Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’
THE Taliban fighter, wearing a black balaclava, dark glasses and black clothes, raised a long, thin cane above his head before bringing it down on the villager’s bare back with a deft flick of his wrist.
The villager, identified only as Amanullah, 28, writhed on the grass with his hands tied behind his back as fellow residents of Bala Deh, a village in the remote province of Nuristan, in northeast Afghanistan, looked on. After 70 lashes Amanullah could barely stand when the Taliban untied him.
His crime? Failing to grow his beard long enough.
“We couldn’t do anything except watch,” said Haji Saeed Ahmad, 51, a teacher, who said he had been forced to witness the punishment. “They try to control you with fear.”
Ahmad and others from Kamdesh, a mountainous district of Nuristan, said the Taliban had been beating locals for smoking cigarettes, listening to music or chewing snuff since they arrived three months ago.
The morality police, who dress from head to toe in black, hark back to the Taliban’s rule in the late 1990s when the notorious vice and virtue ministry was established to enforce a strict moral code.
The ministry’s 30,000-strong force beat women for revealing any trace of skin, smashed televisions, banned music and kite-flying and forced men to grow long beards.
Today in Kamdesh, residents describe morality squads, their faces hidden by black balaclavas, who behave even more aggressively. “They’re so strict they even beat their own people if they catch them breaking the rules,” a United Nations official said.
The birth of these radical morality squads – the first to appear in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime fell in 2001 – highlights one of the risks inherent in Nato’s plan to pull out most of its soldiers by the end of 2014.
American forces withdrew from Nuristan in 2010. So great was the ensuing security vacuum that, in the months that followed, Osama bin Laden told his commanders that their “first option” was to decamp to Nuristan if they wanted to escape the CIA’s drones in Pakistan.
In a letter to one of his most senior military commanders, the Al-Qaeda chief wrote in October 2010: “[Nuristan] is more fortified due to its rougher terrain … and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy. This will defend the brothers from the aircrafts.”
But Nuristan’s security void – a product of American abandonment and Afghan government neglect – not only attracted Al-Qaeda operatives: Pakistani militants affiliated to an array of Jihadi groups entered in even greater numbers, according to Afghan and UN officials, analysts and local journalists.
Over the last two years, an increasing number have sought shelter among the pine forests, soaring snow-capped mountains, lush valleys and stone hamlets that make up one of Afghanistan’s most isolated provinces.
Local journalists who have met insurgent commanders report the presence of Pakistan’s militant proxy Lashkar-e-Taiba, other groups affiliated to the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Salafi militants and ordinary Taliban.
This mix taking refuge along the border with Pakistan has grown so toxic that American Special Forces plan to increase their strike operations in Nuristan to prevent militants from infiltrating neighbouring regions, according to a senior western official. Read the rest of this entry »
By Nicci Smith and Miles Amoore
Pakistan gave the go-ahead to American airstrikes last weekend that inadvertently killed 24 of their own troops, according to new claims from US officials.
The account is the latest twist in the blame game surrounding the worst friendly fire incident in the history of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, an event that has plunged America’s already precarious relations with Pakistan into a new crisis.
US officials speaking to The Wall Street Journal said that an Afghan-led assault force that included American commandos came under fire from a camp in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal region, a lawless border area that adjoins Kunar province in Afghanistan.
Afghan intelligence said the force was searching for a senior insurgent commander, but they stumbled onto a unit of Pakistani soldiers dressed in plain clothes, who shot at them first.
“The reports show that the Americans thought these guys were insurgents, so they opened fire on them,” a senior intelligence official told The Sunday Times.
The “militants” now appear to have been Pakistani border troops who had established a temporary base.
An initial American account based on interviews with the commandos claims the team requested aerial back-up to strike the camp, contacting a joint border-control centre to establish whether Pakistani forces were in the area. The centre is manned by US, Afghan and Pakistani officials to coordinate information to prevent clashes.
When called, the Pakistani officials at the centre allegedly said they had no military forces in the area, clearing the way for the airstrikes.
The US has acknowledged mistakes were made on both sides. To protect troops, officials working in the centre need to know whether NATO forces are planning operations, but no advance warning had been sent of the 26 November operation.
US officials have been reluctant in the past to share information for fear of it leaking out to insurgents.
Washington has expressed its regret over the “ tragic accident”, but pointedly stopping short of an apology.
But its condolences have been rebuffed by an unforgiving Pakistan, where the military and government have united to angrily condemn the incident as an “unprovoked act of blatant aggression.”
The Pakistani military categorically denied the latest American version of events, claiming Pakistan had been fed “wrong information” and was contacted only after the strike began. Read the rest of this entry »
The US has expressed regret and offered its “deepest condolences” after 24 Pakistani soldiers who were killed in cross-border Nato air strikes were buried on Sunday, calling the attacks a “tragic unintended incident”.
Pakistani troops fired mortars at American ground soldiers patrolling the Afghan border, triggering Nato air strikes, according to Afghan officials and western sources. The killings, which occurred in the early hours of Saturday when Nato bombs smashed into two Pakistani military checkpoints, threaten to further damage the already shaky relationship between America and Pakistan.
Pakistan has responded to the killings by ordering the closure of a CIA drone base and by cutting Nato’s supply line into Afghanistan.
Details of what happened remain murky. Pakistan said the air strikes took place in the Pakistani tribal agency of Mohmand. Pakistani officials called the bombardment a “grave infringement” of the country’s sovereignty.
But The Sunday Times has learned that the two checkpoints hit by the air strikes were in fact constructed on Afghan soil, in Kunar province’s Khas Kunar district between the villages of Shaley and Shrunkey.
When American ground forces, who were conducting a night time patrol on Saturday morning, approached the two Pakistani checkpoints, the Pakistani soldiers stationed there responded by firing mortars at the Americans, according to local intelligence and western officials.
Standard operating procedures dictate that Nato forces must withdraw when fired upon by Pakistani troops, an occurrence which takes place more often than reported, according to western analysts who monitor security developments in the east.
But, on this occasion, Nato called in air strikes to stop the mortar teams from firing at the American ground troops.
“In the early night hours of this morning, a force consisting of Afghan forces and coalition forces, in the eastern border area where the Durand Line is not always 100 per cent clear, got involved in a fire fight,” said Nato spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen.
Pakistani troops have made an increasing number of cross-border incursions into Afghan territory since the beginning of the year, according to western and local Afghan officials.
Part of the problem is that the exact location of the border between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, remains disputed and ambiguous.
“It is still not clear if the Americans knew that the people attacking them were Pakistani military forces or whether they thought they might be insurgents. But the firing must have been intense for them to respond like this,” said one western official.
It is possible that the Americans may have mistaken the Pakistani soldiers for Taliban insurgents, especially because the operation took place in the dark. But officials said that the Americans would have known the location of Pakistani military bases along the border.
Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said map references of all of the force’s border posts had been given to NATO several times. Read the rest of this entry »
SITTING on the floor of a house on the outskirts of Kabul, the Haqqani network commander sipped green tea as he calmly explained the chaos his organisation set out to cause with an elaborate plot to blow up Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace.
The operation would have begun with an explosion set off in the grounds by a security guard from Karzai’s home village who had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash to betray him, according to Malim Asrallah, 46, a stocky veteran of 30 years of insurgencies.
The blast would have drawn other guards away from their posts on the perimeter of the palace, in the heart of Kabul.
“After he [the guard] had detonated the explosives, eight truck bombs were meant to hit the different entrances to the palace,” Asrallah said.
Small teams of gunmen would then have arrived to finish off the survivors.
If Karzai had escaped the bombings, which were planned to coincide with a cabinet meeting, these gunmen would have killed him and his most senior ministers, Asrallah concluded with a flourish.
In the event, the plot — which had been planned for nine months — was foiled. Two weeks ago, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) arrested six men for their alleged roles. Among them was the director of microbiology at Kabul University, who is accused of recruiting students and other conspirators.
At the time, the NDS said simply that the plan had been to assassinate the president, perhaps on a trip to one of the provinces.
However, The Sunday Times has pieced together information from Afghan intelligence sources, government officials and the Haqqani network itself to establish that the plot was intended not only to destroy the government, but to trigger prolonged ethnic conflict.
Asrallah’s account, which has been corroborated by NDS sources, reveals that the Haqqani network, Afghanistan’s most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group, was planning simultaneous attacks on the ministries of defence and the interior, and on the headquarters of the NDS itself.
The network also planned to assassinate leaders of the Hazara and Tajik communities, including the governor of Balkh province in the north of the country, with the aim of provoking inter-ethnic war, two senior NDS officials said.
The NDS believes that up to 100 people, including government officials, were involved in the conspiracy. Asrallah put the number even higher. Read the rest of this entry »
The terrorists who launched a commando assault on one of Kabul’s leading hotels received help from three insiders, including a police officer, according to the man who planned the attack.
Eight suicide bombers armed with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machineguns, assault rifles, grenade launchers and suicide vests stormed the InterContinental Hotel on the night of June 28, triggering a battle that lasted more than seven hours and left 20 dead.
The attack highlighted the inability of Kabul’s security forces to thwart attacks on high-profile targets in the Afghan capital as Nato begins to hand over control of parts of the country to the Afghan government.
Closed-circuit TV footage taken from the InterContinental on the night of the attack showed the commander of the hotel’s police force asleep as the first shots were fired. After he awoke to the sound of gunfire, he could be seen fleeing the hotel with his men.
Last Sunday, militants assassinated an Afghan politician and a close aide of President Hamid Karzai’s. The attack underlined the threat insurgents pose to security in the capital. It also hinted at the role Pakistan plays in stoking insecurity in Afghanistan.
Mobile phone intercepts made during the initial stages of the InterContinental attack show the attackers were communicating directly with their commander, Badruddin Haqqani, who is based in Pakistan, where the attack was planned.
Badruddin is the deputy leader of the Haqqani network, which is considered the most sophisticated insurgent force in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis maintain close ties with Al-Qaeda and are often accused of receiving support from the Pakistani military and intelligence services.
“It’s like a PlayStation game,” said an Afghan intelligence official. “Pakistan always holds one of the controllers so they can play their games whenever they want.”
Police investigating the attack are baffled by how the InterContinental attackers were able to break into the well-guarded hotel with such a large arsenal. One insurgent was caught on camera carrying 16 RPG warheads in a quiver on his back. “How they got into the hotel with this much ammunition is still a mystery,” said an Afghan security official.
The deputy head of the Haqqani network’s Kabul cell, which is responsible for planning and co-ordinating attacks in the Afghan capital, told The Sunday Times that the attackers were aided by a police officer, an interpreter and the bodyguard of a senior government official who was staying at the hotel. Read the rest of this entry »