Tag Archive: Afghanistan


Judges order arrest of Gadhafi, son for slayings

Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng is seen in the courtroom in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday June 27, 2011. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his son and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity in the early days of their struggle to cling to power. (AP Photo/Robert Vos, Pool)

Libyan chant slogans against Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration in the rebel-held capital Benghazi, Libya, Saturday, June 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)http://beta.news.yahoo.com/judges-order-arrest-gadhafi-son-slayings-122452359.html

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Monday for Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif, and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity in the Libyan leader’s four-month battle to cling to power. 

Judges announced that the three men are wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Gadhafi from power, and for trying to cover up the alleged crimes.

The warrants turn Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation.

Presiding judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana said Monday there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that Gadhafi and his son are both “criminally responsible as indirect co-perpetrators” for the murder and persecution of civilians.

She called Gadhafi the “undisputed leader of Libya” who had “absolute, ultimate and unquestioned control” over his country’s military and security forces.

Libyan officials rejected the court’s authority even before the decision was read in a Hague courtroom, claiming the court had unfairly targeted Africans while ignoring what they called crimes committed by NATO in Afghanistan, Iraq “and in Libya now.”

“The ICC has no legitimacy whatsoever. We will deal with it. … All of its activities are directed at African leaders,” government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday.

Monageng said evidence presented by prosecutors showed that following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi and his inner circle plotted a “state policy … aimed at deterring and quelling by any means — including by the use of lethal force — the demonstrations by civilians against the regime.”

She said it was impossible to put an exact number on the casualties, but said Gadhafi’s security forces likely “killed and injured as well as arrested and imprisoned hundreds of civilians.”

Prosecutors at the court said the three suspects should be arrested quickly “to prevent them covering up ongoing crimes and committing new crimes.”

“This is the only way to protect civilians in Libya,” said the statement from the office of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Shortly before the court announced the warrants, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his call for Gadhafi to step down.

“After 41 years of dictatorship, it is perhaps time to stop, for him to leave power,” he told a news conference in Paris. “Mr. Gadhafi knows perfectly well what he must do for peace to return. It only depends on him.”

In Tripoli, two loud explosions shook the area near Gadhafi’s compound Monday. NATO jets were heard over the Libyan capital minutes after the blasts as sirens from emergency vehicles blared in the streets.

The thunderous late-morning blasts were felt at a hotel where foreign journalists stay in Tripoli.

Smoke rose from the area near Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya complex, where Libyans hold daily rallies in support of the government. Gadhafi is not believed to be staying in the compound.

It wasn’t immediately clear what was hit or if there were civilian casualties.

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Gadhafi’s forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31 and is joined by a number of Arab allies.

___

Adam Schreck in Tripoli, Libya contributed to this report

Advertisements

Obama’s task: maintaining support for Afghan war

http://beta.news.yahoo.com/obama-task-maintaining-support-afghan-war-135618362.html

President Obama will face a stiff political challenge Wednesday in presenting his plan for a gradual end to the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. His prime-time address must remind a skeptical electorate and a concerned Congress that the country’s longest war remains worth fighting — and funding — for several more years.

 

Obama’s generals have requested more time to consolidate the gains they say have been made since the president dispatched 33,000 additional U.S. troops to the country last year. The escalation, which angered his party’s antiwar base, followed a months-long strategy review to determine how to salvage a flagging war effort.

Since then, public opinion has turned increasingly against the war, except for a now-diminishing boost in approval after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

As he begins the promised withdrawal, Obama’s challenge will be to provide his generals with the resources to wage the war’s final phase while persuading Congress that, at a time of fiscal strain, maintaining most of a $10 billion-a-month war effort is worthwhile.

“The process [leading to the decisions to be announced Wednesday] was all about the mission that was laid out in December of 2009, the surge in forces that followed from that decision and that mission, and the evaluation of the success that we’ve had since that mission began,” Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters Tuesday. “Having said that, we are always mindful of the fact that, as powerful and wealthy as this country is, we do not have infinite and unlimited resources, and we have to make decisions about how to spend our precious dollars and, more importantly, how and when to use military force.”

 

Afghan rally over NATO raid turns violent; 11 die

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110518/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan

By RAHIM FAIEZ and HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Rahim Faiez And Heidi Vogt, Associated Press 41 mins ago

KABUL, Afghanistan – Hundreds of protesters, angered by an overnight NATO raid that they believed had killed four civilians, clashed on Wednesday with security forces on the streets of a northern Afghan city. Eleven people died in the fighting, government officials said.

The demonstrators fought with police and tried to assault a German military outpost in the city of Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, the officials said, adding that some 50 were injured.

The protest was triggered by an overnight NATO raid on the outskirts of the city. The coalition said four insurgents died in the operation and that two others were detained.

Night raids targeting insurgents regularly stir up controversy in Afghanistan, where angry residents often charge the next day that international forces go after the wrong people or mistreat civilians as they search compounds. Success by NATO in reducing civilian casualties and agreements to conduct night raids alongside Afghan forces have not managed to stem the tide of accusations.

Adding to the confusion, it is often difficult to know who is a militant in insurgent-heavy areas, where entire villages are often allied with the Taliban or other groups.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people gathered on the road from Gawmal to Taloqan and carried the four bodies — two men and two women — on platforms as they marched into the city. They shouted insults at Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States as they pumped their fists in the air.

“Death to Karzai! Death to America!” they yelled. Officials estimated there were about 1,500 demonstrators.

The crowd started looting shops and throwing stones at a small German base in the city. Police were out throughout the city trying to calm the crowd, Taqwa said. Gunfire could be heard in a number of neighborhoods and troops at the German outpost shot off rounds in an attempt to disperse the crowd outside their walls.

The German military said in a statement that the demonstrators threw hand grenades and Molotov cocktails into the base, injuring two German soldiers and four Afghan guards. The German soldiers, one of whom was lightly injured and one somewhat more seriously, were both in stable condition, the military said.

At least 11 protesters were killed in the fighting, and 50 people were wounded — some of them police officers, said Faiz Mohammad Tawhedi, a spokesman for the Takhar government.

The raid late Tuesday killed two men and two women who were inside a home in an area known as Gawmal, provincial Gov. Abdual Jabar Taqwa said. He said that no one in his government was informed about the raid and that NATO acted unilaterally.

Provincial police chief Gen. Shah Jahan Noori said he had not been informed of the operation and said none of his officers were involved. Army officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

NATO confirmed it killed four people, two of them women, but said all were armed and tried to fire on its troops.

One of the women was armed with an assault rifle and tried to fire on the troops, NATO said. The other woman was armed with a pistol and pointed her gun at the security force as she was trying to escape the compound.

It is rare for women to be part of an insurgent fighting force in Afghanistan, but not unheard of. There have been cases in the past of women fighting with the insurgency, including as suicide bombers.

NATO said the raid was conducted by a “combined Afghan and coalition security force” and an alliance spokesman said that the governor was contacted ahead of the raid.

“It is standard practice in Takhar province to contact the Afghan provincial leadership prior to an operation. In this case, calls were placed to the provincial governor six times prior to the operation,” Maj. Michael Johnson said.

“We are aware of the claims of civilian casualties, and are looking into them,” Johnson added.

President Hamid Karzai sided with the Afghan officials. He issued a statement condemning the night raid as having killed four members of a family, and said it was not coordinated with Afghan forces.

“Despite repeated warnings that have been issued by President Karzai to top these uncoordinated NATO operations, it seems these types of operations still have not stopped,” Karzai’s office said in a statement.

He said the Afghan people should protest without turning to violence, but also said that the blame for the protest lies with NATO.

NATO said that the raid targeted a man working with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan — an insurgent group that is powerful in the north. The man was involved in arms trafficking and building explosives, NATO said. The alliance did not say if he was killed or captured.

In the south, meanwhile, a NATO service member died Wednesday in an insurgent attack, the military coalition said. NATO did not provide further details or the service member’s nationality.

New footage of captured US soldier: SITEhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110507/ap_on_re_us/us_afghan_captured_soldier_father_s_appeal

By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press John Miller, Associated Press Sat May 7, 7:14 am ET

BOISE, Idaho – In a rare public appeal, the father of a U.S. soldier held captive in the Afghan war has sought the help of Pakistan’s military in securing the release of Spc. Bowe Bergdahl.

Idaho resident Bob Bergdahl, in a video post on YouTube, directly addresses Pakistan Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of the country’s intelligence service.

“Our family is counting on your professional integrity and your honor to secure the safe return of our son,” he said. “And we thank you. Our family knows the high price that has been paid by your men in the army and the frontier corps. We give our condolences and thanks to the families of those who have fallen for Pakistan.”

Bowe Bergdahl’s parents have declined to say much publicly since he went missing from his base in southern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. He is the only American soldier being held in the war.

While it’s unclear where the 25-year-old soldier is being held, a video released on the Internet earlier this week shows him standing next to a senior official in the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network in Paktika province in Afghanistan.

Wearing a long beard he began growing just after his son’s capture, Bob Bergdahl speaks in English, Pashto and Arabic in the video, and he talks directly to members of the Haqqanis and their military commander, Mullah Sangeen.

“Strangely to some, we must also thank those who have cared for our son, for almost two years, Mullah Sangeen, the Haqqanis, and others who have played a role in sheltering the American prisoner,” he said. “We know our son is a prisoner and at the same time a guest in your home.”

Idaho National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano, a liaison for the U.S. Army in Idaho, confirmed that Bob Bergdahl is the man in the video.

The U.S. considers the Haqqani group to be its greatest enemy in Afghanistan. U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained last month that Pakistan’s military-run intelligence service maintains links to the Haqqani network. The Haqqanis are Afghan Taliban who control parts of eastern Afghanistan and have bases in Pakistan’s North Waziristan frontier tribal region.

The video comes after Osama Bin Laden’s death on Sunday in Pakistan. Bergdahl doesn’t allude to any relationship between that and the timing of this video.

Speaking to his son, Bob Bergdahl offered reassurances that the family has done all it can — and that they want him home safe.

“We have been quiet in public, but we have not been quiet behind the scenes,” Bob Bergdahl said. “Continue to be patient and kind to those around you. You are not forgotten.”

In the video, Bergdahl appears to reference the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, or Taliban.

“We understand the rationale the Islamic Emirate has made through their videos,” Bergdahl said. “No family in the United States understands the detainee issue like ours. Our son’s safe return will only heighten public awareness of this. That said, our son is being exploited. It is past time for Bowe and the others to come home.”

Bergdahl does not indicate to whom he’s referring to with the phrase “the others.” There are no other U.S. soldiers in captivity in Afghanistan.

Marsano said he was uncertain about the passage.

“I’m not privy to all the information Mr. Bergdahl has, nor did he ask me to expand upon his remarks,” Marsano said.

A phone call to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., wasn’t immediately returned.

The Bergdahls, who live in a home outside of Hailey near the tourist resort of Sun Valley, have largely shunned media attention following their son’s capture. Last year, Bowe Bergdahl’s mother, Jani Bergdahl, attended an elementary school ceremony after students wrote President Barack Obama urging him to help bring about the captive’s release.

___

Online:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?vyJmmZQ3byKQ

Mullah Omarhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110504/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Osama bin Laden’s death is likely to revive a debate within the Afghan Taliban about their ties to al-Qaida — a union the U.S. insists must end if the insurgents want to talk peace.

The foundation of their relationship is believed to be rooted in bin Laden’s long friendship with the Taliban’s reclusive one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who might now find it more palatable to break with al-Qaida and negotiate a settlement to the war. Much may depend on the newly chastened power-broker next door: Pakistan.

“I think now is an opportunity for the Taliban to end their relations with al-Qaida,” said Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based analyst and former foreign ministry official under the Taliban regime that was toppled in late 2001.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, said it was too early to comment.

But the death of the world’s top terrorist gives momentum toward finding a political solution to the nearly decade-long war, according to analysts familiar with U.S. officials’ stepped-up effort this year to push a peace agenda.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration have said they will negotiate with any member of the Taliban who embraces the Afghan constitution, renounces violence and severs ties with al-Qaida. Informal contacts have been made in recent months with high-ranking Taliban figures, but no formal peace talks are under way.

The possible opportunity comes just as the spring fighting season is kicking into gear. The U.S.-led coalition hopes to hold ground in southern Afghanistan gained as a result of the addition last year of an extra 30,000 American troops. The Taliban’s goal remains undermining the Afghan government, discrediting its security forces and driving the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and other foreign forces out of the country.

Even before bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs at a compound in Pakistan on Monday, the links between the al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban had weakened during the 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, Muzhda said. Mullah Omar’s refusal to hand over bin Laden after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon prompted the U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban from power. By siding with bin Laden, Mullah Omar’s hardline regime lost control of the nation.

The goals of the two movements are not closely aligned. While al-Qaida is focused on worldwide jihad against the West and establishment of a religious superstate in the Muslim world, the Afghan Taliban have focused on their own country and have shown little to no interest in attacking targets outside Afghanistan. The car bombing in May 2010 in New York’s Times Square was linked to the Pakistani Taliban — an autonomous group on the other side of the border.

But breaking with al-Qaida would mean forgoing some reliable funding channels in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Syria, according to a Western intelligence officer. Mullah Omar’s association with bin Laden also gave him clout, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Al-Qaida shares its technical expertise in explosives and helps the Taliban traffic narcotics made with opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, he said. For their part, the Taliban allow al-Qaida to come into Afghanistan on the backs of Taliban fighters.

Still, some members of the Taliban’s top leadership council have grown uncomfortable with al-Qaida, and a vocal minority want to distance themselves from the mostly Arab terrorist network, he said.

There are also cultural differences. Al-Qaida has viewed the Taliban as more backward, “kinda like West Virginia mountain folk — unrefined, uneducated,” the officer said.

And “the older generation of Taliban leaders had long ago become fed up with the arrogance of Arab jihadists,” Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote Monday in a column in the Financial Times.

Two other issues, according to the intelligence officer, could affect the Taliban’s internal debate about al-Qaida. While Bin Laden had personal connections to Taliban leaders, the man expected to replace him, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, is a less charismatic, unifying figure. And top Taliban leaders now know that the U.S. might hunt them down in Pakistan even without the cooperation or knowledge of the Pakistani military — as was done with bin Laden.

In June 2010, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that there were probably only 50 to 100 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan — that most of the terrorist network was, without question, operating from the western tribal region of Pakistan. Last month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that while some al-Qaida fighters have been searching for hide-outs in rugged areas of eastern Afghanistan, he did not think they were making a comeback inside the country.

Abu Hafs al-Najdi — a senior al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan and the coalition’s No. 2 overall targeted insurgent in the country — was killed in an April 13 airstrike in Kunar province, a hotbed of the insurgency in the northeast. In the past several weeks, coalition forces reported killing more than 25 al-Qaida leaders and fighters.

While the military offensive continues, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently that the United States had accelerated a diplomatic push to craft a political solution to the war. Marc Grossman, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who is heading up the effort, met with Afghanistan and Pakistan officials on Tuesday in Islamabad and agreed to set up a so-called Core Group for promoting the Afghan-led reconciliation effort.

With little known about the secret inner workings of the Afghan Taliban’s governing council, called the Quetta Shura, analysts can only speculate about the group’s plans.

“The killing of bin Laden might motivate them to sever their ties,” said Brian Katulis, of the Washington-based think-tank Center for American Progress. “I think the signal that the Quetta Shura and others are getting from people in Pakistan in the security services will be key.”

The U.S. has accused Pakistan’s military-run spy service of maintaining links with the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Afghan Taliban and closely aligned with al-Qaida. Pointedly, the Americans did not inform Pakistan about Monday’s helicopter raid that killed bin Laden until it was over.

That bin Laden’s hideout turned out to be a three-story home a short drive from the capital, Islamabad, and close to various Pakistani army regiments has raised suspicions in Washington that the Pakistanis may have been sheltering him. For years, Western intelligence had said bin Laden was most likely holed up in a cave along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

The Pakistani government has denied suggestions that its security forces knew bin Laden was there. Pakistani officials have long argued that they have done their part in the fight against militants and denounce allegations that they are backing insurgents.

“The raid was obviously deeply embarrassing for the Pakistanis,” Katulis said. “They could either redouble their efforts to try to cooperate more closely with the U.S. or they can continue to play their passive-aggressive game.”

Don’t expect a near-term divorce with al-Qaida, said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst with The Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank.

“It makes no sense for the Taliban to concede this point on the front end — without receiving any commensurate concession from the other side,” Hanna said. “Some of the Taliban I have spoken to have made the point that as long as the military fight escalates, they will cooperate with other forces who are willing to assist them in their fight against the U.S.-led coalition. They portray any pre-emptive severing of ties as a type of unilateral, partial disarmament.”

Seth Jones, a RAND Corp. political scientist who advised the commander of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan, said he suspects “the Taliban would interpret cutting ties with al-Qaida as kowtowing to the Americans.”

Jones said that while the Taliban don’t need al-Qaida to operate, they still retain ties with al-Qaida’s senior leaders as they have for decades.

Former Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Abdul Hadi Khalid said some members of the Taliban want to split with al-Qaida. The fighting spirit of the Taliban has been dampened by recent brutal attacks around the country that killed scores of Afghan civilians — attacks he suspects were inspired by al-Qaida.

These Taliban members “feel they are going the wrong way,” Khalid said.

However, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan president, said top Taliban leaders directing the insurgency remain very closely associated with al-Qaida. Al-Qaida still helps train Taliban fighters, and foreign fighters aligned with al-Qaida continue to fight side-by-side with Taliban foot soldiers, he said.

“I don’t know how they will be able to distance themselves,” Karzai said.

___

Associated Press Writers Heidi Vogt, Solomon Moore and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

Bin Ladin

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_theticket/20110502/ts_yblog_theticket/bin-ladens-death-is-a-pivotal-victory-for-obama-but-will-it-make-his-2012-re-election-bid-any-easier

President Obama’s declaration late Sunday night that U.S. forces in Pakistan had killed Osama bin Laden will likely prove one of the most significant moments in his presidency.

Speaking from the White House’s East Room shortly before midnight EST, the president offered the nation a long-desired moment of closure nearly a decade after the horrors of the 9/11 attacks.

“Tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed,” Obama declared in announcing bin Laden’s death. “Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people… We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”

Obama was careful not to gloat about the breakthrough for the struggle against Islamist terrorism–indeed, he went so far as to praise to his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who Obama had frequently assailed for bungling that struggle on the 2008 campaign trail. At the same time, though, as the smoke begins to clear from this pivotal moment, a no-less significant question lingers: How will the al Qaeda leader’s death alter the nation’s political landscape, especially ahead of next year’s 2012 presidential campaign?

The short answer, of course, is that it’s far too early to say for sure. To be sure, as news cameras capture footage of cheering crowds across party lines gathering to celebrate bin Laden’s demise, Obama seems almost certain to experience a bump in national approval for his handling of the situation. And the country’s mood–usually measured in so-called “right track/wrong track” numbers–will likewise trend upward with a major shot of good news after weeks of angst over issues such as rising gas prices and the struggling economy.

And as the president gears up for his 2012 re-election bid, he can take assurance in his ability to brandish a significant foreign policy achievement: He personally signed off on a mission to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist, and it was successful. Obama will be certain to remind voters about that milestone at every opportunity–knowing that it’s bound to loom larger in the public mind than the last several months’ worth of hand-wringing among candidates and pundits over this administration’s approach to Libya and the tumultuous war in Afghanistan.

Many of Obama’s likely GOP rivals in 2012 have lambasted him in recent weeks as a president with a weak foreign-policy dossier. But last night, some of his potential opponents–including Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney–carefully offered Obama praise for his handling of the bin Laden operation.

“In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that America would bring Osama bin Laden to justice–and we did,” Pawlenty said in a statement. “I want to congratulate America’s armed forces and President Obama for a job well done. Let history show that the perseverance of the US military and the American people never wavered.”

In a message posted on Facebook, Romney called bin Laden’s death a “great victory great victory for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere.” “Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military and the president,” he wrote.

But not all GOP candidates were as gracious. In separate messages on Twitter and Facebook, Sarah Palin made no mention of Obama, instead praising the military. “Thank you, American men and women in uniform. You are America’s finest and we are all so proud,” she wrote. “Thank you for fighting against terrorism.”

However, political history also offers some important cautions about how short-lived such victories can be in the heat of a re-election effort. Take, for example, former President George H.W. Bush’s sky-high poll numbers in the aftermath of the successful 1991 Gulf War, which made him seem virtually unbeatable against his likely Democratic opponents.

But as the 1992 campaign drew closer, Bush 41’s numbers steadily dropped, and lost his bid for a second term, thanks mostly to public anxiety over the struggling economy–an issue that also seems likely to dominate the upcoming 2012 campaign, at least for now.

In policy terms, too, the administration seem averse to gloating over the legacy of his historic moment. Last night, Obama made clear in his remarks that the war in terror is far from over–and that bin Laden’s death doesn’t mean an end to threats to the nation. “His death does not mark the end of our effort,” the president warned. “There’s no doubt that Al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. . . . The cause of securing our country is not complete.”

(Photo of Obama: Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110502/ts_nm/us_binladen_compound

By Patricia Zengerle and Alister Bull Patricia Zengerle And Alister Bull Mon May 2, 5:57 am ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. forces finally found al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden not in a mountain cave on Afghanistan’s border, but with his youngest wife in a million-dollar compound in a summer resort just over an hour’s drive from Pakistan’s capital, U.S. officials said.

A small U.S. team conducted a night-time helicopter raid on the compound early on Monday. After 40 minutes of fighting, bin Laden and an adult son, one unidentified woman and two men were dead, the officials said.

U.S. forces were led to the fortress-like three-story building after more than four years tracking one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers, whom U.S. officials said was identified by men captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden,” a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters.

Bin Laden was finally found — more than 9-1/2 years after the 2001 attacks on the United States — after authorities discovered in August 2010 that the courier lived with his brother and their families in an unusual and extremely high-security building, officials said.

They said the courier and his brother were among those killed in the raid.

“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw: an extraordinarily unique compound,” a senior administration official said.

“The bottom line of our collection and our analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist target. The experts who worked this issue for years assessed that there was a strong probability that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin Laden,” another administration official said.

The home is in Abbottabad, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad, that is relatively affluent and home to many retired members of Pakistan’s military.

It was a far cry from the popular notion of bin Laden hiding in some mountain cave on the rugged and inaccessible Afghan-Pakistan border — an image often evoked by officials up to and including former President George W. Bush.

The building, about eight times the size of other nearby houses, sat on a large plot of land that was relatively secluded when it was built in 2005. When it was constructed, it was on the outskirts of Abbottabad’s center, at the end of a dirt road, but some other homes have been built nearby in the six years since it went up, officials said.

WALLS TOPPED WITH BARBED WIRE

Intense security measures included 12- to 18-foot outer walls topped with barbed wire and internal walls that sectioned off different parts of the compound, officials said. Two security gates restricted access, and residents burned their trash, rather than leaving it for collection as did their neighbors, officials said.

Few windows of the three-story home faced the outside of the compound, and a terrace had a seven-foot (2.1 meter) privacy wall, officials said.

“It is also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it,” an administration official said. “The brothers had no explainable source of wealth.”

U.S. analysts realized that a third family lived there in addition to the two brothers, and the age and makeup of the third family matched those of the relatives — including his youngest wife — they believed would be living with bin Laden.

“Everything we saw, the extremely elaborate operational security, the brothers’ background and their behavior and the location of the compound itself was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hide-out to look like,” another Obama administration official said.

Abbottabad is a popular summer resort, located in a valley surrounded by green hills near Pakistani Kashmir. Islamist militants, particularly those fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir, used to have training camps near the town.

(Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham and Mark Trevelyan)

Afghan Taliban declare start to spring offensive

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110430/wl_nm/us_afghanistan_taliban

By Jonathon Burch and Rob Taylor Jonathon Burch And Rob Taylor 2 hrs 18 mins ago

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban declared the start of a spring offensive across Afghanistan on Saturday, warning they would target foreign troops as well as Afghan security forces and top government officials in a wave of attacks including suicide bombings.

In a statement, the hardline Islamists warned Afghan civilians to stay away from public gatherings, military bases and convoys, as well as Afghan government centers and buildings, as these would be the focus of attacks starting on May 1.

The Taliban statement comes just a day after senior military officials and Western diplomats warned they expected a surge in attacks over the next week, beginning on Sunday.

“The Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to declare the launching of the spring military operations named as “Badar” to be waged against the invading Americans and their foreign allies and internal supports,” the Taliban said in an emailed statement.

“Operations will focus on attacks against military centers, places of gatherings, airbases, ammunition and logistical military convoys of the foreign invaders in all parts of the country,” the Taliban said.

Senior military officials told Reuters on Friday that recent intelligence reporting indicated the campaign of increased violence would last about a week and would be mounted by the Taliban, supported by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other insurgents.

Brigadier General Josef Blotz, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said coalition bases were bolstering security in anticipation of attacks.

“We do know for quite some time already that the insurgency plans an attempt to come out with a surge of violence in certain areas of this country in the next days,” Blotz told Reuters.

The United Nations said it was relocating some of its staff in Afghanistan after receiving “credible threats” of increased attacks in a “number of locations around the country.”

The United Nations has been the target of several insurgent attacks over the past two years. Earlier this month, seven international staff were killed after protesters overran a U.N. compound in northern Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban denied involvement in that attack, but officials said insurgents had been involved in stirring up an already angry crowd.

“As a precautionary measure the United Nations is shifting its staff from some of its regional operational centers into safe locations for a short period. Staff are not leaving their regions and will continue working from these locations,” said Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan.

CIVILIAN WARNING

The Taliban said the targets of the attacks would be foreign forces, high-ranking officials of President Hamid Karzai’s government, members of the cabinet and lawmakers, as well as the heads of foreign and local companies working for ISAF.

“All Afghan people should bear in mind to keep away from gatherings, convoys and centers of the enemy so that they will not become harmed during attacks of Mujahideen against the enemy,” the Taliban said.

Senior military commanders have long anticipated a spike in violence with the arrival of the spring and summer “fighting season,” although the usual winter lull was not seen as U.S-led forces pressed their attacks against insurgents, particularly in the Taliban’s southern heartland.

While Washington and ISAF commanders have trumpeted successes against a growing insurgency since 30,000 extra U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan last year, the insurgency has shown little sign of abating.

Violence across Afghanistan hit record levels in 2010, with civilian and military casualties the worst since U.S-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.

The Pentagon said in a report on Friday that an overall increase in violence was due in part to increased targeting of insurgent safe havens and unseasonably mild weather.

The Taliban did not say how long their stepped-up campaign would last, but said it had been codenamed “Badar” after a decisive Muslim 7th century battle victory in western Arabia that Muslims attribute to divine intervention.

In the statement, the Taliban repeated their frequent claim that fighting in Afghanistan would not end until foreign troops had left the country. They also called on Afghan government officials and security forces to switch sides to the insurgency.

Military commanders interviewed by Reuters this week were not sure why May 1 had been chosen by the Taliban to launch their renewed offensive.

The anticipated Taliban campaign would not change the coalition’s counterinsurgency strategy put in place last year by U.S. General David Petraeus, the commander of the 150,000 U.S. and ISAF troops in Afghanistan, they said.

Under a program agreed at a NATO summit last year, ISAF said it will begin handing security responsibility to Afghan forces in several areas from July. The program will end with the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

(Additional reporting by Abdul Saboor; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Paul Tait)

Taliban free hundreds in brazen Afghan jailbreak

An Afghan National Army soldier keeps watch outside Kandahar's main jailhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110425/wl_nm/us_afghanistan_prison

By Ahmad Nadeem Ahmad Nadeem 52 mins ago

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Hundreds of prisoners escaped from a jail in Afghanistan’s south on Monday through a tunnel dug by Taliban insurgents, officials said, a “disaster” for the Afghan government and a setback for foreign forces planning to start a gradual withdrawal within months.

Tooryalai Wesa, governor of volatile southern Kandahar province, told Reuters 488 prisoners escaped due to the negligence of Afghan security forces at the province’s main jail. He said the tunnel led to a nearby house.

The Taliban said in a statement that 541 prisoners escaped through the tunnel, which took months to construct, and were later moved in vehicles to safer locations. The prison, touted as one of the most secure in Afghanistan, is located on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesman told a news conference that the incident, in which many Taliban commanders were said to have escaped, exposed serious vulnerabilities in the Afghan government.

“This is a blow, it is something that should not have happened. We are looking into finding out … what exactly happened and what is being done to compensate for the disaster that happened in the prison,” spokesman Waheed Omer said.

General Ghulam Dastgir, the governor in charge of the jail, said the prisoners had all escaped through the tunnel.

“No one managed to escape through the main gate, everybody went out through the tunnel. The insurgents worked on it for some seven months,” Dastgir said.

“The Taliban have planted bombs inside the tunnel and it is hard to investigate until the explosives are removed,” he said.

BIRTHPLACE OF THE TALIBAN

Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, has been the focus of the U.S.-led military campaign over the past year, with tens of thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops launching offensives around Kandahar city.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said it is too early to tell what impact the escape will have on plans to hand over other prisons to Afghan security control.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that the push to transfer more security responsibilities to Afghan officials will continue.

“This escape is a serious issue which the Afghan authorities are working to address,” the official said, adding that both U.S. and Canadian advisors helped train and mentor Afghan Central Prisons Directorate staff at the prison.

Twenty-six prisoners were recaptured and two killed in a gunfight with security forces, Wesa said.

Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Afghan officials had not officially asked for help in recapturing the prisoners but NATO “personnel who patrol the area are aware of the situation and will assist the Afghan authorities in responding as needed.”

Reporters were taken into the prison after the jailbreak to view the opening of the tunnel in one of the cell blocks.

Reuters photographs showed a hole, several feet deep, cut into the concrete floor of one of the cells. The hole, big enough to allow one man to climb down at a time, appeared to be connected to a tunnel.

A large carpet in the cell looked to have been folded back to expose the hole. Police told reporters the insurgents had used car jacks to break through the concrete floor, which was several centimeters thick.

The Taliban said the prisoners escaped over a four-and-a-half hour period during the night, meaning more than 100 prisoners an hour would have had to crawl out through a tunnel barely large enough to fit one man.

“Mujahideen started digging a 320-meter (1,049 feet) tunnel to the prison from the south side, which was completed after a five-month period, bypassing enemy checkposts and the Kandahar-Kabul main highway leading directly to the political prison,” the Taliban statement said.

“They moved people in several groups. They had a comfortable period of time to move that many people. It’s obviously very worrying with the timing around fighting season,” said a foreign official in Kandahar with knowledge of the incident.

Wesa said of the 488 who had escaped, 13 were ordinary criminals and the rest were insurgents.

COLLABORATION?

Analysts said the escape was a serious setback for security, and there was doubt about whether it could have happened without the help of guards.

“It is either a case of the jailers being financially motivated and being bribed, or a case of them being politically motivated,” said Waheed Mujhda, a Kabul-based analyst and expert on the Taliban.

Justice Ministry spokesman Farid Ahmad Najibi said he could not rule out the possibility guards had helped in the escape.

Whether the insurgents had all escaped through the tunnel or not, the freeing of hundreds of prisoners, including Taliban militants, is embarrassing for the Afghan government and foreign troops who have trumpeted recent security gains in and around Kandahar after months of heavy fighting, Mujhda said.

The brazen jailbreak comes months before the start of a transfer of security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces in several areas — including the main city in neighboring Helmand province — as part of the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Under the transition program, Afghan forces would begin taking over from foreign troops in seven areas this summer and should have control of the whole country by the end of 2014.

While Kandahar is not among the areas listed for the transition of forces in the first stage, Monday’s jailbreak raises serious questions about the readiness of Afghan forces to take over from foreign troops.

The jailbreak also drew comparisons to a similar incident three years earlier. In 2008, Taliban insurgents blew open the gate of the Kandahar prison at night, allowing up to 1,000 inmates, including hundreds of Taliban insurgents, to escape.

Days after that escape, hundreds of Taliban fighters seized villages in districts close to Kandahar and appeared to threaten the city itself, with the government sending more than 1,000 extra troops from the north as reinforcements. Nearly 100 Taliban fighters were killed in the ensuing battle.

(Additional reporting by Ismail Sameem in KANDAHAR and Hamid Shalizi and Rob Taylor in KABUL; Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in WASHINGTON; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Paul Tait, Alex Richardson and Will Dunham)

Libya rebels raise concern about Islamic extremism

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ml_libya_islamic_warrior

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press Tue Apr 19, 6:18 am ET

AJDABIYA, Libya – Abdel-Moneim Mokhtar was ambushed and killed by Moammar Gadhafi’s troops last week on a dusty road in eastern Libya — the end of a journey that saw him fight as a jihadi in Afghanistan and then return home where he died alongside NATO-backed rebels trying to oust the longtime authoritarian leader.

In describing Mokhtar’s death on Friday, Gadhafi’s government said he was a member of al-Qaida — part of an ongoing attempt to link the rebels to Osama bin Laden’s group. Four years ago, al-Qaida said it had allied itself with the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group — of which Mokhtar was a top military commander.

Two days before he was killed, Mokhtar denied any connection between his group and al-Qaida, telling The Associated Press in an interview: “We only fought to free Libya.”

“We realized that Gadhafi is a killer and imprisoned people, so we had to fight him,” said Mokhtar, one of a handful of rebel battalion commanders who led more than 150 rebels in eastern Libya.

The question of Islamic fundamentalists among the rebels is one of the murkier issues for Western nations who are aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes and must decide how deeply to get involved in the fight. Some countries, including the U.S., have been wary — partly out of concern over possible extremists among the rebels.

NATO’s top commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, told Congress last month that officials had seen “flickers” of possible al-Qaida and Hezbollah involvement with rebel forces. But he said there was no evidence of significant numbers within the opposition leadership.

Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani of the opposition council in Benghazi said any extremists among the fighters are exceptions and that ensuring democracy is the only way to combat them.

Mokhtar, 41, of the northwestern town of Sabratha, arrived in Afghanistan at age 20 in 1990 when the mujahedeen were fighting the puppet regime installed by the Soviets before they withdrew after a decade-long war.

He fought for three years in the fields and mountains of Khost and Kandahar provinces under Jalaluddin Haqqani — a prominent commander who was backed by the U.S. during the Soviet war but has now become one of its fiercest enemies in Afghanistan.

At least 500 Libyans went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, according to The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, but Mokhtar said there aren’t many fighting with the rebels now. Many like Mokhtar who returned home were arrested or killed by Gadhafi when they announced the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the mid-1990s to challenge his rule.

Mokhtar became one of the LIFG’s top three military commanders, said Anes Sharif, another member of the group who has known him for almost two decades.

Mokhtar was in charge in southern Libya and planned several assassination attempts on Gadhafi, including one in 1996 when a militant threw a grenade at the ruler near the southern desert town of Brak that failed to explode, Sharif said.

“Abdel-Moneim was the man who organized, prepared and mastered all those kinds of operations,” said Sharif, who is from the northeastern town of Darna, which has been a hotbed of Islamist activity.

The LIFG also waged attacks against Gadhafi’s security forces. But the Libyan leader cracked down on the group, especially in Darna and what is now the rebel-held capital of Benghazi.

“The worst fight was against Gadhafi in the 1990s,” Mokhtar said. “If he captured us, he would not only torture us but our families as well.”

The response forced many members of the group, including Mokhtar, to flee abroad, Sharif said. Mokhtar left in the late 1990s and only returned after the current uprising began, Sharif said.

“We don’t have many experienced commanders in the battlefield. That’s why I’m out here,” said Mokhtar, his full black beard peppered with gray as he stood outside Ajdabiya surrounded by rebel pickup trucks bristling with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.

Al-Qaida announced in 2007 that it had allied with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the group was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Both Mokhtar and Sharif denied the connection, saying it was never endorsed by the group’s leadership.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly renounced violence in 2009 following about three years of negotiations with Libyan authorities — including with Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. In a statement at the time, the group insisted it had “no link to the al-Qaida organization in the past and has none now.”

The Libyan government released more than 100 members of the LIFG in recent years as part of the negotiations. Sharif said the group changed its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change before the current uprising.

British authorities believe the LIFG has stood by its pledge of nonviolence, and has no ties to al-Qaida — though acknowledge that other Libyans command senior positions in the terror group’s hierarchy, including Abu Yahia al-Libi, al-Qaida’s Afghanistan commander.

“They clearly are still committed to an Islamist world view, but don’t subscribe to terrorist tactics any more,” said Ghaffar Hussain, who works on deradicalization projects for the Quilliam Foundation, a British anti-extremism think tank.

“Some former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group figures have decided to join the rebels, mainly because they remain opposed to Gadhafi’s regime — but there is no sign of them reforming as a jihadist organization,” he said.

However, Hussain said there was clear evidence that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the al-Qaida offshoot which U.S. officials believe poses the most immediate terror threat to America — was trying to join the fighting against Gadhafi’s forces.

“The rebels are being very careful to keep a distance from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing the damage that any associated with them would do to their cause,” Hussain said.

Since the uprising began in February, Gadhafi has played up fears that the rebels include fighters from al-Qaida, but no evidence has surfaced to support the accusations.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday night that Mokhtar “has been an al-Qaida member since the ’80s,” although he offered no evidence. He called him by his tribal name, al-Madhouni, and said he “fought in many countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria and Libya” and was wanted by “international authorities.”

A U.S. intelligence official said that Mokhtar has been involved in extremist activities in Afghanistan and Libya since the 1990s. He may not have been in lockstep with al-Qaida at the time of his death, but he’s been “a fellow traveler in the past,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The official concluded that it’s too early to know whether Mokhtar and other members of his group have abandoned their previous extremist tendencies.

Mokhtar said in the interview that he, Sharif and other members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group still have the same passion to oust Gadhafi, but added they no longer aspire to set up an Islamic state.

Instead, they say their goal is the same as the rebels’ National Transitional Council: a democratic government that respects human rights and the rule of law.

“We are here only to fight for freedom, and that is our only goal,” Mokhtar said.

“We want a free Libya and a government for all Libyans — a government that doesn’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, that is run by a constitution and respects Islam,” he added.

Sharif, who was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s political division and has been working with the rebels as well, said years of experience have convinced them that most Libyans don’t want to live under a strict Islamic regime. But he did believe that politicians with conservative Islamic views will attract the most support in Libya.

“The West needs to understand that there is a difference between Islamic culture and radicalization,” Sharif said.

Another area of concern for the West has been the relatively high number of Libyans who have gone to fight against U.S.-led forces in Iraq. One study done by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2008 found that Libyans represented the second largest group of foreign fighters and ranked first per capita.

Sharif said a small number of radical Islamists do exist in Libya, but he said the best way to deal with them is to get rid of Gadhafi, whose repressive policies have exacerbated extremism in the country.

“In an environment where everybody is respected and is allowed to carry out their religion without fear of being tortured, arrested or killed, there is no extremism,” said Sharif.

He also said that the rebels are committed to keeping foreign fighters out of Libya — a sentiment echoed by others on the battlefield.

“The rebels are determined not to allow al-Qaida or any other non-Libyans to have a base here,” Sharif said. “We don’t want the country to be a battlefield for other groups to finish their wars. We don’t want to see Libya as another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

___

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

%d bloggers like this: