Daily brief: Taliban deny reports of Mullah Omar’s death

The Rack: Christopher Beam, "The Ombudsman," Slate. Mysterious disappearance An official from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said today that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had "disappeared" several days ago from hideout in Quetta, after Tolo News reported yesterday that an anonymous NDS source said Omar had been killed while in transit between Quetta ...

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The Rack: Christopher Beam, "The Ombudsman," Slate.

Mysterious disappearance

An official from Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) said today that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had "disappeared" several days ago from hideout in Quetta, after Tolo News reported yesterday that an anonymous NDS source said Omar had been killed while in transit between Quetta and North Waziristan (AFP, Reuters, Tolo). The Taliban denied the claim, telling reporters that Omar was "alive and well" and in Afghanistan (Reuters, NYT).

The Rack: Christopher Beam, "The Ombudsman," Slate.

Mysterious disappearance

An official from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said today that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had "disappeared" several days ago from hideout in Quetta, after Tolo News reported yesterday that an anonymous NDS source said Omar had been killed while in transit between Quetta and North Waziristan (AFP, Reuters, Tolo). The Taliban denied the claim, telling reporters that Omar was "alive and well" and in Afghanistan (Reuters, NYT).

According to a report from the German magazine Der Spiegel, Germany is mediating direct talks between the United States and the Taliban on German soil (AFP, Der Spiegel – German). The report indicates that three meetings have been held so far, the first in Qatar and the subsequent two in Germany. And Afghanistan and Pakistan are reportedly in talks to set up a "high-level joint commission" to deal with direct negotiations with the Taliban (ET).

Bloody weekend

A suicide bomber reportedly wearing an Afghan National Army uniform on Saturday attacked the Mohammed Daud Khan national military hospital in one of Kabul’s most secure and heavily fortified areas, killing six and wounding at least 23 (Post, NYT, Reuters, AP, CNN, AFP). The attack, which was claimed by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Muhajid, targeted a tent where medical students were eating.

The Taliban have also claimed credit for a coordinated attack in the eastern province of Khost, in which four attackers in Afghan Border Police uniforms, including at least two wearing suicide vests, occupied the city’s traffic police headquarters, engaging in a firefight that lasted close to 10 hours and killed up to 10 people, including three of the attackers (NYT, CNN, AP, Post, Pajhwok, Tolo, LAT). The building was eventually retaken by Afghan and NATO troops, who also defused several large bombs left in the attackers’ station wagon. And this morning a suicide bomber killed four in an attack on a market in the eastern province of Laghman (CNN, AFP).  

The IMF and Britain’s foreign aid department are suspending credit to Afghanistan until a mechanism can be worked out to prevent the misappropriation of loans, in the wake of the Kabul Bank scandal in which nearly $850 million in loans are believed to have been misappropriated (Independent).

And the Taliban warned the nation of Kazakhstan in an English-language statement released Saturday against sending troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission, a decision made by the Kazakh parliament on May 18 (Reuters).

Close to home

Pakistani security forces have reportedly retaken the headquarters of Pakistan’s naval air force, Pakistan Naval Station Mehran, in Karachi this morning, nearly 16 hours after between 15 and 20 well-armed militants stormed the base from several sides in a coordinated assault, destroying two P-3C Orion aircraft and a helicopter and reportedly killing at least 12 military personnel (Dawn, Guardian, BBC, NYT, ET, AP, Reuters, Geo, Geo, Daily Times, ET). The attack, one of the most serious to target the military since a 2009 assault on Pakistan’s army headquarters, was claimed by a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman who said the attack was revenge for the "martyrdom" of Osama bin Laden, and that the attackers had food and ammunition for three days and did not expect to leave the base alive (Guardian). Interior minister Rehman Malik said this morning that all militants who had participated in the attack were killed (ET). The militants reportedly split into three groups after entering the base, and were reported to have taken hostages before the siege was over (AP, AJE, McClatchy, ET, Reuters, TIME).

Fifteen people were killed in secondary explosions after a bomb set fire to a NATO fuel truck in Khyber agency, and civilians rushed to the tanker to siphon off fuel (AP, ET). At least 14 other tankers were destroyed in an attack at Torkham claimed by the "Abdullah Azzam brigades" of the Taliban. Eight militants have reportedly been killed in ongoing operations in Orakzai, after a roadside bomb killed two government officials (Dawn). Nine people have been killed in tribal infighting in Lower Kurram (Daily Times). And Pakistan’s government has ordered an investigation into the killing last week of five Chechens, including three women, by paramilitary personnel at a checkpoint in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta (BBC).

More attacks

Amidst ongoing talks between Pakistan and U.S. leaders, a drone strike this morning targeting a vehicle in the Machi Kel area of North Waziristan, killing four suspected militants (AP). Another strike on Friday targeted a vehicle in the Tappi area of North Waziristan, 10 kilometers east of Miram Shah, and killed up to six suspected militants (Reuters, AP, CNN, ET, AFP). Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan led up to 7,000 protesters and supporters of his Tehreek-i-Insaf party in a two-day sit-in in the city of Karachi this weekend to protest the drone strikes, and the government’s reported complicity in the attacks (AJE, AFP). Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha reportedly asked that the U.S. halt the drone strikes in meetings this weekend with CIA deputy director Michael Morrell, in which the two also reportedly discussed a cooperation framework on counterterrorism operations, though officials say no formal agreement was signed (ET, Dawn). The PML-N-led government in Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, on Friday said it had canceled four aid agreements with the United States in protest of the drone operations (AFP).

In the weeks before the raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound the Pakistani army reportedly ordered roughly 20 percent of the 150 U.S. Special Forces training the Pakistani Frontier Corps to leave the country, saying that the trainers had handled, "so much instruction that their presence is now inconsequential," according to a Pakistani official (Post). And the AP’s Chris Brummitt has a must-read story about a purported training camp for militants in the forests near the village of Guli Badral, in the Mansehra district north of Abbottabad and just 20 miles from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, a camp that locals and militants indicate the Pakistani army knows about and may even support with training and supplies (AP).

President Barack Obama on Friday thanked the CIA for its efforts in tracking down bin Laden at a speech at the agency’s Virginia headquarters, while in interviews this weekend Obama said that he would order another operation like the one that killed bin Laden if he found evidence of a terrorist leader hiding in Pakistan (NYT, BBC, ET, Daily Times). The Journal discusses how increased CIA and military cooperation helped the search for and raid that killed bin Laden (WSJ, WSJ). Christina Lamb reports that the Navy SEALs who carried out the raid had detailed "pocket guides" to the Abbottabad complex, including information on each of the compound’s residents, the rooms in which they lived, and even photos and descriptions of the clothes they normally wore (Sunday Times). Documents seized from the raid indicate that bin Laden hoped to attack Western oil tankers in order to prompt an "extreme economic crisis" (Guardian, LAT, WSJ). And a jihadist website has posted an audio recording from key al-Qaeda figure Ayman al-Zawahiri on the ongoing unrest in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, recorded before the death of bin Laden (CNN).

WikiLeaks: Pakistan edition

The news organizations Dawn, The Hindu, and NDTV continued this weekend to release American diplomatic cables given to them by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, documents which reported the following:

Local contacts in Punjab told a U.S. consular official in Lahore that charitable groups in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had given up to $100 million to militant clerics and groups in Pakistan, money that was reportedly turning the Punjab into a "hotbed" of extremism and militant recruitment (Dawn, The Hindu); then-U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson in a series of cables detailed the involvement of U.S. Special Forces with their Pakistani counterparts, including setting up intelligence "fusion cells" and embedding with Pakistani military units during operations, a report denied by the country’s military Sunday (Dawn, Reuters, Reuters); and Awami National Party senator Afrasiab Khattak told U.S. officials in 2009 that the insurgent Haqqani network benefited from the protection of the Pakistani army (Dawn). 

A series of cables discusses the behind-the-scenes discussions from 2008 about who would be Pakistan’s new prime minister (Dawn); complaints from prime minister Asif Ali Zardari in 2009 to then-national security adviser James Jones that Indian prime minister Manhoman Singh did not understand the political restrictions and pressures on Zardari (NDTV); assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly asked the United States to provide security for her two months before she was killed in December 2007, a request U.S. officials refused (The Hindu); Bhutto’s killing led opposition leader Nawaz Sharif also ask for American security advice (The Hindu); Saudi Arabian intelligence leader Prince Muqrin had brokered a deal with assassinated Lebanese president Rafik Hariri to shelter Sharif for 10 years in Pakistan, provided the latter stayed out of Pakistani politics (Dawn); and police were often outnumbered and outgunned in Karachi by militant groups and political militias (Dawn).

Other documents discuss the "sleepless nights" Singh experienced out of concern for terrorist attacks originating in Pakistan (NDTV, The Hindu); and a January 2009 cable explaining India’s successful efforts to make sure that India was not included in the brief of the U.S. envoy to be appointed to deal with South Asia, a post occupied soon after the cable was written by the late Amb. Richard Holbrooke (The Hindu).

Difficult relations

Pakistan’s defense minister announced this weekend that China will take control of the strategic port of Gwadar, and that Pakistan has asked China to build a naval base at the port (ET, FT, WSJ).

Trilateral meetings will take place in Kabul this week between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (The News, Pajhwok). And the trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Chicago-based Canadian accused of helping support the 2008 Mumbai attacks, begins this week, and is expected to focus attention on alleged Pakistani government support for militant groups, especially with the testimony of David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who provided reconnaissance for the attacks and pled guilty last year to his involvement (Guardian, ProPublica, Washington Post).

Flashpoint

Indian authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir prevented a march this weekend to commemorate the 1990 killings of two founders of the Kashmiri independence movement, placing the current leaders of the Kashmiri separatist movement under house arrest (AFP, The Hindu).

Gold-digger  

The Daily Times reports that grave diggers in Karachi charge whatever rates they want from bereaved families, depriving families of choice burial spots for their loved ones if they cannot afford the fee (Daily Times). The local government sets the rate for burial about four times lower than what many diggers charge.

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