical capture
Pakistani military officials have confirmed the arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command Mullah Baradar, which came last week after months of intense pressure from the U.S., reportedly including U.S. officials showing Pakistan details about its powerful intelligence services’ involvement in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan (AFP, Reuters, WSJ). Baradar, normally one of the most heavily guarded Taliban figures, was reportedly captured at a routine police checkpoint in Karachi after leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan with four of his bodyguards, and is now being held an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) office in the Pakistani port city (FT, Times, Reuters, Dawn/AP). His capture was reportedly driven by a "rare intelligence break" that allowed U.S. intelligence to help the ISI arrange a short-notice raid (LAT).
Reports are mixed on how much Baradar is cooperating with his interrogators, as a Pakistani intelligence official quoted by the AP says he has provided "useful information" and a U.S. official telling ABC that authorities have not yet gotten anything actionable from him (AP, ABC, LAT). Carlotta Gall and Souad Mekhennet assess that the capture of Mullah Baradar has ensured Pakistan a prized role in Afghan peace negotiations, and analysts generally agree that his arrest is a significant blow to insurgents fighting in Afghanistan, though some are concerned about the effects on negotiations and on what comes next, both for the militant movement and for Pakistani authorities (NYT, McClatchy, AP, FT, Wash Post, CNN, WSJ, FP, FP).
In the second attack on the same North Waziristan village this week, suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at a militant compound in the town of Tapi Tol Khel, near Miram Shah, the administrative headquarters of the restive tribal agency, killing a handful of alleged militants (Geo, Reuters, AFP, CNN, Dawn, Geo, AP). The reported strike is the third this week in North Waziristan.
A previously unknown Islamist group has claimed responsibility for an attack last weekend on a German Bakery restaurant in the western Indian city of Pune that left 11 dead, the first major attack on Indian soil since the November 2008 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, saying the group had split from Lashkar-e-Taiba to form Lashkar-e-Taiba al-Almi because the former "took orders from Pakistan’s intelligence agency" (Hindu, BBC, AFP). The self-proclaimed spokesman for the new group, "Abu Jindal," said the attack was in response to India’s refusal to discuss Kashmir, and reportedly placed the phone call taking responsibility from somewhere in Waziristan or Bannu, a nearby tribal area.
A Pakistani court yesterday rejected a request for bail for the five American Muslims from northern Virginia who were detained in the Pakistani city of Sargodha in December on accusations of contacting terrorists over the internet and plotting attacks, though they have not yet been formally charged (Reuters, AFP). The five men, between 18 and 25 years old, again claimed to reporters that they were being tortured by Pakistani and FBI officials, accusations the authorities routinely deny (AJE).
Day five of Operation Moshtarak
As coalition operations in the southern Afghan town of Marjah enter their fifth day, U.S. President Barack Obama is holding a meeting of his national security advisers in the White House Situation Room today to discuss Operation Moshtarak (AFP). Yesterday, U.S. and Afghan troops took control of several key areas in Marjah, moving into a police station and the ruins of a former government center where authorities hope to rebuild a municipal facility (WSJ, Wash Post). Sporadic gun battles broke out across the city’s empty streets yesterday as coalition forces continue to clear the area, and Marines are planning to bring 80 Afghan paramilitaries to patrol (ABC, Wash Post).
The brigade commander for Afghan troops in the Marjah offensive said that Taliban militants are using civilians as "human shields" there, "fighting from compounds where soldiers can very clearly see women or children… trying to get us to fire on them and kill the civilians" (BBC, AP). And NATO forces have resumed using a type of rocket that killed as many as 12 civilians on Sunday, after determining that the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) was not, as originally stated, defective and did hit the intended target (Reuters, BBC). C. J. Chivers and Rod Nordland report on the follow-up with the families and elders of those killed in the Sunday strike (NYT, Pajhwok).
Taliban reconciliation with the government is an important element of the Afghan and U.S. strategies in Afghanistan, and before the January 28 conference in London, representatives from Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and from the Taliban reportedly met on a resort island in the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives (AFP). A Maldives government spokesman said there were delegations of 11 members each, the Taliban side including the son of Afghan insurgent commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, engaged in three days of face-to-face talks (AP).
21st anniversary of Soviet withdrawal
Twenty-one years after the last Soviet soldier crossed the bridge over the Amu Darya River separating the USSR from Afghanistan, several separate gatherings across Afghanistan were held to mark the occasion on Monday (Pajhwok). The last Russian troops left on February 15, 1989.
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