Daily brief: Bin Laden threatens any captured Americans

The battle goes on A day after Pakistani security forces claimed that military airstrikes left more than 60 militants dead in Orakzai, one of Pakistan’s northwestern tribal agencies, some 150 Taliban fighters attacked and temporarily took control of a checkpost in the agency’s main town (AP, AFP, AP, Reuters, Geo, Dawn). Five Pakistani soldiers, including ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The battle goes on

A day after Pakistani security forces claimed that military airstrikes left more than 60 militants dead in Orakzai, one of Pakistan's northwestern tribal agencies, some 150 Taliban fighters attacked and temporarily took control of a checkpost in the agency's main town (AP, AFP, AP, Reuters, Geo, Dawn). Five Pakistani soldiers, including a Frontier Corps lieutenant colonel, and at least 21 militants, including some Uzbeks, were killed in the ensuing gun battle as Pakistani forces regained control of the checkpoint. Yesterday, militants blew up a girls' school in Bajaur, another tribal agency, bringing the total number of schools destroyed there to 77 (Daily Times).

Two days of high profile talks between U.S. and Pakistani officials wrapped up yesterday in Washington with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying that the U.S.'s image in Pakistan would be improved if Pakistan were permitted to "spearhead" the drone strikes in the country's northwest (AFP). For the first time yesterday, the State Department's legal adviser offered the Obama administration's legal rationale for the drone strikes, saying they are permissible on the grounds of self-defense because the U.S. is in "armed conflict" with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and "associated forces" (NPR).

The battle goes on

A day after Pakistani security forces claimed that military airstrikes left more than 60 militants dead in Orakzai, one of Pakistan’s northwestern tribal agencies, some 150 Taliban fighters attacked and temporarily took control of a checkpost in the agency’s main town (AP, AFP, AP, Reuters, Geo, Dawn). Five Pakistani soldiers, including a Frontier Corps lieutenant colonel, and at least 21 militants, including some Uzbeks, were killed in the ensuing gun battle as Pakistani forces regained control of the checkpoint. Yesterday, militants blew up a girls’ school in Bajaur, another tribal agency, bringing the total number of schools destroyed there to 77 (Daily Times).

Two days of high profile talks between U.S. and Pakistani officials wrapped up yesterday in Washington with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying that the U.S.’s image in Pakistan would be improved if Pakistan were permitted to "spearhead" the drone strikes in the country’s northwest (AFP). For the first time yesterday, the State Department’s legal adviser offered the Obama administration’s legal rationale for the drone strikes, saying they are permissible on the grounds of self-defense because the U.S. is in "armed conflict" with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and "associated forces" (NPR).

Qureshi and Vice President Joe Biden also held a 30-minute one-on-one meeting yesterday (The News). Leaders from both countries promised to strengthen ‘strategic ties,’ and Obama administration officials said Pakistan is likely to see a speedier delivery of F-16 fighter jets, helicopter gunships, and surveillance aircraft, though were noticeably silent on Pakistan’s biggest request, for a civilian nuclear deal (NYT).

The height of absurdity

In a 74-second audiotape broadcast yesterday on Al Jazeera, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatened to kill any Americans the group takes prisoner if Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the operational planner of the September 11, 2001 attacks, is executed (AJE, NYT, CNN, Reuters, BBC, ABC, Wash Post). A U.S. counterterrorism official commented that it is the "height of absurdity for anyone associated with al Qaeda to even suggest that now, at long last, they’re going to start treating captives badly," referencing the murder of Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed by al-Qaeda operatives in 2002.

Jane Perlez takes a detailed look at the case of David Coleman Headley, the U.S. citizen charged with scouting targets in Mumbai before the deadly 2008 attacks there and plotting to attack a Danish newspaper that once printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (NYT). Not only did Headley train at a militant camp in Pakistan on five occasions, according to his plea agreement, but he also allegedly met with al-Qaeda operatives in Europe.

Authority in Afghanistan

CIA officers and contractors at a base in Khost, Afghanistan were reportedly so eager to cultivate the relationship with the Jordanian doctor they believed might have information about al-Qaeda’s top leaders that they had prepared a birthday cake for his visit late last year (AP). Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi detonated his explosives before the cake could be served, killing seven CIA officers and contractors on December 30.

The U.S. military is reportedly adopting a "Campaign Continuity" initiative for troops deployed in Afghanistan, which will return units to the same parts of the country so they can develop "regional expertise and closer relationships with Afghan power brokers" (WSJ). A senior military official assessed that forces "won’t need to relearn everything from scratch," and the new system reflects Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s influence in the Afghan theater.

The Journal looks at what has happened in Kamdesh, a district in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan, since U.S. forces pulled out last fall following Taliban attacks on outposts there, and finds that the Taliban are now "on the defensive" against the residents and elders of Kamdesh, who are interested in reconciliation with the Afghan government (WSJ). A Hezb-i-Islami commander with authority in Kamdesh, Mullah Saqiq, returned from exile in Pakistan late last year and has been able to oust the Taliban from the district "without a single shot fired."

RIP, TGIF

The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan will be shutting down many of the Western restaurants and stores on the boardwalk at the Kandahar Airfield, including a TGI Friday’s, at the order of Gen. McChrystal (McClatchy). A commanding sergeant wrote, "This is a war zone, not an amusement park," and said that closing those facilities will free up needed storage space.

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