Posts Tagged ‘terrorists’

Pakistan, Seeing New Pressure from the West, Moves Against a Militant Group

February 15, 2018

Islamabad hopes to avoid international terror financing watchlist as it seeks access to international financial markets

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JuD says it rejects ‘misleading and malicious assertions’ by the US State and Treasury departments [File-EPA]

Pakistan is hoping to head off an attempt by the Trump administration to exert further pressure over terrorism by putting the country on a global terror financing watch list, according to a senior Pakistani official.

Miftah Ismail, adviser to the country’s prime minister and Pakistan’s de facto finance minister, said that the country had in recent days undertaken a wide-ranging crackdown on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, which also is known as JuD and is blamed by the United Nations for the 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, which killed 166 people.

Washington has pressed Pakistan to take action against Islamist militants on its soil, and blamed the country for giving sanctuary to Afghan insurgents, announcing last month that it is withholding $2 billion in security assistance.

The international Financial Action Task Force, meeting in Paris next week, will consider a proposal by the U.S., co-sponsored by the U.K. and other Western governments, to put Pakistan on a list of countries that don’t comply with international regulations to squeeze financing of terrorist groups, said Mr. Ismail.

U.S. officials wouldn’t confirm that it had proposed Pakistan for the terror financing watch list, saying the process was confidential.

But the Treasury and other top Trump administration officials aired their concerns about Pakistan’s oversight of terror financing.

“The international community’s longstanding concerns about ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money-laundering/counterterrorism finance regime are well documented,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement.

A British official briefed on the matter echoed the sentiment. “It is important that Pakistan follows through on its FATF and UNSCR commitments to tackle the threat from terrorist groups,” the official said. “Whilst we recognize that Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorism, it has not made sufficient progress against the recommendations in FATF reports.”

Pakistan has seized some 200 properties belonging to JuD, including schools, religious seminaries, clinics and mosques. The government has taken over the group’s sprawling campus outside Lahore and, under a law passed this week, banned the group, said Mr. Ismail. The authorities also have seized more than 200 ambulances run by the group’s charity arm, he said.

“We’re taken the wind out of the sails of this proposal,” Mr. Ismail said, adding that the proposal focused on JuD. “We’ve basically done away with these organizations.”

In a statement, JuD said the government was closing down the group’s operations to please the U.S. and India. “This action has also affected thousands of poor people getting help from these institutions,” the group said.

It was unclear whether the Pakistan action, aimed at making Islamabad comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, would satisfy Washington and the other sponsors of the nomination. Even if it doesn’t assuage them, Pakistan hopes to get enough support from other countries to block the nomination.

It wasn’t immediately apparent if JuD’s headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, was still functional. The group’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, who was released by a Pakistani court from house arrest last year, lives in Lahore. JuD’s new political arm has taken part in a series of by-elections in recent months.

Being put on the FATF watch list likely would complicate the country’s ability to access international financial markets, add further scrutiny to international banking transactions, and create more red tape for Pakistan’s exporters. Pakistan was on the watch list from 2012 to 2015.

Greater damage would likely occur to the country’s reputation, as it seeks to attract foreign investment and project an image of a more “normal” country, said experts.

Washington’s concern over JuD, which targets India, is separate from its demand from Pakistan for action against the Taliban and the Haqqani network, which fight in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump has voiced his frustration over Pakistan, saying they “give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

Islamabad denies that there are any sanctuaries for militants on its territory and says that it has taken action against all groups “without discrimination”.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that Pakistan’s recent operations against the Taliban and related groups operating within the country weren’t adequate.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray (from left), CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo testify before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“The actions taken thus far do not reflect a significant escalation of pressure against these groups, and are unlikely to have a lasting effect,” Mr. Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Pakistan-based militant groups continue to take advantage of their safe haven to conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including U.S. interests therein.”

Last month, the Trump administration levied new sanctions against several Taliban financiers who the U.S. Treasury said have been fundraising in Pakistan.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com, Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com and Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com

 
 https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistan-seeing-new-pressure-from-the-west-moves-against-a-militant-group-1518660767
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French raid in Mali leaves at least 10 jihadists dead

February 15, 2018

AFP

© AFP | File photo of a French army Rafale warplane on its way to Gao, northern Mali

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-02-15

French air power on Wednesday killed at least 10 jihadists in northeast Mali near the border with Algeria, local and foreign military sources said.

French forces on Wednesday led at least one raid near Tinzaouatene, at the Algerian border, against the terrorists,” a local Malian military source told AFP.

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“There were at least 10 deaths and two vehicles were destroyed.”

An ex colonel in the Malian army who had defected, who is close to the jihadists’ leader, was killed in the raid, according to an army statement.

“This was the base of the head of the network, Iyad Ag Ghaly, at Tinzaouatene, which was the main target of the operation,” a foreign security source in Mali told AFP.

The offensive was part of France’s Operation Barkhane, active in Mali as well as four other former French colonies in west Africa Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.

These countries form the so-called G5 Sahel, a French-supported group that launched a joint military force to combat jihadists last year.

The Malian source said the French force had been conducting operations in northeastern Mali for several days.

A foreign military source confirmed that “several” raids had been carried out in the region on Wednesday, killing at least 10 jihadists.

Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

However large tracts of the country remain lawless despite a peace accord signed with ethnic Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.

On Tuesday in neighbouring Burkina Faso meanwhile, a policeman was killed and two were injured in an attack at a village near the eastern town of Fada N’Gourma, in a region that has largely escaped Islamist unrest.

The assailants’ identity was unknown.

Northern Burkina Faso has seen frequent attacks by suspected jihadists, with two police killed late last month in the town of Baraboule.

(AFP)

Israel strikes Hamas in Gaza after rocket fired

February 2, 2018

FILE Photo — A smoke trail is seen as a rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip November 15, 2012. (Reuters)

GAZA: Israeli forces struck a Hamas position in Gaza early Friday after a rocket was fired from the Palestinian enclave.

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“An aircraft targeted a Hamas observation post in the Gaza Strip,” an army statement said.
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The raid hit near Beit Hanoun in the north of the territory. There were no reports of any casualties, although a few nearby homes were damaged.
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Local resident Mohamed Abu Jarad said he and his family had been forced to flee their home after two missiles hit.
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The strike came hours after a rocket was fired at Israel from Gaza without causing damage.
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Such rockets are usually fired not by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the territory, but by fringe radical groups.
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Israel holds Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, responsible for any fire coming from Gaza.

US still aims to push Taliban into Afghan peace talks

January 30, 2018

Afghan security personnel arrive at a site after a car bomb exploded near the old Ministry of Interior building in Kabul on January 27, 2018, killing at least 17 people and wounding 110 others, in an attack claimed by the Taliban. (AFP)
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KABUL/PESHAWAR: The United States aims to press the Taliban on the battlefield to convince them that they will have to negotiate peace, a senior US diplomat said on Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump rejected talks following a series of attacks.
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Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, Trump condemned the Taliban for recent carnage in the Afghan capital Kabul, and said the United States was not prepared to talk now. He pledged to “finish what we have to finish.”
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Trump’s comments suggested he sees a military victory over the Taliban, an outcome that US military and diplomatic officials say cannot be achieved with the resources and manpower he has authorized.
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But US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a news conference in Kabul there was no change in the US policy of forcing the Taliban through military pressure into talks.
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Trump’s comments were a reflection of the violence over recent days which indicated “at least some members of the Taliban are not interested in having a discussion about a peaceful future,” Sullivan said.
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“That doesn’t change the long-range strategy of our policy which it to be firm militarily to convince the Taliban, or significant elements of the Taliban, that there isn’t a military solution to the security situation here, that ultimately peace and security of Afghanistan will be determined by peace talks.”
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Trump last year ordered an increase in US troops, air strikes and other assistance to Afghan forces.
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The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said this month the strategy was working and pushing the insurgents closer to talks.
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That was before a suicide bomber penetrated the highly guarded center of Kabul on Saturday and detonated an ambulance laden with explosives, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 235.
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That attack followed a brazen Taliban assault on the city’s Intercontinental Hotel on Jan. 20, in which more than 20 people, including four Americans, were killed.
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The Taliban said the attacks were a message to Trump that his policy of aggression would not work.
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’WAR-MONGERING’
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Earlier, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban had crossed a “red line” with attacks in Kabul and lost the chance for peace, and had to be defeated.
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“We have to look for peace on the battlefield,” said the spokesman, Shah Hussain Murtazawi.
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The surge of violence has also raised new questions about US relations with Pakistan, weeks after Trump denounced it for what he said was its failure to crack down on Taliban safe havens on its soil, and ordered big cuts in security aid.
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Pakistan denies accusations that it fosters the Afghan war, and has condemned the recent attacks in Afghanistan.
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A spokesman for the Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the US-backed government, said earlier they never wanted to talk to the United States anyway.
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“Their main strategy is to continue war and occupation,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
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“Donald Trump and his war-mongering supporters must understand that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you insist upon war, our mujahideen will not welcome you with roses,” he said.
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The United States believes the Haqqani network, a faction within the Taliban, was behind Saturday’s bomb blast in Kabul.
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It and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, and the Haqqani network in particular, as assets to be used in its bid to limit the influence of old rival India in Afghanistan.
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Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment on Trump’s rejection of peace talks but its embassy in Kabul cited Pakistani clerics as declaring suicide attacks unIslamic. (Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

Turkey’s major incursion into Syrian territory — Erdogan sees opportunity to elimate terrorists — Assad sees violation of Syrian sovereignty — UN Security Council meeting Monday

January 22, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Bulent Kilic with Stuart Williams and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbul | The Turkish military on Saturday launched operation “Olive Branch”, its second major incursion into Syrian territory during the seven-year civil war

HASSA (TURKEY) (AFP) – Turkey on Monday shelled Kurdish militia targets in Syria and claimed progress in a cross-border offensive that has stoked concern among its allies and neighbours.The Turkish military on Saturday launched operation “Olive Branch”, its second major incursion into Syrian territory during the seven-year civil war.

The operation, where Turkish war planes and artillery are backing a major ground incursion launched with Ankara-backed Syrian rebels and Turkish tanks, aims to oust the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from its enclave of Afrin.

Turkey considers the YPG to be a terror group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

But the operation is hugely sensitive as Washington relied on the YPG to oust Islamic State (IS) jihadists from their Syrian strongholds and the Kurdish militia now holds much of Syria’s north.

France has called for a UN Security Council meeting Monday to discuss concerns over flashpoint areas in Syria including the Turkish offensive.

– ‘A short operation’ –

Turkish television quoted military sources as saying the ground forces had already taken 11 villages in their advance into Syria.

“The cleaning up is taking place step-by-step,” was the headline in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily.

Meanwhile, Turkish artillery were firing shells on YPG targets inside Syria on the third day of the offensive.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 21 civilians — including six children — had been killed in the operation.

But Ankara has denied inflicting civilian casualties, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accusing the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies”.

The YPG also said it had been preventing the Turkish advance with fierce resistance but this has not been confirmed by Ankara.

“God willing, this operation will be finished in a very short time,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told supporters Sunday. “We will not take a step back.”

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said the operation would be short and would not have a negative effect on the economy.

“Investors should be calm,” he said. “This will be an effective, and limited operation and, God willing, it will be short.”

In a sign of the risks to Turkey, 11 rockets fired from Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli Sunday, killing one Syrian refugee and wounding 46 people, 16 of them Syrian, the local governor said.

The operation is Turkey’s second major incursion into Syria during the seven-year civil war after the August 2016-March 2017 Euphrates Shield campaign in an area to the east of Afrin, against both the YPG and IS.

– US urges restraint –

But as well as a complex military task, Turkey has to wage a sensitive diplomatic campaign to avoid alienating allies and provoking foes.

Western capitals are particularly concerned that the campaign against the YPG will take the focus away from eliminating IS after a string of successes in recent months.

In its first reaction, the US State Department urged Turkey “to exercise restraint” and ensure the operation remained “limited in scope”.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey had been “candid” and had provided Washington with advance warning of its operation.

Meanwhile Russia and Iran — who have a military presence in Syria and are working with Turkey on a peace process — have also expressed concern.

The Iranian foreign ministry said Tehran was closely watching the operation and expressed hope it would end immediately “so as to prevent the deepening of the crisis in northern Syria.”

The Russian foreign ministry voiced concern and urged Turkey to show restraint, while the defence ministry said its troops were withdrawing from the Afrin area to ensure their security and prevent any “provocation”.

– ‘Pay the price’ –

Erdogan has urged national solidarity over the operation and the government has reached out to leaders of the main nationalist and secular opposition parties.

But Erdogan warned those who respond to calls by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for protests will have to pay a “heavy price”.

The authorities on Monday detained 24 people on suspicion of disseminating “terror propaganda” in favour of the YPG and against the operation on social media.

Turkish anti-riot police on Sunday blocked protests in Istanbul and in Diyarbakir against the Syria offensive.

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by Bulent Kilic with Stuart Williams and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbul

Afghan Forces Retake Control of Kabul Hotel After Deadly Siege

January 21, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials declared that a 12-hour gun battle at Kabul’s largest hotel had ended on Sunday after security forces killed four assailants, a siege that left five civilians dead, trapped more than 100 guests and terrorized the country’s capital.

Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that all of the gunmen involved in the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel had been killed and that security forces were in control of all floors. While Mr. Danish initially said there had been three gunmen, a statement by the ministry put the number at four.

There was one foreigner among the five civilians killed, he added.

Even after the attack was declared over, a New York Times reporter at the scene continued to hear explosions and gunfire, which security officials attributed to a “clearance operation.”

Mr. Danish said six people had been wounded, including three members of security forces who fought the assailants in an overnight assault that rattled Kabul with small-arms fire and grenades. More than 100 guests hid in hotel rooms, some using cellphones to say goodbye to loved ones or to plead for help.

Mr. Danish said that 160 people had been rescued, including 41 foreigners. Their nationalities were not available.

The Taliban, usually quick to claim attacks, issued a statement declaring its responsibility 14 hours after the assault began. At least two senior Afghan officials said the country’s intelligence agency had reports that the Haqqani Network, a brutal arm of the Taliban, had planned the violence.

“The attack was carried out by #Pakistan based Haqqani Terrorist Network,” Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s chief executive, said on Twitter.

Insurgents armed with grenades and firearms stormed the hotel around 9 p.m. on Saturday, setting off an explosion and a fire. Most of the rooms were occupied, with at least 100 guests of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology staying there for a conference.

The attack comes amid intensifying violence around the country. In the northern province of Balkh, which has been at the center of a recent political showdown with the central government, at least 18 people were killed in an attack by the Taliban late Saturday, most of them members of the local police force, officials there said.

Sarajuddin Abed, the governor of Sholgara district, which includes the site of that assault, said that initial information suggested members of the local police had been poisoned before they were attacked, but that the incident was still under investigation.

In Kabul, helicopters and drones circled above the hotel for hours while guests hid inside, many cowering under beds or in toilet stalls. Television footage showed guests trying to climb out of windows with the help of makeshift ropes.

A man trying to escape from the hotel. Credit Omar Sobhani/Reuters

In a room on the second floor of the 200-room hotel, Haji Saheb Nazar, 45, an employee of Afghan Telecom, spent the night huddled in a bathroom, afraid to leave. After sunrise, he spoke on his cellphone in a whisper, nearly in tears. “It’s still going on, upstairs and downstairs,” he said. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

“My family is so worried about me, and they keep calling me,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on outside and how many of them are in the hotel. But if they are only four, why can’t police kill or arrest them?”

Another guest, Abdul Rauf, 48, said he had run through the halls of the hotel as an armed man was firing.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/21/world/asia/afghanistan-hotel-attack.html

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At least six dead in attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel — casualty toll expected to rise — Taliban claimed the attack

January 21, 2018

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Black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. Gunmen stormed the hotel in the Afghan capital on Saturday evening, triggering a shootout with security forces, officials said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) The Associated Press

The Associated Press

By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan’s capital killed at least six people, including a foreigner, and pinned security forces down for more than 13 hours before the last attacker was killed on Sunday, with the casualty toll expected to rise.

The heavily-guarded luxury hotel is popular among foreigners and Afghan officials. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the six killed included a foreigner and a telecommunications official from the western Farah province who was attending a conference.

Six other people, including three security forces, were reported wounded and more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, were rescued from the hotel, Danish said.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which began around 9 p.m. Saturday, saying five gunmen armed with suicide vests targeted foreigners and Afghan officials. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to attack the hotel Thursday night but postponed the assault because there was a wedding underway and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property, which is not part of the InterContinental chain of worldwide hotels.

The Interior Ministry said a private firm assumed responsibility for securing the hotel around three weeks ago. The ministry says it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building.

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.

A fire broke out at the hotel as the fighting raged, and the sound of explosions could be heard throughout the standoff. Live TV footage showed people trying to escape through windows on the upper stories.

Capt. Tom Gresback, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces were leading the response efforts. He said that according to initial reports, no foreign troops were hurt in the attack.

Neighboring Pakistan condemned the “brutal terrorist attack” and called for greater cooperation against militants. Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of failing to combat extremists along their long and porous border.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of massive attacks in recent years.

In the northern Balkh province, insurgents burst into a home where several members of a local pro-government militia were gathered late Saturday, leading them outside and killing 18 of them, said Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy provincial police chief. Among those killed was a tribal leader who served as the local police commander, he said.

In the western Farah province, a roadside bomb killed a deputy provincial police chief and wounded four other police early Sunday, according to Gen. Mahruf Folad, the provincial police chief.

The Taliban claimed both attacks.

In the western Herat province, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying 13 civilians, killing all but one of them, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant roadside bombs to target Afghan security forces.

Philippines: 6 soldiers injured in encounter with terrorist Maute group in Lanao del Sur

January 21, 2018
The military said six soldiers were slightly injured from the shrapnel during the firefight. AP/Bullit Marquez, File
ZAMBOANGA CITY — Government troops encountered remnants of ISIS-inspired Maute members that left six soldiers injured Saturday in a village of Masiu town, Lanao del Sur, according to the military.
The troops from Joint Task Force Ranao encountered 10 Maute members at early Saturday morning at Barangay Kalilangan, said Maj. Ronald Suscano, officer-in-charge of the Public Affairs Office of the Army 1st Division, based in Pulacan, Labanga town Zamboanga del Sur.
Suscano said the group which the soldiers encountered were Maute remnants and bombers.
He said the firefight erupted for 35 minutes that prompted the terrorists to withdraw.
Suscano reported that while the terrorists attempted to escape via the lake, the troops were able to sink off two motorboats carrying 10 militants.
The military said six soldiers were slightly injured from the shrapnel during the firefight.
The soldiers also recovered several high-powered weapons including one M203 launcher; two RPGs; three rounds of 60mm RPG; an anti-tank RPG ammunition; three 40mm ammunition; a hand grenade; two RPG fuses; a binocular; an ISIS flag; and several drug paraphernalia.
Suscano said the encounter was the first since the liberation of Marawi City from the Maute group last October 2017.
Maj. Gen. Roseller Murillo, 1st Army Division chief, directed the troops to continue the relentless hunt against the terrorists to prevent them from gaining strength.
“We shall continue to totally eliminate the remaining Daesh-inspired group in Lanao provinces and to sustain our efforts to prevent them establishing ‘Wilayat’ and Daesh ideology in our joint area of operation,” Murillo said in a statement.
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Duterte warns of fresh terror threat in the Philippines

January 18, 2018

 

Debris flies in the air as Philippine Air Force fighter jets bomb suspected locations of militants in the southern city of Marawi on June 9, 2017. Months after “neutralizing” the Daesh-linked militants, the Philippines is again on alert over fresh terror threats in the south. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned of a fresh terror threat against his country.

“Maybe it’s good to anticipate that there’s going to be (a terror attack) in the coming days,” Duterte said in a speech this week, amid reports that an increasing number of foreign fighters are now in the Philippines.

“They’d like to blow up (places where) people converge: In airports, seaports, and parks, because of what happened in the Mindanao provinces,” Duterte added, referring to the defeat of Daesh-backed militants who laid siege to Marawi City in Mindanao for five months last year.

“As I have said, the threat remains,” the president continued, adding: “My advice to our security forces, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police), in this matter of security against terrorism, is that no quarter should be asked, and no quarter given.”

Earlier, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana told the country’s elite special forces to prepare for a possible repeat of the Marawi siege in another city.

Lorenzana admitted authorities are looking into the reported entry of a number of foreign terrorists into the southern Philippines.

Mohaquer Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had previously warned that the defeat of the Maute group in Marawi City does not mean the defeat of Daesh-oriented groups in Mindanao.

“Expect that they will surface once again,” he said.

Talking to Arab News, Iqbal reiterated his statement on the increasing number of foreign fighters in the southern Philippines.

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Marawi after the battles ended

“What has been validated by our side is that there is a continuous inflow of foreign elements that are suspected to be Daesh-connected individuals,” Iqbal said.

The army recently reported they have identified 48 foreign terrorists currently in the Philippines and told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a number of terrorists had entered the southern Philippines posing as businessmen or tourists.

Iqbal confirmed that MILF’s intelligence backs up the army’s figures, saying, “We have around 90 percent validated (the presence of foreign terrorists). We have reliable reports to that effect.”

Some of those foreign terrorists arrived in the country after the Marawi siege ended in October, he said. Many arrived via the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan, and a number of them are “Caucasian-looking.”

Early this week, an article released by the Asian think tank Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said that the deaths of Filipino militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon — the Daesh-designated emir in Southeast Asia — and Omarkhayam Maute, “have not fundamentally reduced or removed the jihadi threat in the region.”

The article said that there are still four “key leaders” of Southeast Asian extremists: Amin Baco, Bahrumsyah, Abu Turaifie and Bahrun Naim.”

Baco, a Malaysian born in Sabah who built his jihadi credentials fighting in Basilan and Sulu, was reported to have been killed during the Marawi siege. But, on Wednesday, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the military was trying to verify information that, although wounded, Baco had managed to escape the Marawi siege and is now in Sulu with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Iqbal said he has no information about Baco’s whereabouts, but that Toraife — commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — has been regularly moving his location because of a series of military operations against his group.

“Recently he (Toraife) was in North Cotabato,” Iqbal claimed. “But he seems to have transferred from there already. They seem to be on the move constantly.”

However, Iqbal explained that Toraife and his group “are not a major threat at this point in time” as they lack the capacity to launch a major attack similar to the Maute Group’s siege of Marawi.

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Commentary: Why Pakistan continues to provide safe haven for the Afghan Taliban

January 13, 2018

 

January 13, 2018

Suspension of military aid and other forms of US coercion are unlikely to get Pakistan to change its support for the Afghan Taliban and other radical groups, says the Brookings Institution’s Vanda Felbab-Brown.

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Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against homegrown Islamist groups, and says it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars. (Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi)

WASHINGTON: The Trump Administration’s decision to suspend military aid to Pakistan is one of the most significant US punitive actions against Pakistan since 2001.

The US has long been frustrated with Pakistan’s persistent acquiescence to safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and its branch in Pakistan – both benefit more from misgovernance in Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s aid helps a lot.

Worse yet, Pakistan has provided direct military and intelligence aid to both groups, resulting in the deaths of US soldiers, Afghan security personnel and civilians, and significant destabilisation in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN’S LOGIC

Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbour to Afghanistan, hoping to limit India’s influence there, and cultivating radical groups within Afghanistan as proxies. It has augmented Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons and protection to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

Why does Pakistan act this way? It fears an unstable Afghanistan that becomes a safe haven for anti-Pakistan militant groups and a dangerous playground for outside powers, even though this has already happened.

Pakistan bets that the Taliban will maintain significant power and perhaps even obtain formal political power in Afghanistan one day and does not want to alienate it. The Taliban is Pakistan’s only ally among Afghanistan’s political actors, however reluctant and unfriendly an ally it may be.

Pakistan further fears that targeting Afghanistan-oriented militant groups will provoke retaliation in Pakistan’s Punjab heartland.

Its long refusal to fully sever support for these groups is a product of Pakistan’s lack of full control over the militant groups it has sponsored, even though it is loathe to admit it.

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Pakistan’s military has been battling militants in the country’s northwestern tribal regions. (File photo: AFP)

Such a disclosure of weakness would be costly: Reducing the omnipotent image of Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus with domestic audiences, including opposition politicians, and further encouraging misbehavior of militant groups.

Pakistan is also afraid of a strong Afghan government aligned with India, potentially helping to encircle Pakistan.

In his August 2017 speech on Afghanistan, US President Donald Trump invoked the India card to pressure Pakistan, calling for a greater Indian engagement in Afghanistan, but cushioning it by endorsing India’s economic engagement there.

That is not likely to moderate Pakistan’s behaviour. Instead, it can increase Pakistan’s paranoia of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, including its perceived support for Baloch separatist groups in Pakistan.

After President Trump’s speech, senior US officials sought to mitigate such fears, recognising Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan and saying that the US was keen to see and possibly facilitate an improvement in India-Pakistan relations.

AMERICA’S TOOLBOX

Suspending military aid to Pakistan and perhaps even permanently discontinuing it in the future if Pakistan does not change its behavior has been the most directly available coercive tool for the US.

But apart from the political outrage it has generated in Pakistan, the pain it delivers is limited. Parts of the US’s Coalition Support Fund, designed to enable Pakistan to go after counterterrorism targets and militant groups have been suspended for a long time because of Pakistan’s continued support for the Haqqanis.

US military aid to Pakistan also decreased by 60 per cent between 2010 and August 2017, without a significant impact on Pakistan’s behavior.

Moreover, Pakistan can seek aid from others. Russia is always looking for opportunities to undercut the US, and although direct military cooperation with Pakistan risks alienating India with significant cost for Russia, Russia no longer considers the Afghan Taliban a prime enemy in Afghanistan.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (centre), Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (left) and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif (right) at the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue. (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP)

Pakistan can also seek military assistance from China, long its steadfast ally. Although China does not want to see a further destabilisation of Afghanistan and an outward leakage of terrorism, it has not been willing to take punitive action against Pakistan’s support for the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban.

Finally, Pakistan can court Saudi aid, which Saudi Arabia may grant, including as an anti-Iran hedge. Thus, Pakistan can easily believe that it can ride out tensions with the US.

LIMITS ON US PRESSURE AND COUNTERMOVES

There are limits to US coercive power vis-à-vis Pakistan.

The US has interests in Pakistan beyond the Afghan conflict: Ensuring the stable control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, getting Pakistan to dispense with the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons (which could fall into terrorists’ hands), dissuading Pakistan from resurrecting its past nuclear proliferation activities, and preventing a major Pakistan-India war and Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks in India.

Moreover, the US wants to encourage democratisation, pluralisation and stronger civilian and technocratic governance in Pakistan. Just as there is a young, educated, well-meaning technocratic segment of the population battling it out against the warlords and parochial powerbrokers in Afghanistan, there are such reformist elements in Pakistan.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said in December 2017 that stronger military ties with India should not affect Pakistan. (File photo: AFP/John Thys)

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Pakistan can threaten any of these interests. It can discontinue cooperation on nuclear safety issues or suspend Pakistan-India nuclear confidence-building measures. It can also provoking border instability in the Punjab.

Most immediately, Pakistan can again shut down the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for US military logistics, including ground lines of transportation and air routes as it has done before. That would significantly hamper US military operations in Afghanistan.

It is highly unlikely that major US pressure would motivate Pakistan to fully sever its support for and desire to control the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, even though it could produce a temporary decrease in support for these groups.

Most likely, Pakistan will claim it is not supporting Afghanistan-oriented militant and terrorist groups and temporarily reduce its level of support for them. But it won’t sever the relationship fully, and will wait to increase it again.

ANY HAPPY SCENARIO?

There are three possible scenarios under which Pakistan could become motivated to dramatically reduce or altogether cut support for the Taliban and the Haqqani networks, and perhaps even start targeting their networks in Pakistan:

  • Pakistan-India relations significantly improve.
  • The military-intelligence apparatus loses its predominant power in the Pakistani government and becomes subordinated to an enlightened, capable and accountable civilian leadership. That means that both the Pakistani military and the country’s civilian politicians undergo a radical transformation.
  • Pakistan develops the political and physical resources and wherewithal, to tackle its own internally-oriented and metastasising terrorist groups, such as various Punjab Taliban groups. If those threats become mitigated, Pakistan may have more stomach to go after the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis.

To some extent, the US can help induce at least the last scenario by helping Pakistan develop politically-informed, sequential targeting counterterrorism strategies, focused on anti-Pakistani groups of regional and global concern.

 

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Dec 4, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

But the US’s ability to encourage the first two scenarios is highly limited.

US efforts at facilitating a Pakistan-India rapprochement, while critically defusing acute crises, have produced little lasting effect, with India systematically rejecting such a US role and Pakistan systematically failing to meet expectations.

Whenever some progress has been achieved, a terrorist spoiler or an institutional spoiler has effectively undermined the efforts.

The US’s capacity to promote a systematic change of political and power arrangements in Pakistan is highly limited as well, though Washington can and should provide sustained and patient support to the development of civil society, a technocratic class and rule-of-law institutions.

In addition, Washington can provide support by encouraging the growth and engagement of new economic interests in Pakistan that benefit from more peaceful relations with India and Afghanistan.

However, any such positive developments will likely take decades to fundamentally alter Pakistan’s internal power distribution and strategic calculus.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Centre for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. This commentary first appeared in the Brookings Institution’s blog. Read it here.

Source: CNA/sl
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