!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Events: (Note that this is not the preferable method of finding events because not all events have been assigned topics yet)
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf mysteriously escapes from a prison in Pakistan. Authorities will say he escapes after freeing himself from handcuffs while being transported from one prison to another. The two policemen escorting him allowed him to stop and pray at a mosque. According to The Guardian, “The officers claimed that when Rauf walked into the mosque they waited outside in their car, never considering for a moment that he could simply walk out of the back door.” Furthermore, they do not report the escape for several hours. The two policemen on the duty are arrested, but it is unclear what happens to them. The Pakistani government will say they must have been bribed to allow Rauf to escape.
Linked to Pakistani Militant Group - Rauf, a dual Pakistani and British citizen, was implicated as a leader of a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain using liquid explosives (see August 10, 2006). He was arrested in Pakistan. His wife is closely related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant group that has a history of links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Was He Allowed to Escape to Avoid Extradition? - Rauf’s lawyer will claim that it is not a case of simple bribery. “You could call it a ‘mysterious disappearance’ if you like, but not an escape,” he will say. “The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not.” In December 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped, but he remained in Pakistani custody on charges of carrying explosives and forged identity papers (see December 13, 2006). In November 2007, those charges were dropped and a judge ordered his immediate release. But less than an hour later, the Pakistani government announced that he would be extradited to Britain to be charged in the airplane plot, and he would remain in custody until that happened. His escape took place as he was getting close to being extradited. People at the mosque where he is supposed to have escaped will say that they never saw him or any policemen on this day, and the police never came looking for him later. [Guardian, 1/28/2008] In November 2008, it will be reported that Rauf was killed in a US drone strike, but his family will insist he remains alive (see November 22, 2008).
Maulana Fazlullah. [Source: NBC News]In mid-December 2007, 40 militant commanders in Pakistan’s tribal region and the North-West Frontier Province hold a secret meeting and unify their forces. They create a new umbrella organization called Tehrik-i-Taliban, meaning Movement of the Taliban. They are also known as the Pakistani Taliban. They appoint Baitullah Mahsud, head of militant forces in South Waziristan, as their overall leader. Mahsud became a key figure after his forces successfully kidnapped almost 300 Pakistani soldiers and then traded them for about 30 imprisoned militants (see August 30-November 4, 2007). Other key leaders attending the meeting are: Maulana Fazlullah, militant leader in the Swat Valley, Faqir Mohammed, leader in the tribal region of Bajour, and Sadiq Noor, leader in North Waziristan. Together, these commanders at the meeting are estimated to lead about forty thousand armed followers. The leaders are closely tied to the Taliban, as the name of the new organization indicates, and many are also linked to al-Qaeda. Mahsud in particular is believed to be in regular contact with al-Qaeda leaders, and looking to them for strategic direction. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 386]
Al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab asks for questions from “individuals, agencies, and all media” to be put to al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The request is issued in the form of an advertisement posted on militant websites used by As-Sahab. The questions are to be submitted in writing by sending them to the Internet forums where As-Sahab traditionally posts its messages, no later than January 16, 2008. The forums should then forward the questions “with no changes or substitutions, no matter whether they agree or disagree [with the question].” According to the Associated Press (AP), this is the first such offer by al-Qaeda’s main leadership since 9/11, although an arm of the organization in Saudi Arabia did something similar a few years ago. AP calls al-Qaeda “increasingly media-savvy,” and reports the request as “a new twist in al-Qaeda’s campaign to reach a broader audience.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007] Al-Zawahiri will answer the questions in two installments in April (see April 2, 2008 and April 17, 2008).
Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid allegedly claims responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto earlier in the day. Syed Saleem Shahzad, a journalist for both the Adnkronos International (AKI) news service and the Asia Times, claims to have gotten a call from al-Yazid. Speaking in faltering English, al-Yazid reportedly says, “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujaheddin.” It is further alleged that the assassination was planned by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. US officials say they cannot confirm the claim. [AKI, 12/27/2007; ABC News, 12/27/2007]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new 56-minute audio tape over the Internet. He warns Sunni Arabs aligned with the US in Iraq and also indicates he wishes to attack Israel. The voice on the tape says that the US-aligned Iraqis “have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people. They will suffer in life and in the afterlife.” He recommends the Islamic State in Iraq (which will later be commonly referred to as ISIS), an umbrella organization of which al-Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise is a part. Regarding Israel, he says, “We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the sea,” and threatens “blood for blood, destruction for destruction.” The tape does not mention the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two days previously, so was presumably recorded before that. [Associated Press, 12/29/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in one of Pakistan’s military garrison areas, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, Indian intelligence warned the US in mid-2007 that bin Laden could be living in northwest Pakistan, after getting some information about the movements of al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-2007). Over the next six months or so, Indian intelligence learned more about the movement of al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan. Then, in early 2008, India sends the US more intelligence. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “This time, we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors.” Cantonments are permanent military garrison areas administered by the military. Abbottabad, where bin Laden will be killed in 2011, is one of the cantonments in northwest Pakistan. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
The Sunday Times runs a series of articles about FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, detailing allegations made by Edmonds about Turkish and US involvement in the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, as well as money laundering, drugs, and conventional weapons. Some allegations made by Edmonds were previously discussed in the press, but many remained secret; she divulges more to Sunday Times now because, after having unsuccessfully attempted to pursue her case through the courts and Congress, she has become “disillusioned with the US authorities’ failure to act.”
Allegations against State Department and Pentagon Officials - The allegations center on an unnamed former high-ranking State Department official, who is said to have received money from Turkish nuclear smugglers, and on other household names who served at the Pentagon. Edmonds says, “He [the State Department official] was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” She adds, “If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials.” The former State Department official says: “If you are calling me to say somebody said that I took money, that’s outrageous… I do not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as this.”
"Overlapping Corroboration" - The Sunday Times says that it spoke to two FBI agents and two CIA officers who worked on nuclear proliferation while researching the story, and, “While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.” One of the CIA sources confirms that Turkey did acquire nuclear secrets from the US and shared them with Pakistan and Israel, saying: “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/20/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]
Official Said to be Marc Grossman - The high-ranking State Department official who is not named in the Sunday Times articles, possibly due to libel law considerations, is said to be Marc Grossman by both Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and former CIA officer Phillip Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative. [Raw Story, 1/20/2008; American Conservative, 1/28/2008]
A map of recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal zones. (1) is the March 16, 2008 attack, (2) is the February 28, 2008 attack, and (3) is the January 29, 2008 attack that killed Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Washington Post]On January 9, 2008, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden visit Pakistan and meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan agrees to allow the US to increase its use of Predator drones to strike at al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region. [New York Times, 2/22/2008] At least three Predator attacks follow in the next months (see January 29, 2008, February 28, 2008, March 16, 2008) after a year of few or no attacks. Previously, Musharraf had issues with such strikes, but now the US has his unofficial tacit approval. Newsweek reports that the US now has “virtually unrestricted authority to hit targets in the border areas.” The US has pushed for more strikes partly because al-Qaeda has been launching more attacks from the tribal regions. But also, US officials are concerned that Musharraf is losing power and the new leaders will be more hostile to US operations in Pakistan. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008] Some of the Predator attacks are launched from secret CIA bases near the Pakistani towns of Islamabad and Jacobabad. The bases are first publicly mentioned in February 2008, and next to nothing is known about them. [New York Times, 2/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. [Source: TV2 Norway]Militants attack a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, with machine guns and a suicide bomber. Six people are killed and six more are injured. The suicide bomber blows himself up and one of the machine gunners is killed, and two other attackers apparently escape. The target is the Serena Hotel, a heavily guarded five-star hotel frequented by Westerners. A Norwegian journalist and a US citizen are among those killed. A Taliban spokesperson immediately takes credit for the attack. [BBC, 1/15/2008] Months later, the New York Times will report that the attack was actually masterminded by a leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, which is largely based in Pakistan. The leader is not named, but Sirajuddin Haqqani will later boast in an interview that he planned the attack (see March 25, 2009). According to the Times: “Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, [top leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence [the ISI] and still enjoys their protection.” In a video, Jalaluddin boasts of his role in an attack on a hotel, which presumably is the Serena Hotel attack, as well as boasting of other attacks. Jalaluddin is Sirajuddin’s father. [New York Times, 6/17/2008]
A group of suspected suicide bombers are arrested in Barcelona, Spain. Twelve are Pakistani and two are Indian, and all of them had trained at militant camps in Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where al-Qaeda has a safe haven. One of the suspected suicide bombers is actually an informant for French intelligence, known by the name Asim (see Late January 2008). Having just arrived in Barcelona from the safe haven several days before, Asim mistakenly believes that an attack is imminent. But in the rush to quickly arrest the suspects, at least six of them get away, with one supposedly taking most of the explosives with him. Spain’s leading counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon says, “In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe. Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here.” Asim claims the suspects were going to start with an attack in Barcelona, which was going to be followed by demands from al-Qaeda through Baitullah Mahsud, a militant leader in Waziristan. If their demands were not met, they would stage more attacks in Spain and then in other European countries. US officials say they monitored phone calls to Pakistan by some of the suspects. Some suspects were already under surveillance by Spanish intelligence. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Associated Press]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a house in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The missile reportedly kills about 13 people. Some of them are said to be militants, and US officials will later confirm that one of those killed is al-Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi. He is considered a top field commander and a liaison between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008] He is relatively unknown to the public, but in September 2007, the Washington Post profiled him as about one of a dozen of the most important current al-Qaeda leaders. He also survived a US rocket attack in June 2007. [Washington Post, 9/8/2007]
On January 16, 2007, a young man known as Asim arrives in Barcelona. He had recently been living in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan as an informant for French intelligence. He comes to Barcelona to inform on a group of Pakistanis living in that town who spent time in Pakistani training camps and allegedly are planning a series of suicide attacks in Spain and possibly other European countries. He is posing as one of the suicide bombers. Fearing that an attack is imminent, Spanish authorities arrest most of the suspects three days later (see January 19, 2008). But the Spanish decide that they don’t have enough physical evidence to successfully prosecute the arrested suspects, and they turn Asim into a protected witness for the prosecution. The New York Times will comment, “the case has caused diplomatic friction among investigators. Spain’s handling of the French informant has enraged officials at France’s intelligence agencies and eroded trust between the countries, French and other European officials said. The informant’s value as a source was destroyed when he was made a prosecution witness and the contents of his statements were leaked to the news media.” Asim’s case contradicts the commonly held notion that intelligence agencies have been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda’s central command (see March 20, 2008). But many questions remain. It is unclear when he first penetrated Waziristan as an informant, how much time he spent there, and how high level his al-Qaeda contacts there were. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
Pakistan holds parliamentary elections, and opposition parties are the overwhelming winners. President Pervez Musharraf does not lose his presidency, as he was reelected by the National Assembly several months earlier (see October 6, 2007). However, his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), loses control of the National Assembly, enabling the opposition parties to select their own prime minister a short time later. Much power will now shift to the position of prime minister, which had been completely overshadowed by Musharraf and his presidency since he took power in a coup in 1999 (see October 12, 1999). The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) wins 120 seats. The PPP was led by Benazir Bhutto until her recent assassination, and is now led by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), the party led by former primer minister Nawaz Sharif, gets 90. Musharraf’s PML-Q only wins 51 seats. Surprisingly, the Islamic parties are almost completely wiped out. The alliance of Islamic parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), did well and won two provincial elections in the last election in 2002, but this time it only wins six seats. A secular and moderate party, the Awami National Party, wins in the North-West Frontier Province, taking control from the MMA and forming the new provincial government there. No single party holds a majority, but the PPP immediately announces a coalition with Sharif’s PML-N party, shutting Musharraf’s PML-Q party out. Musharraf once had 80 percent popularity ratings in polls, but after many recent controversial moves, including declaring a state of emergency for over a month to stay in power (see November 3-December 15, 2007), his popularity rating is down to about 20 percent. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 390-391] One month later, the coalition selects a relatively unknown figure, Yousaf Raza Gillani, to be the new prime minister (see March 22-25, 2008).
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 12 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Kaloosha, near the Afghan border. Some suspected militants are reportedly killed, but details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 16 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Toog in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region where al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be residing. The house is said to belong to an unnamed militant leader, and several militants are reportedly killed. However, details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Newsweek, 3/22/2008]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio message urging Muslims to join the insurgency in Iraq, as this is the “nearest jihad battlefield to support our people in Palestine.” The message comes one day after the previous communication thought to be from bin Laden (see March 19, 2008) and just over five years after the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). According to the person thought to be bin Laden, “Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron,” and Arab leaders were complicit in Israeli attacks on Gaza. “The people of the blessed land should sense the great favour God has bestowed upon them and do what they should do to support their mujahideen brothers in Iraq,” the speaker says. “It is a great opportunity and a major duty for my brothers the Palestinian emigrants [in Arab countries], between whom and jihad on the plains of Jerusalem a barrier has been built.” [BBC, 3/20/2008]
President Musharraf swearing in Yousaf Raza Gillani as Pakistan’s latest prime minister. [Source: Agence France-Presse - Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)In parliamentary elections in February 2008, a coalition of opposition parties led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) took effective political control from President Pervez Musharraf, although Musharraf remains president (see February 18, 2008). On March 22, the leader of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, picks Yousaf Raza Gillani to become Pakistan’s new prime minister. Gillani assumes the position in a ceremony on March 25. Zardari is the husband of the recently assassinated and very popular Benazir Bhutto. He reportedly wants the prime minister position for himself, but he is not yet eligible for it as he does not hold a seat in parliament. Gillani is a relatively unknown low-key party stalwart. The New York Times comments that Gillani’s selection seems a “prelude to a drive by Mr. Zardari to take the job himself in the next few months.” [New York Times, 3/23/2008] Within hours of becoming prime minister, Gillani frees the judges that had been placed under house arrest during Musharraf’s state of emergency several months before (see November 3-December 15, 2007). He frees Supreme Court head Iftikhar Chaudhry, the 13 other Supreme Court judges, and 48 High Court judges who refused to sign a loyalty oath. [New York Times, 3/25/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a 90-minute audiotape with the first part of responses to questions solicited from the public and journalists (see December 19, 2007). In the replies, he rejects criticism of attacks by al-Qaeda’s followers that have killed thousands of people, maintaining al-Qaeda does not kill innocent people. “We haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else,” says al-Zawahiri. “If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.” [Associated Press, 4/2/2008] The second part of the responses will be issued later in the month (see April 17, 2008).
Hamid Karzai on parade, April 27, 2008. [Source: massoud_hossaini_afp_getty]On April 27, 2008, there is an attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as assailants fire guns and mortars towards him, scores of senior officials, and foreign diplomats during a military parade in downtown Kabul. Karzai escapes unharmed, but three Afghans are killed, including a member of parliament. Two months later, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency accuses the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of organizing the assassination. The agency claims that phone calls from the cell phones of those arrested show a Pakistan link. Investigators suspect one assassin tried to call his supervisor in Pakistan from a nearby hotel to ask for instructions because he could not get a clear shot at Karzai from the hotel window. Investigators believe Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader based in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan with long-time ISI ties, instigated the plot. Karzai’s spokesman makes the same accusation against the ISI more obliquely, “Evidence shows the hallmark of a particular foreign intelligence agency which we believe was behind this attack.” [Agence France-Presse, 6/25/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).
Damadola Strike in May 2008. [Source: Mohammed Sajjad Associated Press]A missile fired from a US Predator drone reportedly kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Suleiman al-Jazairi. He and 15 others are killed in the strike on a house in the village of Damadola in Pakistan’s tribal region. The house is said to belong to former Taliban defense minister Maulvi Obaidullah, and members of Obaidullah’s family, including women and children, are thought to be among the dead. Al-Jazairi is said to be a trainer and explosives expert, and involved in planning attacks in Europe. Damadola has been hit by drones twice before (see January 13, 2006 and October 30, 2006). Al-Jazairi was little known in the media prior to the strike. [New York Times, 5/16/2008; Observer, 6/1/2008] Obaidullah apparently is not killed. He had been imprisoned in Pakistan since 2003, and had been released several days before as part of a swap for Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, who had been kidnapped in February. [PAN, 5/20/2008]
In a panel discussion hosted by PBS’s Bill Moyers, journalist Jonathan Landay, discussing the US war in Afghanistan, notes that the vast majority of media coverage has been granted to the Iraq occupation. The war in Afghanistan is largely forgotten by the media, or merely rolled into Iraq coverage. Landay notes that Afghanistan is “a far more serious threat for US national security than Iraq is.” Similarly, the media rarely reports on the dire terrorist threats centered in the tribal areas of Pakistan. “[T]his is a black hole virtually which the United States is deeply involved in that we don’t see a lot of meaningful, I mean, in-depth coverage of,” he says. [PBS, 6/6/2008]
An attack by a CIA-controlled drone kills an unidentified person in the town of Makeen in South Warizistan, Pakistan. Makeen is home to Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Members of the Frontier Corps near Shakai, in the region of South Waziristan, in August 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir / Reuters / Corbis]The British newspaper The Observer reports that the Frontier Corps, a Pakistani government paramilitary force operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan, sometimes join in attacks on US-led forces in Afghanistan. The article alleges there are “box loads” of after-action reports compiled after armed clashes near the border, detailing the Frontier Corps working with the Taliban and other allied militants. Some attacks are launched so close to Frontier Corps outposts that Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban is assumed. There has been a dramatic increase in cross-border incidents compared to the same time the year before. An anonymous US official says: “The United States and NATO have substantial information on this problem. It’s taking place at a variety of places along the border with the Frontier Corps giving direct and indirect assistance. I’m not saying it is everyone. There are some parts that have been quite helpful… but if you have seen the after-action reports of their involvement in attacks along the Afghan border you would appreciate the problem.” The US government continues to downplay such incidents, worried about its relationship with the Pakistani government. A NATO spokesman says: “The real concern is that the extremists in Pakistan are getting safe havens to rest, recuperate and retool in Pakistan and come across the border. The concerns have been conveyed to the Pakistan authorities.” [Observer, 6/22/2008]
US intelligence allegedly discovers that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and a faction of the Taliban are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan. US intelligence is intercepting Pakistani government communications in an attempt to find out if the Pakistani government is still supporting militants fights US soldiers in Afghanistan. Communications intercepts already revealed an active link between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani (see May 2008). According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, new intercepts at this time show that the ISI is working to carry out a spectacular bombing in Afghanistan. But apparently, the exact target is not known. Two weeks later, the Indian Embassy in Kabul will be bombed (see July 7, 2008). Afterwards, the US will accuse the ISI and the Haqqani network of plotting the bombing, mostly based on these intercepts from before the bombing (see July 28, 2008 and August 1, 2008). [London Times, 2/17/2009]
The New York Times publishes a long front-page analysis of the policy disputes and mistakes that have bogged down US efforts to combat al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The article reveals that the US effort has often been “undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the CIA, including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas.… [B]y most accounts, the administration failed to develop a comprehensive plan to address the militant problem there, and never resolved the disagreements between warring agencies that undermined efforts to fashion any coherent strategy.” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state for President Bush’s first term and the administration’s point person for Pakistan, says, “We’re just kind of drifting.” Pakistan’s policy as led by President Pervez Musharraf has also been adrift and/or ineffective: “Western military officials say Mr. Musharraf was instead often distracted by his own political problems, and effectively allowed militants to regroup by brokering peace agreements with them.” The Times concludes, “Just as it had on the day before 9/11, al-Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States.” The camps are smaller than the ones used prior to 9/11, but one retired CIA officer estimates that as many as 2,000 militants train in them at any given time, up from several hundred in 2005. “Leading terrorism experts have warned that it is only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack planned in the mountains of Pakistan is carried out on American soil.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Polish intelligence warns India and the US that the Taliban are likely to attack the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The embassy will be bombed one week later, killing 54 (see July 7, 2008). The document giving the warning is entitled, “Threat Report… Threat to Indian Embassy.” It is based on information received one day earlier. It states, “Taliban are planning to carry out an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul.” It goes on to describe how a suicide bomber plans to use a stolen Afghan government car and stolen uniform to get past security. The document will be publicly leaked in 2010 as part of a massive WikiLeaks release of US documents relating to the US war in Afghanistan. [Press Trust of India, 7/27/2010] It is unclear how or where Polish intelligence got this information. US intelligence apparently learns around this time that the Taliban and ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan (see Late June 2008). However, it appears that India acts on at least one of the warnings, because the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan will later say that India took extra security measures in the weeks before the bombings because “we were expecting trouble.” Most importantly, sand-filled blast barriers are placed around the main embassy building. That, plus the quick action of security guards, will prevent the bomber from getting closer to the building, and thus reduce the number of lives lost. [Associated Press, 7/9/2008]
A suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 54 people and injures 140 others. The main target appears to be a diplomatic convoy that had just entered the embassy gate, directly followed by the suicide truck. Among the dead are two senior Indian diplomats, including the military attaché, Brigadier Ravi Mehta. Many of those killed are people standing in line waiting for visas. [London Times, 8/3/2008] The Indian government received at least one warning about an attack on the embassy, and it took extra security precautions that helped reduce the loss of lives (see July 1, 2008). The Afghan interior ministry quickly asserts that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped the Taliban with the attack. A presidential spokesman states at a news conference, “The sophistication of this attack and the kind of material that was used in it, the specific targeting, everything has the hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past.” The Afghan government has asserted that the ISI is responsible for other attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in late April 2008 (see April 27, 2008). The Indian government also quickly blames the ISI and the Taliban. [Financial Times, 7/8/2008; Taipei Times, 7/9/2008] The Taliban deny involvement in the attack, but the New York Times notes that the Taliban usually deny involvement in attacks with a large number of civilian casualties. [New York Times, 7/8/2008] Less than a month later, US intelligence will accuse the ISI of helping a Taliban-linked militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani to plan the bombing (see August 1, 2008). President Bush will even directly threaten Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack is linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Tehrik-i-Taliban, a group of Pakistani militants linked to the Taliban, declares the imposition of Sharia law (strict Islamic judicial code) in the Mohmand tribal area in Pakistan. Islamic courts have been established in the four regions of Mohmand, and the group has established similar courts already in the adjacent region of Bajaur. [Dawn (Karachi), 7/15/2008]
A US drone strike kills al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri). He is one of six people killed in the strike on a compound in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Mursi, an Egyptian, was considered a poisons and explosives expert, and was accused of training the suicide bombers in the 2000 USS Cole bombing. He also is believed to have run the Darunta training camp in eastern Afghanistan until it was abandoned during the US invasion in late 2001. The US had put a $5 million bounty on him. A statement by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid posted on the Internet about a week later will confirm his death. [Associated Press, 8/3/2008]
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
The New York Times reports that US intelligence agencies have concluded that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped plan the July 7, 2008, bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The attack was initially blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, and 54 people were killed (see July 7, 2008). It is said US intelligence intercepted communications between ISI officers and militants who took part in the attack. The communications were intercepted before the bombing, but apparently were not specific enough to stop the attack. Anonymous US officials would not specifically tell the Times what kind of assistance the ISI gave the bombers. However, it was noted that the ISI officers involved were not renegades, suggesting their actions could have been authorized by superiors. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] The US also claims to have arrested an ISI officer inside Afghanistan, apparently for a role in the attack, but who this person is and what their role exactly allegedly was remains unclear. India and Pakistan have been traditional enemies, and Pakistan is concerned about India’s influence in Afghanistan. Many Western intelligence officials have long suspected that the ISI gets aid from the US and its allies and then uses this support to help the militants the US is fighting. However, solid proof has been hard to find. However, one British official tells the London Times, “The Indian embassy bombing seems to have finally provided it. This is the smoking gun we’ve all been looking for.” [London Times, 8/3/2008] One State Department official similarly says of the bombing evidence, “It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held. It was sort of this ‘a-ha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.” US officials believe that the embassy bombing was probably carried out by members of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who in turn has close alliances with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US officials also say there is new evidence that ISI officials are increasingly providing militants with details about the US military campaign against them. In some cases, this has allowed militants to avoid US missile strikes in Pakistan. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] Several days before these accusations against the ISI were leaked to the press, British and US officials privately confronted Pakistani officials about the charges. President Bush even directly threatened Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack were linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s information minister, admits to journalists that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, still contains pro-Taliban operatives. She says, “We need to identify these people and weed them out.” However, she later changes her statement, claiming that the problems were in the past and there will be no purge. [London Times, 8/3/2008] Her comment comes right as US intelligence accuses the ISI of involvement in a recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008).
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape about Pakistan on which he speaks English. This is the first recording he has released in English, a language al-Zawahiri says he chose because he wants to speak directly to the Pakistani people, but cannot speak Urdu, the predominant language there. The message, produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab, is aired by the ARY One World news network, but is apparently not made available anywhere else on the Internet. On the tape, al-Zawahiri lists a series of grievances he has against the Pakistani government and US involvement there, as well as relating his own personal experiences living in Pakistan. [ABC News, 8/10/2008]
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announces his resignation. Opposition to Musharraf’s rule had been slowly growing, especially since he declared a state of emergency in late 2007 to remain in power (see November 3-December 15, 2007) following a controversial reelection (see October 6, 2007). In early 2008, opposition parties united and won parliamentary elections (see February 18, 2008). The opposition then chose Yousaf Raza Gillani as the new prime minister, and Gillani took away much of Musharraf’s power (see March 22-25, 2008). The opposition parties united again to start impeachment hearings against Musharraf for his state of emergency and other claimed abuses of power. His resignation speech came hours after the opposition finalized its charges against him and prepared to launch an impeachment trial. Musharraf claims he could have defeated the charges, but he wanted to spare the country the conflict caused by the trial. Gillani remains prime minister, and the Speaker of the Pakistani Senate, Muhammad Mian Sumroo, automatically takes over as caretaker president. [BBC, 8/18/2008]
The US dramatically increases the number of CIA drone attacks on Islamist militant targets in Pakistan, and no longer relies on permission from the Pakistani government before striking. Bush administration officials had been increasingly concerned about al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Pakistan’s tribal region. A 2006 peace deal between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government gave al-Qaeda and other militant groups a chance to recover from earlier pressures (see September 5, 2006). However, the Bush administration had close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who did not want more aggressive US action. But Musharraf resigns on August 18, 2008 (see August 18, 2008), and within days, President Bush signs a secret new policy.
More Drone Strikes - From August 31, 2008, until late March 2009, the CIA carries out at least 38 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. By contrast there were only 10 known drone strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. There were three strikes in 2006, seven strikes in 2007, and 36 in 2008 (all but seven of those took place after Musharraf resigned in August). Drone capabilities and intelligence collection has improved, but the change mainly has to do with politics. A former CIA official who oversaw Predator drone operations in Pakistan will later say: “We had the data all along. Finally we took off the gloves.”
Permission No Longer Needed - Additionally, the US no longer requires the Pakistani government’s permission before ordering a drone strike. US officials had suspected that many of their targets were tipped off by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Now this is no longer a concern. Getting permission from Pakistan could take a day or more. Sometimes this caused the CIA to lose track of its target (see for instance 2006). [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009]
US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson sends a diplomatic cable back to the US reporting on recent discussions she had with Pakistani leaders. In the cable, she discusses a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. The issue of when the next US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region would be politically feasible came up. According to the cable, Gillani said: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” The cable will later be released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/1/2010; Dawn (Karachi), 12/2/2010]
As the Democratic Party’s nominee for US president, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is given his first classified intelligence briefing. The briefing includes information on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that Obama already is under the impression that bin Laden has to be hiding in Pakistan, and the briefing solidifies that view. The official says, “What I remember in terms of the aftermath of that briefing and into the transition was just how much the focus became on Pakistan.” [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
From September to December 2008, a team of US Special Forces trainers is based in Abbottabad, Pakistan, ironically less than one mile from the compound Osama bin Laden is hiding in at the time. The trainers are in Abbottabad as part of an unpublicized mission to train Pakistani Frontier Corps forces. The training takes place in Kakul Military Academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of the US’s famous West Point military academy. The training is later moved to Warsak, Pakistan. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011; Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
A US Special Operations unit, possibly together with an Afghan unit, raids a remote Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan and kills at least 15 people including women and children, according to sources, eyewitnesses, and officials in Pakistan. One eyewitness to the attack, area resident Habib Khan Wazir, will tell the Associated Press that the assault happens before dawn, after an American helicopter lands in the village of Musa Nikow in South Waziristan. He says “American and Afghan soldiers starting firing” at the owner of a home who had stepped outside with his wife. Khan says the troops then enter the house and kill seven other people, including women and children. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] (Geo TV reports that the owner of the house is local tribesman Taj Muhammad, and that “coalition forces” kill nine members of his family, with five women and four children among the dead.) [Geo TV, 9/3/2008] Khan says the troops also kill six other residents. Two local intelligence officials will confirm the account on condition of anonymity. Another official says that 19 people die in total. Major Murad Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Army, will confirm that an attack did occur on a house near the Pakistan-Afghan border, but does not specify if Americans are involved. “We are collecting details,” he says. The US embassy in Islamabad declines to comment, and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan says it has not received any report on such an operation. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] Long War Journal reporter Bill Roggio suggests that the Special Operations unit alleged to be involved in the assault may be the secretive “hunter-killer” team known as Task Force 88. He suggests that such units can operate freely outside of any regular command in Afghanistan, giving the US military the option of plausibly denying that its forces are involved in such raids. Roggio writes that a raid of this nature—the insertion of a US Special Operations team inside Pakistani territory—is rare, and if confirmed, the assault would be the fourth cross-border attack since August 20, and the 10th confirmed attack this year, marking an overall increase in such raids. He notes that 10 such raids were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined. [Long War Journal, 9/3/2008] Journalists Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann will later refer to this incident, writing that US Navy SEALS are involved and that 20 people are killed. [New Republic, 6/3/2009]
Jalaluddin Haqqani. [Source: New York Times]A US drone attack targets the Haqqani network in the tribal region of Pakistan. Pakistani officials will say that five missiles kill 23 people and wound 18 more. The missiles hit a compound in North Waziristan run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani. It appears they are targeted, since family members arrived at the compound just a half hour before. However, neither Haqqani network leader is killed. Officials say one of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s two wives, his sister, sister-in-law, and eight of his grandchildren are killed. The Haqqani network is considered a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. The US believes the Haqqani network has been involved in recent attacks in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul (see July 7, 2008) and a failed assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). The Haqqani network is widely believed to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 9/10/2008]
Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto, becomes president of Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf resigned as president the previous month after growing pressure suggested he could be impeached (see August 18, 2008). A three-week election campaign quickly followed, and Zardari easily won the election (an electoral college vote, not a general election). Zardari’s elections completes Pakistan’s return to civilian rule after Musharraf seized power in a military coup nine years earlier. [Guardian, 9/9/2008]
"Mr. Ten Percent" - Zardari has a troubled history of numerous corruption allegations. His popular nickname, “Mr. Ten Percent,” refers to the widespread belief in Pakistan that he took a cut from many business deals when his wife Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s. He spent 11 years in prison on corruption charges, although he was never actually convicted of a crime. Bhutto seemed poised for a return to power, but when she was assassinated in late 2007, Zardari essentially took her place as head of her political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Supporters say he has matured during his years in prison. [Wall Street Journal, 9/5/2008]
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
ISI Director Nadeem Taj is replaced by Ahmad Shuja Pasha. [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] One day ago, it was reported that the US was intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. Taj became ISI head only a year ago (see 2007). [Australian, 9/29/2008] In March 2009, the New York Times will report that shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. This apparently led to the replacement of Taj and his assistants. The Indian embassy bombing occurred during Taj’s brief time as ISI director. However, the Times will also report that many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained that the ISI’s support for militants remains as strong as ever (see March 26, 2009). [New York Times, 3/26/2009] In October 2001, the US also successfully pressured Pakistan to replace its ISI director and several others because of their support for Islamist militants, only to see the replacements continue the same policy of supporting militants (see October 8, 2001).
Christiane Amanpour on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on October 3, 2008. [Source: Real Time with Bill Maher]ABC News reporter Christiane Amanpour says that Osama bin Laden is living in a villa in Pakistan, not in a cave. She makes these comments as a guest on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher. She says: “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable… [who] thinks that [bin Laden is] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa… in Pakistan. Not a cave.” After bin Laden’s death in an urban compound in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amanpour will explain that she’d heard the information a short time earlier from a “US intelligence officer who had recently left a top position.” [ABC News, 5/3/2011]
Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s national security adviser, visits India and meets with Indian officials. He tells them that neither the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, nor any other part of the Pakistani government had a role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year (see July 7, 2008). The Indian government and other governments have blamed the ISI working with the Taliban for the bombing (see August 1, 2008). However, Durrani does admit, “We have some contacts with bad guys and perhaps one of them did it.” This comment is not made publicly, but it is mentioned in a US State Department cable about the meeting that is leaked by WikiLeaks in 2011. According to the cable, Durrani later repeats the comment to a US official. [Hindu, 5/20/2011]
A CIA drone kills al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. The drone strike hits the village of Taparghai, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The CIA claims that Habib, an Egyptian, is the group’s fourth-ranking leader. Four people are said to be killed. It is said Habib became al-Qaeda’s chief of operations for the tribal region after Abu Ubaida al-Masri died from hepatitis around January 2008. [New York Times, 10/17/2008; Asia Times, 10/29/2008] Little had been previously reported on Habib. But in early 2007, a New York Times article listed him as one of a handful of important new al-Qaeda leaders, and the FBI called him “one of the five or six most capable, most experienced terrorists in the world.” [CBS News, 3/15/2007; New York Times, 4/2/2007] A drone strike failed to kill Habib in 2006 (see 2006).
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
In a speech, CIA Director Michael Hayden says that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in the tribal region of northwest Pakistan. He adds that bin Laden “is putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security,” and is isolated from al-Qaeda’s daily operations. [BBC, 11/14/2008]
Rashid Rauf, a leading British-Pakistani militant involved with a liquid bomb plot to destroy transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006), is reported to have been killed in Pakistan. Rauf is allegedly killed in a US airstrike by a pilotless drone in North Warizistan, a region associated with Pakistani militants. He is allegedly one of five people killed, along with a wanted Egyptian militant named Abu Zubair al-Masri. [BBC, 11/22/2009] However, the reports of his death are unconfirmed, and doubts will persist. [BBC, 11/22/2009; BBC, 11/26/2009] Rauf’s family disbelieve the claim. Speaking through Rauf’s lawyer Hashmat Malik, the family of Rauf’s wife in Pakistan says that the body had not been handed over to them, and the authorities are not responding to their questions. “It’s all a concocted story,” says Malik. “We’re sure that it is not Rashid Rauf.” He adds, “There was no reason for him to be in North Waziristan, he has no link with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.” Malik also comments that if Rauf is dead, then he did not die in this strike, but was murdered by Pakistan’s security services after he escaped from custody in mysterious circumstances the previous year (see December 14, 2007). [Guardian, 11/25/2008]
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. [Reuters, 12/7/2008; Hindu, 12/9/2008]
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). [Reuters, 12/7/2008] Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. [Reuters, 12/7/2008] The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
In a Newsweek interview, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls former ISI Director Hamid Gul a “political ideologue of terror.” He is asked about reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked him to arrest Gul, due to Gul’s alleged links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Zardari replies: “Hamid Gul is an actor who is definitely not in our good books. Hamid Gul is somebody who was never appreciated by our government. She [Rice] did not go into specifics, if I may share that with you.… He has not been accused in the Mumbai incident.… I think he is more of a political ideologue of terror rather than a physical supporter.” Zardari also strongly denies that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, had any role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). [Newsweek, 12/12/2008] In fact, Gul has been accused in regards to the “Mumbai incident,” which is a reference to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Several days prior to Zardari’s interview, it was reported that India is seeking Gul’s arrest for a role in that attack along with that of some other Pakistanis. The Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba has been accused of having a role in the attack, and Gul is widely seen as a frequent adviser to this group. Gul denies any link to the attack, or any other attack. Also several days before Zardari’s interview, it was reported the US is attempting to add Gul’s name to a terrorist watchlist for actual roles in attacks and not just being a “political ideologue of terror” (see December 7, 2008). [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] In 2010, it will be reported that Gul has been linked to many recent militant attacks (see July 26, 2010).
US Special Forces and the CIA come to an agreement that improves cooperation on overseas operations. CIA Director Leon Panetta and Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, sign a secret agreement that sets out rules for joint CIA-Special Forces missions. This deal will be the basis for dozens of joint operations in the next couple of years in Afghanistan. By the time of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the CIA and Special Forces will have a good working relationship. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011]
A CIA drone strike kills two al-Qaeda leaders, Usama al-Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Al-Kini, a Kenyan also known as Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam, is said to be al-Qaeda’s chief of operations in Pakistan since 2007. Swedan, also a Kenyan, is al-Kini’s long-time deputy. Both men are said to be linked to a recent series of suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a September 16 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 53 people. Both are said to have had central roles in planning the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The FBI had a $5 million bounty for their capture. An anonymous US counterterrorism official says that al-Kini is one of the top 10 highest ranking terrorists the CIA ever killed or captured. The drone strike is said to have hit a building being used for explosives training near the town of Karikot in South Waziristan. [Washington Post, 1/9/2009]
After taking office as president (see January 20-21, 2009), Barack Obama instructs new CIA Director Leon Panetta to develop options and find new resources for pursuing Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that while “a lot of good” had been done during the Bush administration years, resources for the CIA’s bin Laden hunt “fluctuated over time.” As part of the effort, the CIA increases the number of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
Obama: Bin Laden Must Be Killed - In the spring of 2009, Obama tells his top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda can never be truly defeated unless bin Laden is killed, and the US needs the closure his death would provide. Obama allegedly says: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.… I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.” [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
New Attitude towards Pakistan - Part of the change is a new attitude towards the government of Pakistan. President Bush had close personal ties to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But Musharraf resigned shortly before Obama became president (see August 18, 2008), making those ties moot. An unnamed former top Bush administration official will later say: “For a long time there was a strong inclination at the highest levels during our time to work with the Pakistanis, treat them as partners, defer to their national sensitivities.… There was some good reason for that.” But, this person says, the Obama administration “do seem more willing to push the envelope.” In 2011, former senior State Department official Vali Nasr will say: “Obama was fundamentally honest that the United States and Pakistan were on different trajectories in Afghanistan. Under Bush, there was this pretense that we were all in this war on terror together.” The Obama administration is increasingly skeptical about Pakistan’s promises to act against militants, and the US is more willing to act on its own to get militants hiding in Pakistan. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
A CIA-controlled Predator drone operating in Pakistan mistakenly attacks the residence of a pro-government tribal leader six miles outside the town of Wana, South Waziristan. Its missiles kill the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children, one of whom is only five. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A CIA-controlled Predator drone assassinates four Arabs in Pakistan. New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer will later comment that the men are “all likely affiliated with al-Qaeda.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
More than 30 people are killed in a CIA drone attack in Pakistan. According to reporter Jane Mayer, 25 of them are “apparently members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, though none [are] identified as major leaders.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
Shahab Dashti, left, in a 2009 militant propaganda video. [Source: Public domain via Der Spiegel]Naamen Meziche, an apparent member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, leaves Germany to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. Meziche, a French citizen of Algerian descent, and a longtime resident of Hamburg, Germany, has been under investigation since shortly after 9/11 for his links to some of the 9/11 plotters and al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui (see September 5, 2001 and Shortly After September 11, 2001-March 5, 2009). German intelligence has investigated him for years, but has never discovered enough evidence to charge him with any crime (see Shortly After September 11, 2001-March 5, 2009). It is unclear if he is still being monitored when he now leaves Germany. Before leaving, he told his wife that he was going on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He leaves with a group of Islamist militants, including Ahmad Sidiqi and Shahab Dashti, whom he will train with in Pakistan. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/11/2010] Meziche will be killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010).
The US places a $5 million bounty on the head of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani has been slowly taking over leadership of the Haqqani network from his aging father Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban and is based in Pakistan. The US State Department announcement of the bounty claims that Sirajuddin Haqqani “maintains close ties to al-Qaeda,” and it further claims that he admitted planning a January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including a US citizen (see January 14, 2008), and he also admitted planning the April 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). [US Department of State, 3/25/2009] However, the US has yet to officially blacklist the Haqqani network itself. Nor has the US put a bounty on Jalaluddin Haqqani, even though he continues to lead the network with Sirajuddin. US intelligence believes the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has long-standing links to the Haqqani network, and to Jalaluddin Haqqani in particular (see July 28, 2008).
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
President Obama formally announces his administration’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, explicitly linking the two countries in a shared threat assessment requiring a comprehensive regional approach that commits US police and army trainers to Afghanistan, promises an enlargement of Afghan Security Forces, and a requests a boost in funding for Pakistan. The president specifically announces a deployment of 4,000 US troops to train Afghan Army and Police while calling for an accelerated effort to enlarge these forces to an army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. The Interagency Policy Group White Paper on the strategy suggests the build-up of Afghan Security Force numbers is only a first step. “Initially this will require a more rapid build-up of the Afghan Army and police up to 134,000 and 82,000 over the next two years, with additional enlargements as circumstances and resources warrant,” reads the paper. [The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 3/27/2009; Interagency Policy Group, 3/27/2009 ] The New York Times, reporting a day in advance of the announcement, notes that the new strategy will not explicitly endorse the request from American commanders to increase the Afghan national security forces to 400,000 as it had reported earlier in the week (see March 18, 2009). [New York Times, 3/26/2009] Commenting later on Obama’s strategy, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, one of the chief architects of the nation-building counterinsurgency doctrine, will say that Obama’s troop increase and trainer push falls short and is a merely a “down payment” on what needs to be done to secure Afghanistan (see March 31, 2009).
A US drone attacks a target in Pakistan that the CIA believes is Hakimullah Mahsud, a lieutenant of Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. However, it kills 10 to 12 of his followers instead. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, tells editors and reporters from the Washington Times that Pakistan can survive the Taliban threat provided the military remains intact. He asserts that the army does not want to intervene in politics, but suggests a military coup is possible if the civilian government does not improve its performance. Criticizing the Pakistani government, he charges that it has not found a proper way of dealing with the Taliban. Prince Turki, who oversaw Saudi funding and support of the mujaheddin two decades ago during the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (see Early 1980), downplays concerns about Pakistan’s stability in the face of mounting security threats. “As long as the armed forces are intact, the state is not going to be at risk,” he says. [Washington Times, 4/28/2009]
An attack by CIA drones in Pakistan kills between six and ten people. One of those who dies is believed to be an al-Qaeda leader. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, suggests that NATO weapons are crossing the border from Afghanistan and going to the Taliban in Pakistan. In an interview with CNN, General Abbas links Afghanistan to the battle between Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley, saying that the Taliban are “very well equipped from the border area.” Abbas adds that the United States should “stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan.” He explains that Washington is neglecting this problem by focusing too much on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. General Abbas further suggests, without elaborating, that the Taliban are also getting weapons and support from “foreign intelligence agencies.” [CNN, 5/29/2009]
In 2009, US intelligence locates Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, somewhere in northwest Pakistan. This is done by remote monitoring of his cell phone calls and e-mails, after his full real name was discovered in 2007 (see 2007). His brother Abrar, who is also involved with al-Qaeda, is discovered as well. However, their exact location in Pakistan is still unknown and will not be discovered until 2010 (see July 2010). [CNN, 5/2/2011; MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Assistance from Pakistani Government - The Washington Post will later report that the Pakistani government has been secretly assisting US intelligence with data collection for a number of years. The US can collect wireless phone calls on its own in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government helps the US collect landline calls and e-mails as well. In 2009, the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, allegedly notices several suspicious calls spoken in Arabic to the Middle East. The phone number is discovered to belong to Ahmed. An unnamed US official will later say: “The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the US government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
Ahmed's General Location Discovered; Exact Locale Is Still a Mystery - However, Ahmed normally drives an hour or two before inserting the battery in his cell phone, and he frequently changes the SIM cards in his phone. As a result, US intelligence concludes he is living somewhere in northwest Pakistan, but it cannot figure out exactly where. One of these calls comes from the general vicinity of Abbottabad, where Ahmed will eventually be found to be living with Osama bin Laden (see August 1, 2010). But since other calls come from other towns, intelligence analysts cannot limit their search to just Abbottabad. [Washington Post, 5/11/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Extensive Surveillance Effort Begins - A senior Obama administration official will later say the two brothers’ “extensive operational security” keeps investigators from determining exactly where they live. “The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.” This official will add, “We couldn’t trail [Ahmed], so we had to set up an elaborate surveillance effort.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
A strike by a CIA-controlled Predator drone near the town of Makeen in South Warizistan, Pakistan, kills between two and six people. According to reporter Jane Mayer, the men are “unidentified militants.” Makeen is home to Baitullah Mahsud, a key Pakistan Taliban leader. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009] CIA drones will also attack the funeral for these men later in the day, killing dozens (see June 23, 2009).
CIA-controlled drones attack a funeral in Makeen, a town in South Warizistan, Pakistan, that is home to Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. Deaths number in the dozens, possibly as many as 86, and an account in the Pakistani News says they include 10 children and four tribal elders. The funeral is for two locals killed by CIA drones earlier in the day (see June 23, 2009), and is attacked because of intelligence Mahsud would be present. One eyewitness, who loses his right leg during the bombing, tells Agence France-Presse that the mourners suspected what was coming, saying, “After the prayers ended, people were asking each other to leave the area, as drones were hovering.” Before the mourners could clear out, the eyewitness says, two drones start firing into the crowd. “It created havoc,” he says. “There was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help.” Then a third missile hits. Sections of Pakistani society express their unhappiness with the attack. For example, an editorial in The News denounces the strike as sinking to the level of the terrorists, and the Urdu newspaper Jang declares that US President Barack Obama is “shutting his ears to the screams of thousands of women whom your drones have turned into dust.” Many in Pakistan are also upset that the Pakistani government gave approval for the US to strike a funeral. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
For the first time, a top Pakistani leader admits that the Pakistani government has supported radical militants. Speaking to a group of retired senior officials, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says: “Let us be truthful to ourselves and make a candid admission of the realities. The terrorists of today were the heroes of yesteryears until 9/11 occurred and they began to haunt us as well. They were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives.” Zardari pledges to change this policy. “I have taken charge at a difficult time and will come up to the challenges the country is facing,” he says. [Press Trust of India, 7/8/2009]
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik says in an interview that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders are not in Pakistan, so US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region are futile. Malik says: “If Osama was in Pakistan we would know, with all the thousands of troops we have sent into the tribal areas in recent months.… If he and all these four or five top people were in our area they would have been caught, the way we are searching.… According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.” He adds that US drone strikes are hitting mid-level militants at best, and are “counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government. We try to win people’s hearts, then one drone attack drives them away.” [London Times, 7/12/2009] Malik’s statement about bin Laden not being in Pakistan is not consistent with the facts (see January 2005, Late 2005-Early 2006, August 2007, September 2008, and May 2, 2011).
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a second English-language video (see August 10, 2008). The video lasts just under nine minutes, is released by posting at jihadi websites, and is entitled “My Muslim Brothers and Sisters in Pakistan.” In the video, al-Zawahiri urges Pakistanis to support insurgents in their battle against the US-led “crusade,” which he says threatens the country’s existence and could lead to its break-up. “The American crusader manipulation of Pakistan’s destiny has reached such an extent that it now poses a grave danger to Pakistan’s future and very existence,” says al-Zawahiri. “It is evident that Pakistan is deeply involved in a fierce internal struggle between two forces”—one representing “Islamic values” and the other being the US-led “crusade” to neutralize fighters threatening Western interests. “[If] we stand by passively without offering due support to the mujahedeen, we shall not only contribute to the destruction of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we shall also deserve the painful punishment of Almighty Allah,” he adds. [Nation, 7/15/2009]
National Public Radio reports that Saad bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, has probably been assassinated by the US in Pakistan. The assassination was performed by a Predator drone, using Hellfire missiles. Saad was not the intended target of the missiles and was not a missile target at all, but was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to a counterterrorism official. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] US drones are operated by the CIA in Pakistan. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Uncertainty about Death and Role - The exact date of Saad’s death is unclear, and it is reported only as “sometime this year.” The death is also not completely certain, as the US does not obtain a body to conduct tests on. However, a senior US counterterrorism official will say the US is “80 to 85 percent” certain that Saad is dead. Saad had escaped from house arrest in Iran around December 2008 or January 2009 (see (Between December 2008 and January 2009)). [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] The relatives with whom he was imprisoned in Iran will indicate he had no involvement with terrorism during the seven years he was held in Iran. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] However, the counterterrorism official says Saad was active in al-Qaeda, but was not a major player. “We make a big deal out of him because of his last name,” he adds. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009]
Missed Intelligence Opportunity - Others point out that Saad might have been much more valuable if he’d been captured alive, if only because of what he knew about his father. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former adviser to the National Security Council, claims that the US had several opportunities to interrogate Saad during the years he was in Iran (see Spring 2002 and Mid-May 2003). She says, “The Iranians offered to work out an international framework for transferring terror suspects, but the Bush administration refused.” She adds: “We absolutely did not get the most we could. Saad bin Laden would have been very, very valuable in terms of what he knew. He probably would have been a gold mine.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Osama bin Laden meets a prominent Pakistani militant leader in Pakistan’s tribal region, according to a Pakistani Interior Ministry report. An account of the report will be published in the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, in 2010. Supposedly, bin Laden meets with Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. The two allegedly meet to discuss militant operations against Pakistan. This is the only known recorded instance prior to bin Laden’s death in 2011 (see May 2, 2011) that the Pakistani government has evidence bin Laden is hiding somewhere inside Pakistan. [New York Times, 6/23/2011] Akhtar has been an Islamist militant leader since the 1980s, and he had personal ties with bin Laden and Taliban head Mullah Omar that predate the 9/11 attacks. In 2008, media reports named him as a suspect in the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan, that killed over 50. [Asia Times, 9/30/2004; Daily Telegraph, 9/22/2008] In hindsight, it will appear bin Laden lives in Abbottabad, Pakistan, at this time, outside the tribal region (see May 2, 2011). It will be unknown if he occasionally leaves his hideout to make journeys for meetings such as this.
A CIA-controlled Predator drone kills Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud in the hamlet of Zanghara, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Prior to the attack, officials at CIA headquarters watched a live video feed from the drone showing Mahsud reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house with his wife and his uncle, a medic; at one point, the images showed that Mahsud, who suffers from diabetes and a kidney ailment, was receiving an intravenous drip. After the attack, all that remains of him is a detached torso. Eleven others die: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards. According to a CNN report, the strike was authorized by President Obama. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik will later see the footage and comment: “It was a perfect picture. We used to see James Bond movies where he talked into his shoe or his watch. We thought it was a fairy tale. But this was fact!” According to reporter Jane Mayer: “It appears to have taken 16 missile strikes, and 14 months, before the CIA succeeded in killing [Mahsud]. During this hunt, between 207 and 321 additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. [U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/26/2009] In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. [Washington Times, 8/24/2009]
A US drone strike kills Tahir Yuldashev, the top leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. The strike apparently hits the town of Kanigoram, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Yuldashev may initially survive the strike but slowly dies of his injuries afterwards. Pakistani officials confirm his death several weeks later. The IMU confirms his death nearly a year later, and names his successor, Usmon Odil. [News (Islamabad), 9/30/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009; Daily Times (Lahore), 8/19/2010] In the late 1990s, most IMU operatives fled Uzbekistan when the government cracked down on the group. Under Yuldashev’s leadership, they resettled in Afghanistan and developed close ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yuldashev appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late July 2001). After the US conquest of Afghanistan in late 2001, Yuldashev and most of the IMU appear to have resettled in Pakistan’s tribal region, and they became a powerful force there. For instance, a Pakistani army offensive in 2004 targeted Yuldashev (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 10/2/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009]
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer ignores orders to remain in place and leads five forays into a ravine outside the village of Ganjigal, Afghanistan, after members of his column are ambushed by Taliban while attempting a meeting with the village elders. Meyer and Staff Sergeant Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, who are off to a flank and not inside the ambush, rush in and rescue several trapped American and Afghan soldiers after Captain Will Swenson of the US Army calls for artillery support and the request is denied. Meyer, Rodriguez-Chavez, Swenson, and others also retrieve the remains of three fallen Marines and one Navy corpsman. [New York Times, 9/15/2011] Meyer will later be given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions (see September 15, 2011) [New York Times, 9/15/2011] and Rodriguez-Chavez will receive the Navy Cross. [CNN, 6/10/2011]
Limits and Dangers of Counterinsurgency Theory - The event will later be examined and used as an example of the problems that can occur with the counterinsurgency theory that has been pressed upon the troops by the Pentagon. The villagers’ betrayal to the Taliban, ambiguous lines of command, and refusal of help from nearby units will all been documented as the kinds of problems that enlisted soldiers typically face in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
Now that Pervez Musharraf has resigned as president of Pakistan (see August 18, 2008), he admits that Pakistan spent US aid money meant to fight Islamist militants on weapons to combat a perceived threat from neighboring India. He says in an interview: “Wherever there is a threat to Pakistan, we will use it [equipment provided by the US] there. If the threat comes from al-Qaeda or Taliban, it will be used there. If the threat comes from India, we will most surely use it there.… What we did, we did right. We have to ensure Pakistan’s security. From whichever side the threat comes, we will use the entire force there.… Whoever wishes to be angry, let them be angry, why should we bother? We have to maintain our security, and the Americans should know, and the whole world should know that we won’t compromise our security, and will use the equipment everywhere.” This is the first time any major Pakistani politician has made such an admission. [BBC, 9/14/2009]
Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Pakistan, sends a frank cable to her superiors back in the US warning that the US needs to change its policy towards Pakistan. Patterson says, “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support” to the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups, “which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India. The only way to achieve a cessation of such support is to change the Pakistan government’s own perception of its security requirements.” She adds that “No amount of money will sever” the link between Pakistan and those groups. Instead, she says the US has to address Pakistan’s real worries about India. Pakistan is concerned that India is gaining influence in Afghanistan with its sizable foreign aid there, and the US may eventually pull its troops out. Pakistani support of militant groups allows it to have a big influence in Afghanistan if militant forces eventually take over there. The US needs to focus on Pakistan’s relationship with India to solve its support of militants, for instance by “resolving the Kashmir dispute, which lies at the core of Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups.” Pakistan and India have fought over the disputed region of Kashmir for decades. It is not known if the US follows any of Patterson’s advice. [Guardian, 11/30/2010; Guardian, 11/30/2010]
The Pentagon establishes a new unit called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program,” which is designed to develop cadres of officers (and civilians) from each of the military’s services who agree to three to five year tours to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Under the program, the Pentagon plans to assemble a dedicated cadre of about 600 officers and civilians who will develop skills in counterinsurgency, regional languages, and culture, and then be “placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving US government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” according to a Pentagon directive establishing the program. Those selected for the program will do a year in Afghanistan before moving to the Pentagon’s new Afghanistan office or to jobs at CENTCOM that are focused on the war. Implementation of the Afpak Hands program is to begin in two phases. The first phase, commencing on October 19, 2009, has already been sourced according to the Pentagon directive. The Afpak Hands program, together with a new intelligence center based at CENTCOM called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence” (see August 26, 2009) and the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell (see May 11-June 10, 2009), indicate that the US military is planning for a long-term engagement in the region depending heavily on elite, Afpak-dedicated military and intelligence officers. [Wall Street Journal, 10/6/2009; Marines.mil, 10/7/2009]
US and Pakistani analysts and officials say that a series of deadly coordinated attacks this week on army and police installations in Pakistan demonstrate the increasing sophistication of a “syndicate” of militant groups who employ commando tactics and display inside knowledge of Pakistani security structures. Attacks this week on Pakistan’s army headquarters in Rawalpindi, two attacks at a police station in Kohat, and attacks at a federal investigations building and two police training centers—one of them a respected school for elite forces—in Lahore demonstrate the expanded range and effectiveness of a militant network thought to comprise Tehrik-i-Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi working together in Pakistan, possibly with al-Qaeda. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik is quoted by the New York Times as saying that a syndicate of militant groups wants to ensure Pakistan becomes a failed state. “The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Muhammad, al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are operating jointly in Pakistan,” Malik tells journalists. [New York Times, 10/15/2009] Mehdi Hassan, the dean of the School of Media and Communications at Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University, says in a telephone interview that the commando attacks are “part of a well-planned psychological war campaign” and have helped create “a national atmosphere of crisis” in Pakistan. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2009] Last month, US military officials said the Taliban in Afghanistan were increasingly improving their capabilities and demonstrating tactics typical of specially trained elite forces (see September 2, 2009).
Said Bahaji’s passport recovered in 2009. [Source: BBC]Pakistani soldiers conducting a security sweep of Taliban strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal region find a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell. Bahaji was believed to be close to Mohamed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers in the cell. The passport is found in a mud compound in Sherawangi village, in South Waziristan, which is said to be a local Taliban command and control base. Other documents are found showing the presence of some other militants from European countries in the area. It is unclear if Bahaji was in the village, or if just his passport was. The passport is shown to journalists on October 29, 2009, and its discovery is widely reported. Bahaji is a German citizen, and his German passport was issued on August 3, 2001. Stamps show that he obtained a Pakistani tourist visa one day later, and arrived in Pakistan on September 4, 2001. Bahaji went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan shortly thereafter (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), and investigators believe he has generally remained in Afghanistan or Pakistan ever since. He was last heard of in 2007, when he called his mother in Germany (see 2007). [Guardian, 10/29/2009; Dawn (Karachi), 10/30/2009]
Political Implications of Passport Find - The Guardian comments that if authentic, the passport provides “stark proof of what Western allies have insisted upon for years, but which Pakistani officials have only recently accepted - that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.” The passport also is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are working together. [Guardian, 10/29/2009]
Bahaji Officially Wanted by Spain and Germany but Not US - Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). According to CNN, “A US counterterrorism official said only that Bahaji is a senior propagandist for al-Qaeda who had ties to some of the September 11 hijackers and is very much of interest to the United States.” However, the US has never put a bounty on Bahaji, or even put him on their most wanted lists. [CNN, 10/30/2009]
Timing of Passport Discovery Seems Suspicious, Authenticity Is Uncertain - The BBC comments, “The appearance of the passport raises a lot of questions - not least is it genuine? For now that is unclear.” The BBC also notes that the discovery of the passport comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly criticized Pakistan’s failure to find al-Qaeda figures hiding in the tribal region. [BBC, 10/31/2009] Clinton said, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” [Guardian, 10/29/2009] One British analyst questions the “convenient” timing of the discovery after Clinton’s comments, and says the passport would need to be closely examined to make sure it is authentic. [BBC, 10/31/2009]
According to a US government diplomatic document, senior Tajik counterterrorism official General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov tells US officials that Pakistani officials are tipping off al-Qaeda militants about raids. The document states, “In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the [Pakistani] security forces.” The document will be made public by Wikileaks prior to the US raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011). [Daily Telegraph, 5/2/2011] The warning may not be entirely accurate, since it appears bin Laden was hiding for years in Abbottabad, not North Waziristan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton circulates a diplomatic cable that states Pakistani intelligence continues to support some Islamist militant groups. The cable is sent to US ambassadors and other US diplomats, and contains “talking points” to raise with host governments. In Pakistan, the diplomats are told to press the Pakistani government to take action against the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban operating in Pakistan, and to enforce sanctions against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The cable reads, “Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Toiba], and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.” (A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.) The contents of the cable will be made public by Wikileaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, in 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/31/2011]
On a visit to London, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani says he thinks Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. The statement is made against a background of Western demands that Afghanistan and Pakistan take more action against militants, including stepping up their efforts to find bin Laden, to accompany the surge in Western troops to Afghanistan. “I doubt the information which you are giving is correct because I don’t think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan,” says Gillani in response to a question. The New York Times observes, “The Pakistani leader did not indicate where Mr. bin Laden might be if he is not in Pakistan.” [New York Times, 12/3/2009] The next day, the BBC will run an article brokered by a Pakistani intelligence service in which a detainee claims he recently received information bin Laden was in Afghanistan (see Before December 4, 2009). Gillani’s statement is not accurate (see May 2, 2011).
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