Posts Tagged ‘terrorists’

Israel’s Military Prepares to Fight Hezbollah

August 13, 2018

Recognizing unique threats posed by terror groups, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drills for reorganization that would dissolve established units into unified fighting force; anti-drone laser also tested

August 13, 2018
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Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military has field-tested a new fighting method combining infantry, tanks and combat engineering into one unified force, as part of a major military reform meant to streamline the Israel Defense Forces, the army said Sunday.

The method was tested during a drill simulating war in the north against the Hezbollah terrorist group, during which the military also tried out new technologies, including an anti-mortar laser and more accurate artillery.

The restructured unit type was dubbed Tzakach Gideon, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Gideon brigade combat team, named after the Israel Defense Force’s multi-year Gideon Plan, a streamlining effort that the army began rolling out in 2016.

The details of this new organizational style were revealed earlier this year, and it saw its first trial during an exercise on the Golan Heights last week.

The drill saw infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade, tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade and combat engineering troops from the 603rd Battalion working together, under one unified command. Currently, those different types of units can cooperate with one another, but with a far greater degree of independence.

The proposed change is designed to make the military’s ground forces more efficient and better suited to the types of fighting they are liable to encounter, specifically battles against terrorist groups, as opposed to national armies, officers involved in the project told reporters in February.

Chief among those terrorist groups is Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed proxy based in Lebanon that has been fighting in Syria in support of dictator Bashar Assad.

Israel considers the Shiite group to be its primary military threat in the region, and the IDF treats its readiness to face Hezbollah as the metric by which it determines how prepared it is for war.

Israeli tanks take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In addition to the new unit structure, last week’s exercise also tested a number of recently developed technologies, some of which are not yet fully operational.

According to the military, this included: a high-powered laser capable of shooting down incoming mortar shells or drones, known as Gideon’s Shield, or Magen Gidon; a “smart” trigger, which only allows a weapon to be fired when it is locked on its target; an improved night vision system; a powerful radar detection system; communication equipment that gives commander access to up-to-date intelligence; and a number of drones and autonomous vehicles.

 

Soldiers also tested a new model of precision-guided artillery shells, which are far more accurate than the varieties currently in the IDF’s arsenals.

“There is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. If we don’t invest in technology, the battlefield will remain a kingdom of uncertainty,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said during a visit to the exercise.

The military’s underlying understanding is that fighting more nimble non-state actors hiding among civilians, as with the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, is fundamentally different than squaring off against formal militaries on a deserted battlefield, and requires the IDF to be more flexible and more precise to avoid civilian casualties.

In addition, new technologies, like drones, require the military to develop techniques and systems to counter these emerging threats.

“We are aware of and monitoring the enemy’s changes, capabilities and developments, and against these things we are taking care to set up capabilties that will always put us two steps ahead of them,” said Col. Roman Gofman, commander of the 7th Armored Division.

“This is the first time that we are seeing a combined brigade fighting team. This is a battle in which tanks, infantry and combat engineering are coming together in a coordinated and synchronized way, where our forces are squaring off against the enemy,” he said.

The new Tzakach Gideon organizational style would have a ground forces brigade made up of at least six battalions, three infantry or armored battalions, one combat engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion and an administrative battalion, the IDF said Sunday.

It is expected to take several years before this reorganization is implemented throughout the military, and it will likely face opposition as old units, with decades of history, are dismantled.

“The heritage issue is a headache in and of itself,” a senior IDF Ground Forces officer said earlier this year.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/preparing-for-fight-against-hezbollah-army-tries-out-combat-reshuffle/

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Three ‘terrorists’ killed, five detained in Jordan raid

August 12, 2018

Jordanian security forces have killed three “terrorists” and arrested five others during a raid after an officer was killed in a bomb blast near the capital, the government said Sunday.

Three members of the security forces also died in Saturday’s raid, which came after the home-made bomb exploded under a patrol car at a music festival.

A joint unit of special forces, police and army troops raided a house in the town of Salt northwest of Amman in search of a suspected “terrorist cell”, government spokeswoman Jumana Ghneimat said.

Three members of the security forces were killed in a shootout with gunmen holed up in a building, she said.

© afp/AFP/File | Jordanian security forces are seen in December 2016 during the funeral of people killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group in the tourist destination of Karak

“The suspects refused to surrender and opened heavy fire toward a joint security force,” Ghneimat said in a statement.

e building in which they were hiding, and which they had booby-trapped earlier”, she said.

In an update early Sunday Ghneimat said that the three bodies as well as automatic weapons were found under the rubble of the building, a four-storey block of apartments.

She added that two other “terrorists” were arrested, bringing the total number of people detained in Salt since Saturday to five.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s bomb blast, which also wounded six other members of the patrol in Al-Fuhais, a mostly Christian town west of Amman.

The identities of the suspects were not known.

One of the members of the security forces wounded during the raid was in “critical condition”, Ghneimat said

“A clean-up operation is still under way,” she said, adding that units of the civil defence were at the scene to assess the damage at the building and sift through the rubble.

Ghneimat urged civilians to stay away, warning that “it could totally collapse at any minute”.

Medical sources said that 11 people were wounded during the raid, including members of the security forces and civilians.

Women and children were among those hurt, they said, without giving further details.

– Crisis cell –

Jordanian television broadcast footage of the partially collapsed building and security forces conducting search operations.

Ambulances, bulldozers and police cars were deployed around the building in the Naqab al-Dabour residential neighbourhood in Salt, the footage showed.

The government set up a crisis cell to follow the developments, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz, who chaired the meeting, vowed Saturday that Jordan would “not be complacent in the hunt for terrorists”.

Bomb blasts targeting security forces are rare in Jordan, although the tiny desert kingdom has had to struggle with a rise in Muslim fundamentalism in recent years.

Jordan has played a key role in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, using its air force against the jihadists and allowing coalition forces to use its bases.

The kingdom was hit by a string of attacks in 2016, including a shooting rampage claimed by IS that killed 10 people including a Canadian tourist in Karak, known for its Crusader castle.

AFP

Israeli Mayors Say Military Operation In Gaza Needed — It’s time ‘to hit the terrorists hard’

August 9, 2018

Alon Davidi, head of the rocket-battered southern city of Sderot, says residents resilient enough to give authorities the ‘time and space they need’

The head of the IDF's Southern Command Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, center-left, speaks with Sderot mayor Alon Davidi, center-right, during a visit to the southern town, which was hit repeatedly with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on August 9, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, center-left, speaks with Sderot mayor Alon Davidi, center-right, during a visit to the southern town, which was hit repeatedly with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on August 9, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
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France condemns Hamas rocket fire, urges ‘restraint’ and lifting of blockade

France issues a statement condemning the firing of rockets toward Israel and urging “restraint…by all parties.”

“France deplores the escalation of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. It condemns the firing of rockets toward Israel and would like restraint to prevail and the ceasefire to be upheld by all parties in order to prevent further civilian casualties,” the statement says.

“These incidents underscore the urgent need to work toward finding a lasting political solution for Gaza and to respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis affecting the Palestinian population.”

It also calls for a lifting of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza.

“This notably requires the lifting of the blockade, on the one hand – while respecting Israel’s security concerns – and the achievement of inter-Palestinian reconciliation and the full return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, on the other.”

“France, in collaboration with its European partners, will remain fully mobilized to support efforts to that end.”

Eshkol council instructs residents to stay close to protected areas

The Eshkol Regional Council tells residents that “IDF actions in the [Gaza] Strip will continue in the coming hours. We are reminding [residents] to remain close to protected spaces.

Heads of IDF southern, homefront commands visit Sderot

The heads of the IDF’s Southern Command and Home Front Command visit the southern town of Sderot, which was buffeted by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip yesterday and today.

Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi and Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai speak with the mayor of the town, Alon Davidi, and visit one rocket impact site, the army says.

Halevi praises the residents of the city and the local government for standing up to “challenging situations.”

“In the past day, we have conducted significant attacks against the Hamas terror group,” Halevi says.

“We are prepared for every eventuality and will continue to do whatever is required in order to ensure the safety of [Sderot] residents and to strengthen the feeling of security. I trust in the resilience of residents of the Gaza periphery and call on them to continue to adhere to the Home Front Command’s instructions,” he adds.

— Judah Ari Gross

Livni slams government for failing to ‘deliver security for Israelis’

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni slams the government for failing to bring the Gaza escalation to a decisive conclusion and refusing to engage in peace efforts.

“It’s clear today that this government can’t deliver security for Israelis, especially not residents of the south,” she says. “The current government of Israel seems to prefer a state of Hamastan right next to the residents of the south, which explains why it prevented every possibility for dialog with moderates” on the Palestinian side.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog-august-9-2018/

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Image result for Beersheba, sderot, Gaza, map

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Beersheba targeted by rocket attack for first time since 2014 war

Projectile strikes open field outside the southern city, shattering a ceasefire that lasted approximately two hours

A police officer inspects the damage to a construction site in the southern Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza border following a rocket hit, on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A police officer inspects the damage to a construction site in the southern Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza border following a rocket hit, on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck a field north of Beersheba on Thursday afternoon, setting off sirens in the southern city for the first time since the 2014 Gaza war and puncturing a purported ceasefire that lasted approximately two hours.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Police said sappers were called to the scene to remove the rocket debris.

Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich said the Grad rocket landed in an open area north of the city, but he was still waiting to hear additional details from security officials. The military said it could only confirm that a rocket had been launched at the city.

Videos circulated on social media apparently showing the location of the impact site.

שמעון ארן شمعون آران

@simonarann

נפילה בשטח פתוח, באיזור באר שבע.

No Palestinian terrorist group immediately took responsibility for the attack.

Palestinian media reported Israeli artillery strikes against terrorist groups’ positions in the Gaza Strip around the same time as the attack, though it was not immediately clear if these raids were related to the rocket launch.

The attack against Beersheba marked a significant increase in the level of violence from the Gaza Strip. Terrorist groups in Gaza have launched over 180 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel since Wednesday evening; however, these have been mainly directed at communities directly adjacent to the coastal enclave. Beersheba is located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Gaza.

Sirens also sounded in the communities of Omer and Lakiya, just outside the city.

This was the first attack directed against Beersheba since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

A July 12 picture of the house in the Nahal Beka neighborhood in Beersheba that was directly hit by a rocket on the fourth day of Operation Protective Edge, on the night of July 11, 2014. (Flash90)

The launch came some three hours after terror groups in the Strip declared the current round of violence to be over and two hours after the latest mortar shell had been fired.

“The current round in Gaza has ended. The resistance responded to the enemy’s crimes in Gaza. The continuation of calm in Gaza depends on (Israel’s) behavior,” said an official from a joint command center for a number of Palestinian terrorist groups, notably the Gaza-ruling Hamas, earlier Thursday.

A source in the Hamas terrorist group confirmed the cessation to AFP.

On Tuesday, Hamas had vowed to avenge the deaths of two of its members killed by IDF tank fire after the army mistakenly thought a Hamas military exercise had been a cross-border attack. On Wednesday afternoon, the military warned that it was anticipating a revenge attack by Hamas.

Shortly after the cessation announcement was made at noon, terrorist groups in the Strip launched two fresh attacks, which triggered sirens in the area adjacent to Gaza but appeared to have hit open fields, causing neither injury nor damage.

The site where a mortar shell from the Gaza Strip hit an apartment building and cars in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Throughout Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Gaza terror groups fired over 180 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel, injuring at least seven people and causing damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure throughout the region, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

In response, the Israeli Air Force struck over 150 Hamas “terror sites” in the Strip, the army said. Palestinian officials said a pregnant woman and her infant daughter were killed in the Israeli strikes, along with one Hamas fighter, who was reportedly in a car used by a rocket-launching Hamas cell that was targeted by an IDF aircraft.

A picture taken on August 8, 2018 in Gaza City shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

On Thursday morning, Israeli fighter jets bombed two Hamas fighting tunnels along the central Gaza coast, as well as a tunnel opening in the northern Strip and a military facility east of the southern city of Rafah, the army said.

“The wide-reaching attacks that the IDF has conducted caused damage and destruction to some 150 military and strategic targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization, which represent a significant blow to Hamas,” the army said in a statement.

In addition, an IDF aircraft also targeted a terrorist cell launching mortar shells at southern Israel on Thursday morning. The military later released video footage of the airstrike.

The army warned the terror group that it will “bear the consequences for its terrorist activities against the citizens of Israel.”

So far, the military has focused on targeting Hamas infrastructure while largely avoiding casualties, apparently in an effort to prevent further escalation of violence.

A member of the Hamas military police walks through rubble at a site that was hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on August 9, 2018 (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)

However, senior Israeli officials indicated that the country was prepared for a wider confrontation with Hamas.

“Whatever is needed to protect our citizens and our soldiers will be done, no matter what the price will be in Gaza,” Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, who serves on the security cabinet, said Thursday.

“Let’s hope for peace, and let’s be ready for war,” he added.

Earlier in the morning, a senior IDF officer warned that Israel was “rapidly nearing a confrontation” with Hamas in Gaza.

“Hamas is making serious mistakes, and we may have to make it clear after four years that this path doesn’t yield any results for it and isn’t worth it,” he said, referring to the time elapsed since the 2014 Gaza war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (2nd left) meet with top seucirty officials at IDF military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, early Thursday, August 9, 2018 (Defense Ministry)

The security cabinet was scheduled to hold a special session on Thursday evening to discuss the recent escalation in violence and decide on a course of action.

In the hours before that meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to hold security consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The military was deploying additional Iron Dome batteries in the region in preparation for Hamas possibly increasing the range of its targets. During past wars rockets have reached as far as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba.

The site where a mortar shell from the Gaza Strip hit an apartment building and cars in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A large number of additional forces were also deployed to the Gaza area. However, no reservist units have been called up as of Thursday morning, the army spokesperson said.

The renewed rocket attacks came amid a period of heightened tensions along the Gaza border, following months of clashes and exchanges of fire.

Earlier this week, there had been reports of intensive talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire.

Adam Rasgon, Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Meet the New Pakistan, a Lot Like the Old Pakistan

August 1, 2018

Imran Khan claims a fresh vision, but he’s backed by established power brokers.

A man reads a newspaper reporting Pakistan’s election results in Karachi, on July 26.

PHOTOGRAPHER: ASIM HAFEEZ/BLOOMBERG

“We will run Pakistan like it has never been run before,” said Imran Khan during his first televised address after his party’s decisive election win on July 25. He did so below a picture of a young Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the nation’s revered founder when it won independence from the British Raj in 1947.

Khan outlined a blueprint for a “New Pakistan” modeled on Jinnah’s vision. Malnourished kids would have enough food. Poor farmers would get more cash. The rich would pay taxes. Corruption would end. Terrorism would stop. Minorities would feel safe. And Pakistan would get along with everybody—even archrival India.

Imran Khan addresses the nation on July 26.
PHOTOGRAPHER: MUHAMMAD REZA/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

For Pakistan and the world, it’s an inspiring message with the potential to reshape global politics. The country has around 200 million people, more than Saudi Arabia and Iran combined, about a third of whom are impoverished. It’s a crucial supply route for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan and a strategic pathway for China to key shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. It’s a hotbed of Islamic extremism. And it has nuclear weapons.

In one sense, the 65-year-old Khan looks like the kind of charismatic leader who can shake up Pakistan. The Oxford graduate rose to fame as a cricket superstar, becoming a household name across the British Commonwealth when he led Pakistan to its first and only Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. He built a reputation as a playboy who hung out at London’s posh nightclubs with the likes of Mick Jagger and Sting. His first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, a British socialite with a Jewish heritage, was friends with Princess Diana.

Khan leveraged his popularity to start a political career, winning his first election to parliament in 2002. This year his party won nearly twice as many seats as its closest rival. That followed a populist campaign in which he railed against a corrupt elite that enriched itself at the expense of the masses.

His clipped English, tall, athletic frame, and personal charm helped him win over a cross section of Pakistanis on election day, from slum dwellers to wealthy expatriates who flew back just to vote for Khan. He also galvanized young voters.

Yet there’s another side to Khan that has observers worried. Of late he’s become increasingly close to the military and more of a religious conservative—so much so that detractors have dubbed  him “Taliban Khan.” In the past he’s vowed to shoot down U.S. drones and cut off NATO supply routes.

His party’s regional government funded an Islamist seminary known as the “University of Jihad” that taught leaders of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He’s defended Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which mandate the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation, or innuendo” against the prophet Muhammad. This year the twice-divorced Khan married a veiled spiritual adviser. Critics have dismissed him as a figurehead installed by the army in a rigged election.

Khan’s competing personas make him an embodiment of Pakistan’s identity crisis. On one side is a country with an increasingly urban middle class that buys designer handbags and good whiskey while engaging in social media debates about democracy and human rights. The other is a nation where the risk of terrorism is constant, the Islamic State has a foothold, and the all-powerful army uses radical groups to destabilize Afghanistan and India.

Khan’s first challenge will be averting a financial crisis: Dwindling foreign reserves and a ballooning current account deficit, fueled by imports of heavy machinery from China to build a $60 billion investment corridor, have forced the central bank to devalue the currency four times since December. Unless China or Saudi Arabia writes him a check, Khan will almost assuredly need help from the International Monetary Fund, which has bailed out Pakistan 12 times since the late 1980s. “The new government may go first to Saudi Arabia, then China, and ultimately to the fund,” says Nadeem Ul Haque, a former deputy chairman of Pakistan’s Planning Commission, who used to be a senior economist at the IMF. “There is no way out.”

Skeptics doubt Khan will reduce the military’s dominant influence, stamp out corruption, or overhaul the curriculum at thousands of Islamic schools, known as madrassas, some of which have helped fuel an insurgency that has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 Pakistanis since Sept. 11, 2001. “Khan as prime minister is unlikely to challenge the army’s authority on policies including national security, defense, and relations with India, Afghanistan, and the U.S.,” says Shailesh Kumar, Asia director with Eurasia Group.

Pakistan’s shift from its founder’s more secular vision to a sectarian, less tolerant society is decades in the making. In the late 1970s, whiskey-drinking Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol and nightclubs to appease the religious right. Then came a flood of cash from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to recruit and arm jihadis—as well as to radicalize the population—to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. One of those fighters was Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of Sept. 11, who would be killed in 2011 at a safe house just miles from Pakistan’s top military academy.

Khan says he doesn’t share the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, but he calls the U.S. military presence in the region the main cause of instability. In January he blasted Donald Trump as “ignorant and ungrateful” after the U.S. president saidPakistan delivered nothing but “lies and deceit” in the fight against terrorism. Khan called for Pakistan to cut ties with the U.S. and work with China, Russia, and Iran to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Khan has repeatedly called for peace talks with Taliban militants, who have launched numerous terrorist attacks in the country and claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Peshawar about two weeks before the election. His view received some vindication when U.S. diplomats met with Taliban representatives in late July without Afghan government officials, the New York Times reported, a policy shift aimed at ending a 17-year war.

Both observers and party insiders say his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political organization is essentially a one-man show—and a personality cult. Khan’s also inexperienced in governing: He’s ridiculed the parliamentary process and barely attended National Assembly sessions during his years as a lawmaker. On the campaign trail, he tended to avoid detailed policy discussions, often dodging questions about how he will pay for his “Islamic welfare state,” instead criticizing predecessors for racking up sky-high debts.

Nor will fighting graft be easy. Ahead of the election, Khan aligned with many feudal landlords who maintain power in rural areas through patronage. To form a majority in parliament without the two major dynastic parties—the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, controlled by the Sharif family, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, run by the Bhutto Zardari family—he needs to win over smaller parties and independents, most of whom are eager to reap the spoils of government.

Moreover, to have credibility as a corruption fighter, Khan must go after the Pakistani military’s top brass, which has conducted numerous coups since the country’s founding. The military retains tremendous sway over national security and foreign policy—even when an elected government is in power—and commands a hefty chunk of the national budget. Pakistan spends more on defense as a percentage of its economy than any other country in Asia.

The winner of the last election, Nawaz Sharif, stood up to the military and lost. The three-time prime minister’s five-year term was cut short in July 2017 because of a corruption case filed by Khan and is now in jail awaiting an appeal. In May, Sharif said the army-backed establishment wanted him out for pursuing a treason case against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who ousted him in a 1999 coup. Musharraf—Pakistan’s only former army chief to have faced charges—welcomed Khan’s victory.

Khan has dismissed all allegations that he’s close to the military, just as the army has denied that it meddled in the election, intimidated journalists, or had anything to do with Sharif’s trial. Last year Khan told Bloomberg that any notion that he’s an army stooge was a “bizarre conspiracy.”

In his victory speech, Khan made headlines by calling for peace talks with India, including discussion on the disputed state of Muslim-majority Kashmir. India responded with skepticism. In separate interviews over the past year, Khan told Bloomberg that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an “anti-Muslim politician,” and better ties between the nations were unlikely while he was in power.

The world will soon see if the flamboyant leader’s “New Pakistan” vision is anything more than an empty slogan.

BOTTOM LINE – The new prime minister of Pakistan promises policy reforms, but he may still be beholden to the all-powerful military and to sectarian forces.
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How will Imran Khan’s ascendancy impact India-Pakistan relations?

July 30, 2018

New Delhi: A new government in a country, that too one headed by a relatively new party after defeating two well entrenched political groups, is usually seen as a chance to begin afresh—both within the country and outside. However, if that country is Pakistan then these assumptions don’t apply. For starters, news reports on Pakistan election have been talking of how the Pakistan Army—the most powerful institution in the country—was working overtime to skew the poll results in favour of Imran Khan, the 65-year-old cricketer turned politician who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

According to Christine C. Fair, a professor at the Washington-based Georgetown University, the Pakistan Army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency “worked relentlessly to improve Khan’s political prospects” in the months leading up to the election.

By Elizabeth Roche

The ISI, she wrote in an essay in Foreign Affairs magazine, “helped fund his rallies throughout the country and shape him into a winning candidate.”

The ISI, Georgetown University professor Christine C. Fair wrote in an essay in ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine, “helped fund his (Imran Khan’s) rallies throughout the country (Pakistan) and shape him into a winning candidate’. Photo: AP

The ISI, Georgetown University professor Christine C. Fair wrote in an essay in ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine, “helped fund his (Imran Khan’s) rallies throughout the country (Pakistan) and shape him into a winning candidate’. Photo: AP

Against this backdrop, chances of a fresh beginning with India—which has fought four wars with Pakistan since 1947 and which the Pakistan Army has pledged to bleed through “a thousand cuts”—seems a non starter. For one, Pakistan’s India policy is shaped by the Army. Any politician trying to plough a furrow different from that of the Army and shape their own India policy has come to grief. Speculation has it that this is one of the reasons for the Army to abandon former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif is now in prison after an anti-corruption court found him guilty of owning undeclared luxury flats in London.

“What I have managed to pick up is that the Pakistan Army is not keen on resuming the peace process with India,” Ayesha Siddiqua, a Pakistani political analyst, said in a phone interview from London. “So, superficially, Pakistan could reach out to India saying that India should forget about Mumbai (26/11 terrorist attacks) and shake hands with Pakistan,” Siddiqua said.

Impact on India-Pakistan relations

On the face of it, Khan comes with no political baggage like for instance former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, whose father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the one who signed the 1972 Simla Accord after the defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 war with India. The Simla pact enjoins Pakistan to sort out all differences with India—including the issue of Kashmir—bilaterally.

In a speech claiming victory in Pakistan election, Imran Khan said ‘if India takes one step forward (on peace with Pakistan) we will take two’, but maintained Kashmir was a ‘core issue’.

In a speech claiming victory in Pakistan election, Imran Khan said ‘if India takes one step forward (on peace with Pakistan) we will take two’, but maintained Kashmir was a ‘core issue’.

“Maybe if there is a meeting between him (Khan) and prime minister (Narendra) Modi in some world capital somewhere outside the subcontinent, there could be a breakthrough,” said Dilip Sinha, a former Indian foreign ministry official who was in charge of the Pakistan desk between 2005-07.

Khan may be persuaded to try and build better ties with India because of the seriousness of his country’s economic problems, Sinha said.

“Pakistan is facing a serious balance of payments crisis. And it will have to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout which will come with strict conditions,” Sinha said. This includes no diversion of funds for terrorist or extremist activities.

It’s not only the IMF. Just weeks before Pakistan election, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—set up in 1989 to combat money laundering and later expanded its mandate to include combating terrorist financing in 2001—had placed Pakistan on “grey list”. Given all this, Khan may be persuaded to ask the fundamentalists and the army to lie low for a while,” Sinha said. This could mean no high-profile terrorist strikes in India—something that could give Modi the room to respond to any peace overtures from Pakistan, he said.

So far, Khan hasn’t made any moves to inspire confidence in India.

Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh pointed to US pressure on Pakistan especially in the wake of Donald Trump taking office as president in January last year.

“The Trump administration has taken an overtly tough stand on Pakistan and terrorism. It has called for Pakistan to be punished for its double standards on terrorism. The US is keen on talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Due to all this, it is possible that there is a slight easing of terrorist attacks in India but that should not lull us into thinking Pakistan is mending its ways,” Mansingh said.

So far, Khan hasn’t made any moves to inspire confidence in India.

On Thursday, in a speech claiming victory in Pakistan election, Khan did say that “if India takes one step forward (on peace with Pakistan) we will take two.”

There is a slight easing of terrorist attacks in India but that should not lull us into thinking Pakistan is mending its ways– Lalit Mansingh, former foreign secretary of India

But he also said that “(the) Kashmir (dispute) was the core issue” bedeviling ties between the neighbours—something India rejects, stating that terrorism supported by Pakistan in Kashmir and other parts of India is the main problem. He also brought up “human rights violations” perpetrated by the Indian security forces in Kashmir—something India denies. Khan’s support for the Kashmir freedom movement could also embolden those seeking secession from India.

The change in Imran Khan’s views

All this seems to be a far cry from the views he held in 2013.

In an interview in December 2013, Khan said Pakistan was “sick of the military” and that all parties think “it’s time to move on and have peaceful relations with India. And so that is where the military and the militancy comes in, that there is no military solution or solution through militancy in Kashmir. It’s through dialogue.”

‘Maybe if there is a meeting between him (Khan) and prime minister (Narendra) Modi in some world capital somewhere outside the subcontinent, there could be a breakthrough’. Photo: Twitter@MEAIndia

‘Maybe if there is a meeting between him (Khan) and prime minister (Narendra) Modi in some world capital somewhere outside the subcontinent, there could be a breakthrough’. Photo: Twitter@MEAIndia

He also came up with an “out of the box” solution for bridging the trust deficit between India and Pakistan—a civil nuclear power generation plant on the border “mutually manned by Pakistan and India.

Half the energy goes to Pakistan, half the energy goes to India. We are thinking of how we can interlock each other so that we are forced to rather than be hostile, how can we have something that can benefit each other and which will lock us into trade and mutual progress,” Khan said in his 2013 interview.

According to Christine Fair, Khan has undergone a makeover.“Khan has been a politician for decades, but his earlier electoral performances had been disappointing,” she wrote in her Foreign Affairs piece.

“To make matters worse, he had previously refused to play Pakistan’s political game of alliance forging and deal making and had taken rhetorical stances against the military, accusing the army of “selling our blood for dollars” in an apparent criticism of its relationship with the US.

Since 2013, however, Khan seems to have accepted the reality that he lacked the national appeal to win on his own without the support of the army. He began to praise the military, and the military reciprocated,” she said.

Since 2013, Imran Khan seems to have accepted the reality that he lacked the national appeal to win on his own without the support of the army

Syed Ata Hasnain, a former commanding officer of the 15 corps in Kashmir, is of the view that “if a real difference has to be made in the context of India-Pakistan relations, then early enough Khan must indicate what sort of action he intends to take against those radical elements long considered Pakistan’s strategic assets against India.”

“Given his inclination towards supporting many of these radical elements, can he be expected to do anything transformational towards addressing India’s concern on terror? Hardly likely, at least definitely not in the near future as India prepares to for its own elections in 2019. Any such attempt will be perceived negatively within Pakistan and will remain against the Pakistan army’s carefully crafted strategy. It will also add to Modi’s popularity in India—something that Pakistan would consider completely counter to its interests,” Hasnain said.

The way forward

While Khan may be a new face with no baggage, it’ll be a while before India decides to do business with him. For one, New Delhi seems to have decided that “managing relations” with Pakistan is the best way forward.

This is because New Delhi seems to have concluded that civilian governments in Pakistan do not really have powers to engage India.

So the best case scenario is “manage ties” till Pakistan changes its mindset vis-a-vis India as New Delhi focuses on building better ties with others on its periphery—Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others.

Supporters of cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan celebrating Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) win in Pakistan election in Karachi. Photo: Reuters

Supporters of cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan celebrating Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) win in Pakistan election in Karachi. Photo: Reuters

The real test possibly comes later this year—when Pakistan is expected to host the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or Saarc summit.

Islamabad was forced to call off the summit in 2016 when India, followed by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan said they wouldn’t attend the summit due to Pakistan’s stance on terrorism. This came within days of the September 2016 attack on the Uri military garrison in Kashmir in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack.

“If India decides to go for the Summit, it will be a signal that New Delhi is taking ties a step forward from managing relations with Pakistan,” said a Western diplomat stationed in New Delhi.

“And who knows if that could be an opening for a step up in engagement?” the diplomat said. Clearly, given the multiplicity of variables in the India-Pakistan relationship, it’s difficult to place a bet on what will happen in the future. The only thing one can say with certainty is there will be unpredictable times ahead.

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https://www.livemint.com/Politics/kqukrRdeddMBmyDnoyFwzL/Indias-Imran-Khan-challenge.html

‘Mental Illness’ Terror Excuse Is Starting to Wear Thin….

July 25, 2018

The Special Invesitgations Unit has identified the Danforth shooting suspect as Faisal Hussain, 29, of Toronto.

Screenshot
 

So now we know: it was mental illness that caused the Danforth Shooter to gun down 15 people in Toronto, Canada, on Sunday night, killing two of them.

That’s a relief. For one nasty moment, it looked like it might be another atrocity committed in the name of the Religion of Peace – especially when the shooter was grudgingly, belatedly revealed by the authorities to be in possession of the not obviously Hindu, Jewish or Christian name Faisal Hussain.

But no, thank heavens, it was mental illness all along. At least according to the killer’s family and the progressive media. And I for one believe them. When I look around I see an epidemic of mental illness going round – not just among all those young men with coincidental Muslim names going postal everywhere from Orlando to Nice and now Toronto but also at the highest levels in politics.

This is the official statement from the Hussain family:

Among the most badly afflicted is President Bieber of Canada. The generous interpretation of “Justin Trudeau”, as this tragically delusional guy likes to style himself, is that he’s just an entertaining Walter Mitty character who adds enormously to the gaiety of nations: one minute he’s a feminist; the next an infamous groper; one minute his dad was the President of Cuba, the next the Prime Minister of Canada; one minute, he’s dressed up as a cowboy, the next he thinks he’s Indian; and so on.

Image result for Justin Trudeau, photos

Unfortunately, by some terrible accident, President Bieber happens to be the actual current leader of an actual serious G7 nation. So his serial fantasies aren’t merely a problem for him, his family and his overworked therapist. They are also a very real issue for 37 million Canadians and the many, many millions more who have to interact with the country President Bieber is slowly but surely transforming into the Gentle, Friendly Basket Case to the North of the U.S.

His decision to welcome a bunch of White Helmet alleged refugees from Syria is a case in point.

If everything you believe in Hollywood is true, then this ought to be a great idea. After all, as recently as 2016, the White Helmets were portrayed in a documentary as the noblest, most selfless heroes of the Syrian Civil War, constantly risking their lives to rescue victims of urban warfare from the rubble regardless of their religious or factional affiliation. And was it not only last year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences endorsed this version of reality by giving The White Helmets the Oscar for Best Documentary Short.

What could possibly go wrong with a scheme to replace all the Canadians being bumped off by victims of mental illness with an enriching influx of selfless heroes from Syria?

Well, one thing that could possibly go wrong is if it turned out that the Hollywood version of events was total fiction. Or bullshit terrorist propaganda, if you prefer.

Whatever the claims made for the White Helmets in the documentary – and unquestioningly accepted by the compliant liberal media – it would seem that there are in fact serious doubts about the integrity of these ‘heroes’.

Journalist Vanessa Beeley has done much to expose their deception:

The White Helmets also claim to be neutral and unarmed, which is far from the truth. As Vanessa Beeley explains, “If we look at their claims to be neutral, they are embedded entirely in terrorist-held areas whether it is predominantly Al-Nusra Front or ISIS or any of the various associated brigades of terrorists that take their command very much from Al-Nusra Front, that is where White Helmets are exclusively.”

Beeley noted the White Helmets also, “provide medical care for the terrorists, they funnel equipment in from Turkey into the terrorist areas (…) They’ve been filmed participating and facilitating an execution of a civilian in Aleppo. They post celebratory videos to their social media pages of the execution of civilian Arab soldiers.”

She continued, “from the testimony from the real Syria Civil Defense across Syria they have also been involved in the taking over of the real Syria Civil Defense units, the stealing of their equipment and the eventual massacres and kidnapping of real Syria Civil Defense crews.”

Of course it’s hard to sift fact from fiction in a civil war as complex as Syria’s, especially when there are so many big competing players in the background from the UK and the U.S. to Israel, Russia and Iran. But there is plenty of video evidence online which strongly suggests that White Helmets members have been involved in brutal atrocities and fake news propaganda footage, that they are not apolitical but aggressively partisan and that they are associated with some very scary Islamist terror groups.

If I were Canadian, I know exactly how disgusted I’d feel if my country was planning to rehome some of the 422 White Helmet and family members who have just been rescued from Syria and temporarily evacuated to Jordan.

And the reason I know exactly how disgusted is that my own country the UK is promising to welcome some of them too.

Here is UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Apparently he thinks it is something worth boasting about – which indicates to me something rather depressing: British foreign policy is currently in the hands of someone who shares President Bieber’s mental illness affliction.

Jeremy Hunt

@Jeremy_Hunt

Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope

These are worrying times indeed when random people on Twitter are more clued up about foreign policy issues than the minister supposedly in charge of them.

Jeremy Hunt

@Jeremy_Hunt

Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope

Sandy Shores 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿@scotbot

So you’re bringing these terrorists to Britain? pic.twitter.com/r1k3GZmnMs

View image on Twitter

Here’s a final scary thought. Let’s just suppose for a moment – perish the thought – that all these tragic lorry massacres and grenade massacres and gun massacres and bomb massacres and knife massacres committed by people with Muslim names aren’t the result of mental illness, but are in fact manifestations of an insurgency war being waged on the West by the Religion of Peace.

Doesn’t that make politicians who want to invite more of these people in rather dangerous to our wellbeing? And shouldn’t we make it our holy duty to oust these lunatics from office as soon as is decently possible?

‘Jihadists should be prosecuted for treason’ — Former UK security and law chiefs call for medieval statute to be updated

July 25, 2018

BRITAIN’S archaic treason law should be updated and used to prosecute jihadists who have fought in Syria, a former home secretary, a head of MI5, a lord chief justice and a head of counterterror policing say today.

The Treason Act of 1351 has not been used since 1945, but there are now calls for it to be revised to prosecute terrorists amid growing fears that British laws are not tough enough to deal with returning jihadists.

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Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary

The recommendation, in a report by the Policy Exchange think tank, has been backed by leading figures including Amber Rudd, the former home secretary, and Lord Evans of Weardale, the former head of MI5.

It follows the disclosures by The Daily Telegraph that Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, abandoned Britain’s blanket opposition to the death penalty to allow two members of the “Beatles” group of Isil terrorists to be sent to US.

By 

Image result for Sajid Javid, photos

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary

In a letter to Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general, Mr Javid raised concerns that Britain’s anti-terror laws might not be robust enough to ensure a successful prosecution. He said he believed US laws were more effective.

Mr Javid was yesterday warned by human rights lawyers that he faced a court challenge over his decision.

There is growing concern over the treatment of returning jihadists, with only a fraction of those who have travelled to Syria facing prosecution.

Yesterday, Max Hill QC, the Government’s counter-terrorism watchdog, was appointed as the next director of public prosecutions despite having previously apparently advocated an even more liberal approach to returning jihadists.

The medieval Treason Act still remains law but is considered “unworkable”. The last person to be convicted under the law was William Joyce, more commonly known as Lord Haw-haw, who was convicted in 1945 and hanged in 1946 for assisting Nazi Germany.

The report argues that a new offence would “mark out treasonous acts” and allow the courts to impose “justifiably severe punishment”. It would have the added effect of deterring other potential offenders and “incapacitate those who threaten our country”.

Ms Rudd said: “The time has come for us to consider additional measures, such as those set out in this report, that we need to deal with those who betray this country.”

In a foreword to the report, Lord Judge, the former lord chief justice of England and Wales, wrote: “If a citizen of this country chooses to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan against British forces, his crime is more than terrorism. It is treason, and should be prosecuted accordingly.”

Lord Evans said the report was “timely and balanced”, while Richard Walton, the former head of counter- terrorism at Scotland Yard, said being prosecuted for treason was “appropriate” for jihadists.

The Treason Act of 1351 is focused on those who “compass or imagine” the death of the “Sovereign, of the King’s wife or of the Sovereign’s eldest child or heir”. It also includes anyone who “levies war against the Sovereign” or “slays the chancellor, treasurer or King’s justices”. The Policy Exchange report says it is “not fit for purpose”

and there are “grave doubts” about what is meant by the “antiquated and cumbrous” language.

The report says that the offence should be updated based on the laws of Australia and New Zealand.

The new treason law would make it an offence to aid a state or organisation that is either attacking the UK or preparing to attack the UK. It would apply to all British citizens, wherever they are in the world.

Tom Tugendhat, a co-author of the paper and chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said: “The law must be written to ensure they can be stopped and their betrayal is recognised as a distinct crime.”

Between 2006 and 2017, 193 people were jailed for terrorism offences. More than 80 of them are due for release this year.

Until 1998, the Treason Act allowed for people to be hanged. Under the Crime and Disorder Act, the maximum sentence was changed to life imprisonment.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/07/24/british-jihadis-should-face-new-treason-law-former-home-secretary/

Britain would not oppose death penalty for Islamic State suspects

July 23, 2018

Britain’s interior minister has suggested the UK will not block a death sentence on two captured IS fighters dubbed “The Beatles” if they are tried in the US. The UK usually calls for protection of its citizens.

    
Islamic State propaganda photo (picture-alliance/Zuma Press)

Britain will not seek the usual assurances that its citizens facing trial in the United States do not receive the death penalty in the case of suspected “Islamic State” (IS) fighters Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, according to a report in a British newspaper published on Monday.

Kotey and Elsheikh are suspected of being members of a four-man IS gang dubbed “The Beatles,” which was notorious for videotaping its beheadings of high-profile Western captives. The two men were captured in Syria by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in January and are still being held by the group. Britain and the United States have discussed how and where they should face justice.

Read more: Syrian Kurdish forces capture two British ‘IS’ militants — US officials

According to a leaked letter written by Home Secretary Sajid Javid to the US attorney general, excerpts of which were published in the Telegraph, the UK wants “these individuals to face justice in the most appropriate jurisdiction which maximises our collective chances of a successful prosecution.”

Javid appeared to waive Britain’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty in order to allow the two suspects face trial in the United States.

“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought,” he wrote in the letter last month.

However, he added that the decision did “not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally.”

Read more: ‘Islamic State’ claims beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto

‘Higher profile’ suspects

In the transcript published by the newspaper, Javid said Britain considered the two suspects distinct from the “broader strategic issue of detained foreign terrorist fighters” for three reasons:

  • “Firstly, there is intelligence implicating these two individuals in the kidnap and murder of a number of individuals, including three American and two British citizens.”
  • “Secondly, these individuals have a significantly higher profile than other detainees in Syria due to their crimes and will be held up as an example of how we treat and deal with alleged ISIS [an alternative acronym for IS] fighters.”
  • “Thirdly, we need to deliver justice for the victims’ relatives, who have been vocal in their demands that both detainees face the rest of their lives in prison following a fair and transparent trial.”

Fearing a precedent

Prime Minister Theresa May echoed Javid’s wishes for a successful proscecution.

May’s spokeswoman said, “We are continuing to engage with the US government on this issue and our priority is to make sure that these men face criminal prosecution.” She acknowledged Britian’s long-held opposition to the death penalty.

Human rights group Amnesty International criticized the apparent wavering of Britain’s stance in this case, tweeting that UK opposition to the death penalty should not be compromised even in view of the “appalling” nature of the two men’s alleged crimes.

Amnesty UK

@AmnestyUK

‘While the alleged crimes of Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh are appalling, the UK’s principled opposition to the cruelty of the isn’t something it should compromise.’ http://amn.st/6014DSJ4s 

Read more: Israeli leaders back death penalty for ‘terrorists’

Beheadings

The most notorious member of the cell — dubbed “The Beatles” on account of their British accents — was Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who appeared in videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages. Emwazi is believed to have been killed in a US-British missile strike in 2015.

Death penalty

The mother of James Foley told BBC radio she did not want the suspects to be executed if found guilty, because it “would just make them martyrs in their twisted ideology.”   Amnesty International’s Allan Hogarth said the case “seriously jeopardizes the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.”

Britain’s defense secretary, Gavin Williamson, said earlier this year that he did not want the two suspects to be returned to the UK because “they are no longer part of Britain.”

kw, tj (Reuters, DPA)

New evidence of Qatar’s $1 billion ransom that funds terror

July 18, 2018

Damning new evidence has emerged to suggest that a $1 billion ransom paid by Qatar for the release of 28 Qataris kidnapped in Iraq has been used to fund terror.

Text messages and voicemails obtained by the BBC reveal communications between Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Qatar’s newly appointed foreign minister, and Zayed Al-Khayareen, its ambassador to Iraq, as talks to release the hostages dragged on for 16 months.

In this April 21, 2017 file photo, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani, second left in front row, welcomes released kidnapped members of Qatar’s ruling family at the Doha airport, Qatar. (AP)

In the end Qatar paid the biggest ransom in history: $1 billion plus $125 million in “side payments,” all paid to groups such as Al Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah.

The ransom payment was a key factor in driving the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — to close borders and sever diplomatic ties with Qatar.

The 28 Qataris were taken hostage on Dec 16, 2015, while hunting with falcons in southern Iraq, having ignored all warnings about not traveling to the area. The party included members of the ruling family.

The kidnappers were identified as members of Kataib Hezbollah but nothing was heard from them until three months later, when they offered to release three hostages in return for “a gesture of goodwill”  — money.

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Ambassador Al-Khayareen wrote in a text to the foreign minister: “This is a good sign for us, which indicates that they are in a hurry and want to end everything soon.”

As the months passed, however, the kidnappers kept upping their demands. As well as money they wanted Qatar to leave the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and demanded the release of Iranian soldiers held in Syria.

One Kataib Hezbollah negotiator, Abu Mohammed, wanted $10 million for himself. “All of them are thieves,” the ambassador wrote to the minister.

Two Iraqi mediators recruited by the ambassador asked in advance for $150,000 in cash and five Rolex watches when they visited Sheikh Mohammed. Who the “gifts” were for was not clear. Qatari officials admit the texts and voicemails are genuine but say they have been edited in a misleading fashion.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1340821/middle-east

Two dead in militant attack on Afghan govt office: officials

July 11, 2018

Gunmen stormed an education department compound in Afghanistan’s restive east Wednesday and were battling security forces in an ongoing attack that has left at least two people dead, officials said.

Five others have been wounded in the second attack in Jalalabad city in as many days and a number of employees were trapped inside the building, Nangarhar provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.

© AFP | Map of Afghanistan locating attack in Jalalabad

Security forces were trying to clear the militants from the compound and rescue the workers. It was not clear how many gunmen or employees were inside.

A security guard employed by the department was among the dead, Khogyani said.

Jalalabad health director Najibullah Kamawal confirmed five wounded people had been brought to hospital so far.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the raid.

Nangarhar’s provincial capital has seen an uptick in violence in recent weeks, with the Islamic State group claiming most of the attacks.

On Tuesday, a suicide attack in the city killed at least 12 people and ignited a nearby petrol station, with witnesses describing screaming victims “swallowed” by flames.

The bomber was targeting Afghan security forces when he blew himself up. Ten civilians were among the dead.

IS claimed that attack via its Amaq propaganda agency.

The group has claimed a series of high-casualty suicide bomb attacks in the province in recent weeks, as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against the group.

While the Taliban is Afghanistan’s largest militant group, IS has a relatively small but potent presence, mainly in the north and east of the country.

Wednesday’s attack comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani flew to Brussels to attend a NATO summit where he will be hoping to get a greater commitment from members to the nearly 17-year conflict.

Currently, there are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, providing the main component of the NATO mission there to support and train local forces.

The attack also coincides with the start of a university entrance exam for more than 16,000 students in Jalalabad, but it was not clear if the two events were linked.

The attack comes exactly a month after militants raided the education department in the city.

In that incident a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the department, triggering a fierce battle between gunmen and security forces.

At least 10 people were wounded after terrified employees jumped out of the windows.

A recent ceasefire between Afghan security forces and the Taliban during the Islamic holiday Eid had raised hopes that an end to hostilities in the war-weary country was possible.

Since then, however, the Taliban has returned to the battlefield and IS, which was not involved in the truce, has continued to carry out deadly attacks.

Nangarhar borders Pakistan, which has been under growing US pressure to crack down on extremist groups operating in the country.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders, charges Islamabad denies.

Pakistan, in return, has accused Afghanistan of sheltering the Pakistani Taliban.

AFP

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