Daily brief: Zawahiri faces challenges as al-Qaeda leader

Trouble ahead Experts and militants alike continue to react to the appointment Thursday of Ayman al-Zawahiri as al-Qaeda’s new leader, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen vowed to capture or kill Zawahiri (Times, WSJ, Tel, Guardian, LAT, BBC, Reuters). Many regard Zawahiri as a divisive figure who may struggle to ...

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Trouble ahead

Experts and militants alike continue to react to the appointment Thursday of Ayman al-Zawahiri as al-Qaeda's new leader, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen vowed to capture or kill Zawahiri (Times, WSJ, Tel, Guardian, LAT, BBC, Reuters). Many regard Zawahiri as a divisive figure who may struggle to unify al-Qaeda under his leadership (NYT, Post, AP). In a statement Thursday, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsam expressed support for the new al-Qaeda leader, calling him a "capable person" who would help lead attacks on the West (Reuters, DT).

Terrorism experts speculate that Zawahiri may try to launch a large-scale attack to solidify his position in the group, while an FBI intelligence bulletin warned Thursday of a "hit list" including U.S. government targets posted to a jihadist forum (Tel, CNN). And the Telegraph looks at how succession works within al-Qaeda (Tel).

Trouble ahead

Experts and militants alike continue to react to the appointment Thursday of Ayman al-Zawahiri as al-Qaeda’s new leader, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen vowed to capture or kill Zawahiri (Times, WSJ, Tel, Guardian, LAT, BBC, Reuters). Many regard Zawahiri as a divisive figure who may struggle to unify al-Qaeda under his leadership (NYT, Post, AP). In a statement Thursday, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsam expressed support for the new al-Qaeda leader, calling him a "capable person" who would help lead attacks on the West (Reuters, DT).

Terrorism experts speculate that Zawahiri may try to launch a large-scale attack to solidify his position in the group, while an FBI intelligence bulletin warned Thursday of a "hit list" including U.S. government targets posted to a jihadist forum (Tel, CNN). And the Telegraph looks at how succession works within al-Qaeda (Tel).

Zawahiri’s appointment also raised concerns about fresh terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as the country struggles to balance domestic politics with a dwindling relationship with the United States (Miami Herald, Reuters, AFP, CNN). Senior U.S. officials today expressed confidence in Pakistan, and the U.S. will reportedly replace the P-3C Orion aircraft lost in the TTP raid last month on Pakistan’s Mehran naval airbase (NYT, Dawn, Dawn, Dawn).

And the Telegraph reports that Pakistani security forces are stopping food and other supplies from reaching a remote base used by the United States to support its drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas (Tel).

Border wars

Pakistani security forces have reportedly re-taken control of three villages in Bajaur, seized after several hundred militants crossed over from Afghanistan to attack the agency (ET, The News, AP, AFP). Dawn reports that residents of North Waziristan are growing increasingly concerned about the possible costs of a long-awaited military operation against militants living in the area (Dawn). And 300 Pakistani tribesmen briefly blocked NATO supply routes into Afghanistan Thursday in protest of a shooting incident with Afghan troops (AP).

Pakistan’s Supreme Court today will hear a petition filed to form an independent commission to investigate the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, a day after Pakistan’s government announced the commission without consulting the court (ET, Dawn). The New York Times reports that two cameramen who filmed extrajudicial killings in Karachi and Quetta have received threats and pressure from unnamed sources to say the films were faked (NYT).

And unidentified gunmen in Quetta on Thursday shot and killed the deputy director of Pakistan’s Sports Board and legendary Olympic boxer Abrar Hussain (Dawn, DT, AP, Reuters, The News).

Not just yet

U.S. military leaders are reportedly asking President Obama not to withdraw the bulk of "surge" troops in Afghanistan until next year, after the 2012 spring fighting season (WSJ, AFP). Discussions between Obama, defense secretary Robert Gates and top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus on the troop withdrawals began this week, while the UN is expected to vote today to separate the sanctions lists for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, considered a key step in peace negotiations with Afghan insurgents (AJE, AP). And a new report by a behavioral scientist working for the U.S. army in Afghanistan warns that attacks from Afghan troops on U.S. forces constitutes a "systemic threat" to stabilization efforts that is being ignored by senior commanders (WSJ).

The International Monetary Fund has rejected proposed reforms to Afghanistan’s troubled Kabul Bank, freezing tens of millions of aid dollars and endangering much greater sums of international money destined for development projects (Reuters, AP). This comes as Russia is reportedly seeking a greater role in development in Afghanistan (Reuters).

Finally, the AP reports on the near-disasters and front-line action of a U.S. army medical helicopter crew ferrying wounded soldiers from battle in Helmand province (AP).

Fuzzy numbers

The Times of London reports that the number 39 has become incredibly unpopular in Kabul of late, for reasons that remain unclear (Times). The offending number, which shows up most often on license plates, has recently been interpreted to mean "pimp" and is considered bad luck.

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