Daily brief: Afghan Taliban names new deputies
Back to business as usual? Mullah Omar has reportedly named two new deputies of his Taliban movement, after the recent arrest of his former number two commander, Mullah Baradar (BBC, Daily Times). Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former Guantanamo detainee, was a commander in southern Afghanistan, and Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, the "portly and personable rear-echelon leader," ...
Back to business as usual?
Back to business as usual?
Mullah Omar has reportedly named two new deputies of his Taliban movement, after the recent arrest of his former number two commander, Mullah Baradar (BBC, Daily Times). Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former Guantanamo detainee, was a commander in southern Afghanistan, and Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, the "portly and personable rear-echelon leader," was part of the original Taliban leadership before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
A drone struck the outskirts of the main town in the northwestern tribal area of North Waziristan yesterday, the seventh reported strike in that agency in the last two weeks, killing a handful of alleged militants (CNN, AP, AFP, Geo, Reuters). A tribesman in Miram Shah told Pakistan’s The News that he spotted a new type of drone flying overhead: white, smaller, and noisier than its Predator cousins (The News). A security official confirmed the new model.
Meanwhile, in Orakzai to the north, Pakistani security forces have reportedly killed more than a dozen militants using both ground forces and fighter jets (AP, Dawn). And in the capital Islamabad, Pakistani authorities foiled a Taliban plot to kidnap the ambassador from Jordan (AP).
As the much-discussed ‘strategic dialogue’ between senior U.S. and Pakistani officials gets underway in Washington this morning, the Pakistani delegation is expected to reiterate its request for drone aircraft and other military equipment, and is said to be seeking "reassurance" that the U.S. will still have a presence in Afghanistan "long after" the Obama administration’s planned beginning of the troop withdrawal in July 2011 (Wash Post). Restoring — or at least improving — the "trust deficit" between the two countries is high on the agenda, and several signed agreements on matters from power projects to infrastructure construction are likely to emerge from the talks (Reuters). However, the U.S. has been noncommittal toward Pakistan’s expected request for a civilian nuclear deal, which some analysts suggest might not be a bad idea (AP, FP).
The Afghan roundup
Longtime South Asia correspondent Carlotta Gall has more details about the peace plan presented to the Afghan government earlier this week by representatives from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami insurgent group (NYT). Though a Taliban spokesman washed his hands of the plan and said his movement would have nothing to do with talks, a member of the Gulbuddin delegation conceded that his group’s demands were just a starting position: "This is not the word of the Koran that we cannot change it."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Beijing meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, and seeking increased investment for Afghanistan (AFP). Karzai is also expected to present his plan for reconciliation with the Taliban to Chinese leaders.
The London Times reports that Taliban forces have seized control of the home village of the NATO-backed governor of Musa Qala, a town in Helmand province that has changed hands a few times in recent years (Times). The village of Shah Karez, ten miles east of Musa Qala, was evacuated after several days of fighting. Militants have managed to force a coalition helicopter to an emergency landing in Kunduz after shooting at it (Pajhwok). And top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal gave an interview to the Telegraph touching on population security and the upcoming offensive in Kandahar (Tel).
And a small team of senior military and defense officials now have two weeks to complete a review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates into the Pentagon’s "information operations," the catch-all term for activities like electronic warfare and psychological operations (AP, AFP, WSJ, Wash Post). Gates ordered the review after the news that a Pentagon official was reportedly running an "off-the-books" spy operation in Afghanistan using private contractors for intelligence gathering.
Bin Laden watch
One of Osama bin Laden’s daughters, the 18-year-old Iman, has been released from house arrest in Iran and gone to Syria to live with her mother, Najwa (AP). And Osama’s fourth and most vocal son, Omar, called for the rest of his 23 relatives currently living in Iran to be accepted by other countries (AFP).
The Journal has a fascinating look at the use of cell phones in Afghanistan, where there are now some 12 million cell phone accounts out of a population of around 29 million (WSJ). However, in much of southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban force cell phone providers to shut down their towers at night, ostensibly to prevent locals from giving tips to coalition forces.
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