The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: drone reportedly kills Qaeda no. 3
The world’s most dangerous job? U.S. and Pakistani officials and an al-Qaeda statement all claim the organization’s current no. 3 leader and one of its co-founders Mustafa Abu al-Yazid was recently killed in Pakistan’s tribal regions (The News, Reuters, AFP, BBC, NYT, NBC, Wash Post). Intelligence officials say Yazid, an Egyptian who was al-Qaeda’s commander ...
The world’s most dangerous job?
U.S. and Pakistani officials and an al-Qaeda statement all claim the organization’s current no. 3 leader and one of its co-founders Mustafa Abu al-Yazid was recently killed in Pakistan’s tribal regions (The News, Reuters, AFP, BBC, NYT, NBC, Wash Post). Intelligence officials say Yazid, an Egyptian who was al-Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan and Pakistan and had served as an adviser to Osama bin Laden, was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan last week; his death has been reported before, but this is the first time al-Qaeda has acknowledged such claims.
The Qaeda release said Yazid’s wife, three daughters, and granddaughter were also killed in the attack (NBC, BBC). Yazid was reportedly the link between bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the terrorist group, and as a fluent Pashtu speaker with "impeccable manners" was close to Taliban leader Mullah Omar (AP).
A suspected U.S. drone struck a town in South Waziristan close to the Afghan border on Friday, killing at least 8 alleged militants reportedly at a meeting of leaders (Dawn, Nation, Geo, CNN, Wash Post). It is the first reported drone strike in South Waziristan this year, and Dawn writes that the targeted house belonged to an ally of Taliban commander Mullah Nazir (Dawn). On Thursday, U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions Philip Alston will deliver a report calling for the drones to be operated by regular armed forces rather than the CIA, contrasting how the military and intelligence agencies respond to allegations of civilian casualties (ET, NYT, NPR, AP).
Carnage in Lahore
Seven men allegedly linked to the Pakistani Taliban have been arrested in connection with bloody, coordinated attacks on two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore on Friday that left nearly 100 dead (Geo, Dawn, NYT, FT, Wash Post, Times, AP, NYT, WSJ, Reuters). Pakistan’s two to five million Ahmedis are reviled by many mainstream Muslims, who consider them heretics because they believe the founder of their movement was the messiah foretold by the Prophet Muhammad. The six attackers — 17 to 28 year old men, of whom two have fled, two have been killed, and two have been arrested — reportedly traveled from Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, last week, and scouted out the two mosques, which had some 1,500 worshipers at the time of the attack on Friday afternoon (NYT, Times). Connections to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are also being investigated, and the self-described Punjabi chapter of the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack (ET, Wash Post).
And late on Monday, several gunmen wearing Pakistani police uniforms stormed Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where one of the attackers and many of the victims of the mosque attacks were being treated, reportedly to try and either kill or rescue their fellow militant (ET, Daily Times, The News, Dawn, AFP, NYT, AJE, Geo, Times). At least five were killed, and the alleged suspect has been transferred to a jail hospital (AP, Reuters, Geo, AP).
Fighting continues in Pakistan’s Orakzai agency, as jets and helicopter gunships targeted militant hideouts in the upper part of the tribal region, where hundreds of Taliban fighters have reportedly been killed in the last several months (Daily Times, ET, Reuters). Ihsan Farooqi, a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan commander who allegedly ran training centers in Orakzai, was reportedly killed in airstrikes on Sunday.
The Lahore High Court ordered the unblocking of Facebook in Pakistan yesterday, almost two weeks after it banned the site because of a page encouraging depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (The News, NYT, Guardian, AP). A judge ruled, however, that Pakistani authorities must continue to block specific ‘blasphemous’ content.
Released and sentenced
A former Pakistani Army major who was detained in mid-May in connection with Faisal Shahzad’s failed attempt to car bomb Times Square has been released after Pakistani authorities determined he had no links to the would-be attacker (LAT, WSJ, AP). The U.S. is pushing Pakistan to turn over more information about Pakistani airline passengers, including recent travel histories and method of payment, a politically unpopular move in Pakistan that could allow U.S. investigators to track terrorist travel patterns (NYT). In the "wake of Times Square," U.S. planning for a unilateral strike in Pakistan has been "reinvigorated," and the U.S. and Pakistan have recently set up a joint military intelligence center outside the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar and are negotiating to do the same near Quetta (Wash Post).
A federal jury in Houston, Texas convicted a 33 year old Pakistani community college student of two counts of conspiracy and seven firearms violations after allegedly participating in paramilitary exercises in the Houston area in 2006 and raising money for the Taliban (NYT, Geo, CNN, AP, AFP). Adnan Mirza faces five years in prison on each of the conspiracy charges and ten years on the weapons counts on his sentencing, set for September 1.
Security and politics in Afghanistan
Several days after capturing the administrative center of a remote Afghan district and after about a week of pitched fighting, Taliban militants mainly from Pakistan have been pushed back after NATO dropped 200 Afghan commandos and a smaller number of U.S. Special Operations troops into Barg-e-Matal in Nuristan (NYT, Pajhwok, NYT, AP, AFP, NYT, FT, AJE, McClatchy). The recapture operation was carried out with no shooting or injuries.
Six U.S. military officers were disciplined after an Air Force drone strike in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province in February left up to 23 Afghan civilians dead, according to a scathing military report released Saturday, which faulted the Nevada-based drone crew and U.S. ground commanders for "inaccurate and unprofessional reporting," among other reprimands (NYT, WSJ, LAT). The report’s findings are available here (ISAF).
Separately, NATO said an airstrike in Kandahar on Sunday morning killed "one of the two most senior Taliban leaders" in the province, Haji Amir (ISAF, FT). And Gen. Stanley McChrystal, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said there is "clear evidence" of "inappropriate" Iranian support for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan (Reuters, AP, NYT).
Afghanistan’s much-anticipated peace jirga, expected to be attended by some 1,600 Afghan delegates, is set to begin in Kabul tomorrow and run for three days, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to roll out his plans for reconciliation for the Taliban, who are not sending official representatives (AP, FT, Independent, LAT, Pajhwok, NYT). Pajhwok reports that Afghan opposition leader Dr. Abdullah Abdullah will be boycotting the jirga (Pajhwok).
Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that the U.S. government’s plans to hand out millions of dollars in economic and reconstruction aid in Nawa district in southern Afghanistan is raising concerns about the sustainability of the effort and tensions in the local community (Wash Post). USAID currently spends about $300 million per month in Afghanistan, a level expected to continue for at least a year. Today, a U.S. general is assuming command of British forces in Helmand (Times).
Afghanistan’s government has suspended two Christian relief organizations, Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid, on suspicion of converting Afghans to Christianity, which is outlawed in the country (NYT, Reuters, AP). Both groups have denied the allegations.
Anthony Loyd looks at the flow of Saudi Arabian money to Afghanistan, where financial intelligence officials say more than 920 million pounds has entered via Pakistan over the last four years (Times). And C. J. Chivers profiles the case of a five year old Afghan boy whose father sought help for a snakebite from U.S. forces, quoting a U.S. commanding officer in Helmand who commented, "We can’t be Afghanistan’s E.M.S., but right now we are." (NYT).
The Pakistani rock star Salman Ahmad, inspired by the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, is in the U.K. promoting his autobiography, "Rock and Roll Jihad," and spreading his message of nonviolence through music (BBC). His band, Junoon, has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide and has been called South Asia’s U2.