Pakistani Taliban assault military high school in Peshawar

Pakistani army personnel patrol the streets following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. – AFP

Pakistani army personnel patrol the streets following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. – AFP

LWJ, By

A suicide assault team from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (or Pakistani Taliban) stormed a military high school in Peshawar today. It is one of the deadliest jihadist attacks in the country’s history. According to initial reporting, the attackers have killed more than 130 people, including dozens of children.

At least six Taliban fighters armed with assault weapons and suicide vests entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this morning. The fighters fanned out through the school and killed everyone in their path, according to press reports.

Shahrukh Khan, a child who survived the attack by feigning death after being shot in both legs, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that the Taliban fighters were instructed to kill the students. The terrorists deliberately executed students who were already wounded.

“There are so many children beneath the benches, go and get them,” one Taliban fighter told another, according to Khan.

“The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again,” Khan stated. The fighters shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or Allah is greatest, as they executed the children.

Pakistani officials have stated that 131 people have been killed, including more than 100 students, but warned that the death toll may rise.

At least 15 explosions were heard during the fighting, Dawn reported. Pakistani security forces surrounded the building and assaulted as the Taliban continued to execute students and staff. The military claimed it killed six Taliban fighters, but more may have been involved in the attack. Troops are still searching the building for Taliban fighters and survivors.

Muhammad Khurasani, the official spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, claimed the gruesome assault and admitted that his fighters intentionally targeted civilians.

“We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” Khurasani said, according to Reuters. “We want them to feel the pain.” Khurasani is referring to the current Pakistani military operation in the tribal agencies of North Waziristan and Khyber, which are adjacent to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Pakistani military is targeting the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and jihadist organizations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but is leaving groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group alone.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has targeted military high school students in the past. In 2009, the jihadist group kidnapped hundreds of students as they fled their military school in Ramzak, North Waziristan. The Taliban ultimately released the students as part of a prisoner exchange.

The Taliban has also launched numerous attacks on soft targets such as churches, mosques, shrines, markets, hotels, and even hospitals. Thousands of civilians have been killed in those attacks since the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was formed in late 2006.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has also targeted the US. In an email first sent to The Long War Journal, the group claimed responsibility for the May 2010 attempted bombing in New York City’s Times Square. [See LWJ report, Pakistani Taliban claim credit for failed NYC Times Square car bombing.]

The US has targeted the organization’s top commanders as part of its drone campaign. Baitullah Mehsud, the group’s founder and first leader, was killed by an American missile in August 2009. In late 2013, Baitullah’s successor, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was also killed in an American airstrike. Hakeemullah had gloated over the failed Times Square attack in the group’s propaganda prior to his demise.

Hakeemullah was replaced by Mullah Fazlullah, but his appointment as emir of the Pakistani Taliban proved to be unpopular within the terrorist group’s ranks. Earlier this year, key constituencies that were part of Baitullah’s original coalition began peeling away to go on their own. Much of the group founded by Baitullah no longer answers to Fazlullah. One of the larger blocs to break away from Fazlullah’s leadership has rebranded itself as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Other commanders have reportedly pledged their allegiance to Islamic State emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

[For more on the dissolution of the original Pakistani Taliban alliance, see LWJ report: Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition.]

Taliban flexing muscle with high-profile attacks ahead of US drawdown

120214_sr_taliFox News, By Justin Fishel, Jennifer Griffin, Dec. 2. 2014:

The Taliban are flexing their muscle with a series of high-profile attacks in recent weeks, showing they are far from defeated as the U.S. prepares to withdraw most of its forces from Afghanistan at year’s end.

The Taliban have staged at least 12 attacks targeting foreigners in the past three weeks, many of them inside Kabul.

Although the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, has said any talk of a Taliban resurgence is “absolutely false,” critics who have watched the Islamic State sweep over Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal are looking on nervously.

The Afghanistan attacks come as the U.S. prepares to pull out all but nearly 10,000 troops.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a Fox News military analyst, said the current problem in Kabul was avoidable.

“We predicted that we were going to have major problems around Kabul and to the east of Kabul to the Pakistan border with the Haqqani network,” Keane said, referencing the powerful Pakistan-based Taliban affiliate. “The president did not give us the full number of surge forces, and then over General Petraeus’ objections, he pulled them out early.”

Aid and charity groups in the region are urging their workers to leave the country over the Christmas holidays. Even the Canadian Embassy issued an advisory to its citizens cautioning all of them to leave immediately.

“If you choose to travel to Afghanistan despite this warning, you are taking a serious risk. … If you are already in Afghanistan, you should leave,” the message said.

On Saturday, a guest house of the California-based charity, Partnership in Academics and Development, was attacked by Taliban gunmen who killed a South African family – a father and his teenage son and daughter.

The family had lived there for 12 years. The Taliban accused them of being Christian missionaries. The mother, a South African doctor who had been working at a Kabul health clinic, has decided to remain in Kabul in defiance of the Taliban’s attempt to frighten international aid workers.

It was the third high-profile attack on western-occupied guest houses in the past 10 days. On Sunday, the Kabul police chief resigned.

So far this year, 36 aid workers have been killed and 95 wounded.

South of Kabul in the Helmand Province, it took the Afghan security forces three days to expel Taliban fighters who last Thursday overran Camp Bastion, the former British and American Marine base handed over to Afghan security forces four weeks ago.

The bulk of the U.S. and international forces will depart at the end of December and plan to hand over all combat missions to the Afghans. About 9,800 American forces will stay to “advise and assist” the Afghan Security Forces.

Many believe the attacks on foreigners are strategically timed by the Taliban to coincide with a two-day international aid conference in London and a NATO summit Tuesday in Brussels, where Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, urged the international community to stay.

“I pay tribute to more than 3,400 NATO personnel who did the ultimate sacrifice of losing their lives,” he said. “What brings us together is a compelling case of mutual interest.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby says the recent attacks by the Taliban are not a cause for major concern.

“I think what we’re seeing in Afghanistan in the last week or so was to be expected,” Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. “I would not consider what they’re doing a resurgence.

“It’s not atypical for them, around periods of transition in Afghanistan, whether it’s an election, or now, coming up in December, the end of the combat mission, for them to try to scare the local populace and try to terrorize people with sporadic attacks. But those attacks have had no strategic effect and I might add that the Afghan National Security Forces and police reacted bravely and quickly to each one of those attacks.”

Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent. 

Also see:

Taliban claim freed ex-Gitmo prisoners visited by members of terror group

TalibanFox News, by Catherine Herridge, October 21, 2014:

The Taliban are claiming that two senior members of the Haqqani terror network recently visited the five former Guantanamo detainees who were traded for an American soldier, raising new questions about the terms of their one-year house arrest in Qatar and eventual release in the spring as U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.

The Taliban statement, first reported by the Long War Journal, claims that Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari, a military commander for southeastern Afghanistan, and associate Anas Haqqani were taken into Afghan custody after visiting the former Guantanamo detainees in Qatar earlier this month.

At least one of the visitors is said to be related to one of the five detainees under house arrest. Charles “Cully” Stimson, who oversaw detainee affairs under President George W. Bush and heads the Heritage National Security Law Program, told Fox News: “We know that family visits are allowed.”

He added: “I would expect that not only those two guys talked to the Taliban Five but others have already talked to them and they are in constant communications, preparing for their eventual return.”

While the Taliban’s claim of a visit has not been independently verified, the Taliban are not known to provide patently false statements. The release posted online alleges American involvement, saying the two visitors were captured afterward.

“While returning home on 12th October after spending about a week both were captured by the American forces in Bahrain from where they were sent back to Qatar and then handed over to Kabul via United Arab Emirates,” the statement says. “It must be mentioned that the above mentioned journey took place under the watchful eyes of America before both men were handed over to Kabul despite the freed Guantanamo detainees being assured that their relatives may visit them unharmed.”

Asked about the Taliban statement, and the reported meeting between known members of the Haqqani terror network and the former Guantanamo detainees, neither the government of Qatar nor the CIA provided comment. Significantly, no denial was issued.

The Pentagon, contacted about the report in advance of Tuesday’s briefing, appeared to be on the same talking points — also offering no denial, and no detail.

“I have nothing for you on that, right now. I’ll take it for the record and if I can get more information for you, I will but I have nothing for you on it right now,”Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said at Tuesday’s briefing. Asked if the Taliban claim was false, Kirby said, “I have nothing for you right now.I’ll see what I can do to get back to you.”

The Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn describes Anas Haqqani as “the youngest son of veteran jihadist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani,” and Qari Omari as the younger brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, a senior Taliban official and former Guantanamo detainee who is among the five held by Qatar.

“This provides an additional reason the ‘Taliban Five’ should not have been transferred as the younger Omari oversees suicide operations in south eastern Afghanistan,” Joscelyn said.

The five men in Qatar were part of the Obama administration’s controversial deal in May with the Taliban, to swap the Guantanamo detainees for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.Critics describe the five men as a kind of terror “dream team” because of their long-standing ties to the Taliban or Al Qaeda leadership.

“I don’t think we [the Bush administration] would have allowed the five to go to Qatar for a mere year under the conditions that we’ve read about,” Stimson said, adding: “I think we would have struck a much harder bargain than that and maybe forced them to stay in custody for five years or longer under house arrest conditions so that we had more assurances than the one-year deal.”

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Their 9/11 Role – The Taliban Five are even worse than you’ve heard

The Taliban’s Afghanistan “was the incubator for al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks,” the 9/11 Commission found. Another passage from the commission’s final report reads: “The alliance with the Taliban provided al Qaeda a sanctuary in which to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff terrorist schemes.”

MOHAMMAD FAZL

MOHAMMAD FAZL

BY THOMAS JOSCELYN:

One of the five senior Taliban leaders transferred to Qatar in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl played a key role in al Qaeda’s plans leading up to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mohammad Fazl, who served as the Taliban’s army chief of staff and deputy defense minister prior to his detention at Guantánamo, did not have a hand in planning the actual 9/11 hijackings. Along with a notorious al Qaeda leader, however, Fazl did help coordinate a military offensive against the enemies of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan the day before. And Osama bin Laden viewed that September 10 offensive as an essential part of al Qaeda’s 9/11 plot.

The 9/11 Commission found that the hijackings in the United States on September 11, 2001, were the culmination of al Qaeda’s three-step plan. First, on September 9, 2001, al Qaeda assassinated Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in a suicide bombing. Massoud’s death was a major gift to the Taliban because he was their chief rival and still controlled parts of the country. The assassination was also intended to weaken opposition to the Taliban and al Qaeda within Afghanistan before the United States could plan its retaliation for the most devastating terrorist attack in history. The Northern Alliance did, in fact, play a role in America’s response.

The following day, September 10, al Qaeda and the Taliban took their second step. A “delayed Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance was apparently coordinated to begin as soon as [Massoud] was killed,” the 9/11 Commission found. Fazl and one of bin Laden’s chief lieutenants, Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, played key roles in this setup for 9/11. At the time, al Iraqi oversaw what al Qaeda called the Arab 55th Brigade, which was Osama bin Laden’s chief fighting force inside Afghanistan and fought side by side with Mullah Omar’s forces.

According to a leaked Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment of Fazl, al Iraqi met with Fazl “on several occasions to include immediately following the assassination of [Massoud] in September 2001.” Al Iraqi “stated the Northern Alliance was demoralized after the assassination and [he] met with [Fazl] to immediately coordinate an attack with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance.”

Al Qaeda viewed both the assassination of Massoud and the offensive launched the following day as necessary components of the 9/11 plot. At first, Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders were said to be wary of any spectacular attack against the United States, as it would likely draw fierce retaliation from the world’s lone superpower. (The 9/11 Commission did find “some scant indications” that Omar “may have been reconciled to the 9/11 attacks by the time they occurred.”) The plan to attack the United States was controversial even within al Qaeda, with some senior leaders objecting to the idea.

But Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders believed, correctly, that the first two steps of their plan would ensure the Taliban’s continuing support. The 9/11 Commission found that as Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s military chief at the time, Mohammed Atef, “deliberated” the 9/11 hijackings “earlier in the year,” they “would likely have remembered that Mullah Omar was dependent on them for the Massoud assassination and for vital support in the Taliban military operations.” And, while the commission’s sources were “not privy to the full scope of al Qaeda and Taliban planning,” bin Laden and Atef “probably would have known, at least,” that the “general Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance” on September 10 “would rely on al Qaeda military support.”

The 9/11 Commission’s final report goes on to say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11, remembers Atef “telling him that al Qaeda had an agreement with the Taliban to eliminate Massoud, after which the Taliban would begin an offensive to take over [all of] Afghanistan.”

Mohammad Fazl’s cooperation with al Iraqi was, therefore, part of the plan KSM remembered.

As controversy over the deal for Sgt. Bergdahl has continued to swirl, current and former Obama administration officials have sought to draw a sharp distinction between the threat posed by the Taliban Five and al Qaeda.

“These five guys are not a threat to the United States,” former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said during an interview on NBC News last week. “They are a threat to the safety and security of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s up to those two countries to make the decision once and for all that these are threats to them. So I think we may be kind of missing the bigger picture here. We want to get an American home, whether they fell off the ship because they were drunk or they were pushed or they jumped, we try to rescue everybody.”

Read more at Weekly Standard

Hillary On The Taliban Five: ‘These Five Guys Are Not A Threat To The United States’

 

Clinton’s response went against conventional wisdom as well as President Obama

Truth Revolt, by Jeff Dunetz:

During her interview with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden asked Ms. Clinton about the five terrorists released by the Obama administration for Bowe Bergdahl. Going against conventional wisdom as well as President Obama, Clinton replied, “These five guys are not a threat to the United States.”

A segment of McFadden’s interview was broadcast on Wednesday’s Today Show on NBC. After reporting that Hillary would give herself an “A” for her record as Secretary of State, she asked Clinton about the five released terrorists.

McFadden: I think an awful lot of people think that we’re less safe today than we were a week ago because these five guys are out.

Clinton: These five guys are not a threat to the United States. They are a threat to the safety and security of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s up to those two countries to make the decision once and for all that these are threats to them. So I think we may be kind of missing the bigger picture here. We want to get an American home, whether they fell off the ship because they were drunk or they were pushed or they jumped, we try to rescue everybody.

Despite Ms. Clinton’s opinion, during a press conference in Poland last week President Obama said the released terrorists may end up being a danger to Americans:

“Is there a possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,” Obama told a news conference in Warsaw. “That’s been true of all the prisoners that were released from Guantanamo. There’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place.”

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Andrew McCarthy had this to say at PJ Media:

Notwithstanding that there are still thousands of American troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan and that it is a ripe dead certainty the five jihadist commanders with which President Obama has just replenished the Taliban will go back to the anti-American jihad—indeed, at least one of them is already bragging that he will do so—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NBC news Wednesday that the Taliban Five were not really a threat to the United States.

Mrs. Clinton, who also did not see much of a threat from the anti-American jihadists in Benghazi, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the al Qaeda-affiliated Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria during her tenure at the State Department, complained that it was critics of the administration who “were kind of missing the bigger picture here.” You see, “these five guys are not a threat to the United States. They are a threat to the safety and security of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

It was during the Bill Clinton administration that the Taliban was established, took over Afghanistan, and gave safe haven to al Qaeda. That was the arrangement that enabled bin Laden’s network to have a secure headquarters, expansive training camps, and the capacity to carry out attacks on American targets—including the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, and ultimately the 9/11 atrocities. As Tom Joscelyn has demonstrated, the five jihadist commanders Mrs. Clinton does not see as a threat to American national security were key players in cementing the alliance between the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Adopting Mrs. Clinton’s own reasoning, I don’t see the, shall we say, remarkable judgment she exhibited at the State Department as a threat to her presidential ambitions, not at all.

4 of ‘Taliban 5’ Will Likely Fight Again, U.S. Spies Say

1402356795295.cachedBy Eli Lake:
Obama’s top intelligence officers warned that four out of the five Taliban prisoners swapped for Bowe Bergdahl would return to the battlefield.
A top intelligence official told lawmakers in a classified Senate briefing last week that he expected four out of the five Taliban leaders released by the Obama administration to eventually return to the battlefield.

According to a pair of U.S. officials, the briefing from Robert Cardillo, a deputy director of national intelligence, represented the latest community-wide U.S. intelligence assessment on these Taliban Five, completed in 2013.

It also means that President Obama was faced with a particularly excruciating choice as he weighed whether or not to swap these five for American hostage Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The government of Qatar, which agreed to look after the five Taliban leaders as part of the deal for Bergdahl, warned that factions within the Taliban were growing impatient, and campaigning to kill Bergdahl instead of trading him.

“Time is not on your side,” they told U.S. negotiators, according to two senior defense officials. They described a growing split within Taliban and Haqqani Network (which held Bergdahl) over how to best use the soldier—a split confirmed by multiple Taliban and Afghan sources in the region.

Making matters more desperate for Bergdahl was the fact that in September a CIA drone killed Mullah Sangeen Zadran, the Haqqani Network commander who first captured Bergdahl, a move that could have scuttled any chance at all for a prisoner swap.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Bowe Bergdahl Dances With Wolves

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Regardless of whether Bergdahl was a collaborator who naively joined the Taliban to help the Afghan people, or whether he was captured after wandering off base, he most likely was repeatedly raped.

By Dawn Perlmutter:

Dances with Wolves is a 1990 film starring Kevin Costner as an army lieutenant who leaves his unoccupied American frontier military post because he is attracted to the lifestyle and customs of a Sioux Indian tribe. He learns their language, is accepted as an honored guest, and eventually abandons his post after he falls in love with one of their women. When U.S. army soldiers reoccupy the post the lieutenant is captured, arrested as a traitor, and charged with desertion. While being transported back east as a prisoner, the Sioux track down the convoy, kill the soldiers, and free the lieutenant. The film ends with him riding into the mountains with his Sioux wife. This liberal love story—similar to many others that demonize the white man and the military, as well as misrepresent the barbarism of their enemies—is the type of fairytale that may have inspired Bowe Bergdahl to walk off into the mountains of Afghanistan.

Like Kevin Costner in the film, Bergdahl began learning the native language of Pashto, and reportedly spent more time with the Afghans than he did with his platoon. A few days before he went missing, he told his parents in an e-mail that he “was ashamed to be an American,” and that “the horror that is America is disgusting.” Several news reports claimed that the night he disappeared from his base in Afghanistan he left a note in his tent saying “he wanted to renounce his citizenship and go find the Taliban.”

Bergdahl’s disillusionment seems to be based upon a combination of the belief in the mythology of the Noble Savage and liberal propaganda derived from postcolonial and anti-hegemonic theory that interprets history, politics, and culture in the context of Western domination and oppression. This form of disillusionment is perpetuated in Hollywood films and revisionist history that portray white men as the oppressors in every conflict regardless of factual historical accounts. Dances with Wolves depicted the Sioux as pacifists and environmentalists when they were the most bloodthirsty of all the Plains Indian tribes, raping, pillaging, and torturing people for entertainment.

Bergdahl seemed to have similar misconceptions idealizing the Taliban and not understanding the threat. His fellow platoon members contend that he was a deserter. If that is the case, then similar to the army lieutenant in the film Dances with Wolves, Bergdahl “Turned Injun,” a pejorative, but accurate expression for traitors who willingly convert to their enemies’ ideology and adopt their traditions, language, and customs.

“Turning Injun” should not be equated with “Stockholm Syndrome,” in which a person is taken hostage and may begin to sympathize and identify with their captives. The difference is significant: the latter relinquishes culpability. By choosing to abandon his unit Bergdahl was not a typical hostage who was taken captive eventually suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, rather he was a victim of liberal idealism who was mugged by reality. His suffering involved severe disillusionment — the result of bitter disappointment that the Taliban whom he idealized as the Noble Savage turned out simply to be savages.

Conflicting reports of Bergdahl converting to Islam and working with the Taliban while also trying to escape has provoked disagreement and contradictory interpretations of the situation. Understanding some of the Taliban sexual practices may explain some of the inconsistency in Bergdahl’s behavior. The Taliban are ethnic Pashtun who combine Islam with their Pastunwali honor code, often resulting in differences in perceptions of honor and shame particularly as it relates to sexuality. A practice that is designated as strictly taboo in Islam but widely practiced by the Pashtun and Taliban is sex between men. Pashtun reject the label of homosexuality and describe relationships with other men as something they do, not who they are. In addition, it is common for men to have sexual relationships with young boys. Pashtun men shun women both socially and sexually and one of their most popular sayings is “women are for children, boys are for pleasure.” For Pashtun men, having a young boy lover (ashna) is not only not taboo, but increases status and reputation. This is exemplified in a prevalent cultural practice called “bacha bazi,” or “boy play.”

Read more at Front Page

Assault on Pakistan Airport Signals Taliban’s Reach and Resilience

Relatives and colleagues of airport security personnel killed in the attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan, gathered near the coffins after funeral prayers. ATHAR HUSSAIN / REUTERS

Relatives and colleagues of airport security personnel killed in the attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan, gathered near the coffins after funeral prayers.
ATHAR HUSSAIN / REUTERS

By DECLAN WALSH:

London –  Only a week ago the Pakistani taliban appeared to be on the ropes. Violent rivalries had split the insurgency in two. Peace talks with the government had collapsed. Military jets had pounded militant hide-outs in the tribal belt.

A squad of militant commandos, disguised as government security forces, stormed Karachi’s international airport after dark. They carried food, water and ammunition, apparently in preparation for a long siege, and big ambitions: perhaps to hijack a commercial airliner, government officials said Monday, or to blow up an oil depot, or to destroy airplanes on the tarmac.

The 10 attackers were dead five hours later, shot by soldiers or blown up by their own suicide vests. Yet the audacious nature of the assault shook Pakistan to its core, offering a violent reminder that for all its divisions, the Taliban remain an astonishingly resilient force.

It has kept a reach far beyond its tribal redoubt along the Afghan border, with an ability to penetrate the country’s busiest airport in the largest city. And the discovery that Uzbek jihadis were among the attackers underscores how, even in splinters, the Taliban can draw on an international militant network to conduct sophisticated attacks — which means trouble not just for Pakistan’s government and military, but for American interests in Afghanistan.

The determined attack seems to bear out earlier warnings by counterterrorism experts that the Taliban split two weeks ago was unlikely to erode the group’s capacity for mayhem.

“It’s become a hydra-headed monster,” said Najmuddin Shaikh, a retired head of Pakistan’s foreign service. “They had limited success in Karachi, but maybe that was just our good luck.”

Key to the Taliban’s strength is the web of alliances it has cultivated with fellow militant groups in North Waziristan, the tribal district along the Afghan border that since 2001 has evolved into a vibrant global hub of jihadi money, ideology and fighters — Punjabis, Chechens, Arabs, Central Asians, Afghan Taliban and a smattering of Westerners.

The Taliban’s major ally is the Haqqani network, a formidable force in the Afghan insurgency that held the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl hostage for five years until his release on May 31. But they have other allies too — fighters whose militancy was born elsewhere, but who have joined in the Taliban fight.

Chief among them are the Uzbeks, hard-bitten fighters who followed Osama bin Laden into Pakistan after September 2001, and who have since become an important element of the Taliban insurgency, offering Pakistan fighters what experts call a deep bench of militant training and expertise.

Read more at New York Times

Taliban Rising

Taliban-fighters-in-Afgha-001by Arnold Ahlert:

While Obama administration officials and their media allies are furiously attempting to spin the swap of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five high-level Taliban terrorists in their favor, the other side of the equation is weighing in as well. Taliban leaders are expressing jubilation over the trade, hailing it as a major recognition of their status and boon to their cause. The Taliban is seeking to solidify legitimacy as a political force in Afghanistan in the face of the imminent U.S. drawdown, after which less than 10,000 soldiers will remain in the country. With the Bergdahl exchange, the Taliban has achieved a major propaganda victory that will further aid its ascendancy in the country — on top of the benefit the return of several of its top operatives will offer as a consequence of the deal.

Details of the internal assessment of the Bergdahl swap come from a TIME magazine interview with two Taliban commanders. “This is a historic moment for us. Today our enemy for the first time officially recognized our status,” one commander said. “[T]hese five men are more important than millions of dollars to us.” When asked if this exchange would inspire the Taliban to capture other Americans, he responded succinctly. “Definitely,” he said. “It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” the commander added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”

According to the magazine, the Taliban was well-prepared to engage in a media campaign of their own with regard to the swap. Those who were selected to hand Bergdahl over rehearsed messages they wished to deliver to the American public, and a videographer was assigned to cover the exchange to help shape the narrative. The white tunic and trousers that Bergdahl wore were also part of the equation, as a tailor was commissioned to create the clothes for the event as a “gesture of respect.”

TIME allowed a second Taliban commander affiliated with the Haqqani network that was holding Bergdahl captive to humanize the terrorist organization. “You know we are also human beings and have hearts in our bodies,” the commander said. “We are fighting a war against each other, in which [the Americans] kill us and we kill them. But we did whatever we could to make [Bergdahl] happy.”

The resulting propaganda video documenting the exchange also shows a woven scarf draped across Bergdahl’s shoulders. The commander says it was a parting gift, further explaining that Bergdahl had made several friends among his captors. “We wanted him to return home with good memories,” the commander said. Shortly thereafter, the video also shows something else that accrues mightily to the interests of the Taliban: the hero’s welcome the five released detainees received when they landed in Qatar, followed by a jubilant raising of the Taliban flag.

Despite its negotiations with the Taliban to free Bergdahl, the White House initially refused to define the group’s status. When asked Monday if the Taliban was a terrorist group, outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dodged the question. “We don’t get to choose our enemies when we go to war,” Carney responded. “We regard the Taliban as an enemy combatant in a conflict that has been going on, in which the United States has been involved for more than a decade. In this case–as you know we dealt with the Qataris in order to secure [Bergdahl’s] release–it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

The semantical gymnastics continued on Tuesday, when White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden explained that a 2002 executive order added the Taliban to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), while its designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) is omitted from the list compiled by the State Department. Why remains a mystery, considering the fact that both the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani Network thought to be holding Bergdahl are on the list.

Unsurprisingly, the administration chose to sidestep the issue, choosing to push the narrative that Bergdahl was a prisoner of war (POW), rather than a hostage. “Sgt. Bergdahl was not a hostage, he was a member of the military who was detained during the course of an armed conflict,” Hayden continued. “The United States does not leave a soldier behind based on the identity of the party to the conflict… It was a prisoner exchange. We’ve always done that across many wars. With the Germans. The Japanese. The North Koreans.”

Such an effort is at odds with reality. In the five years Bergdahl was missing, the Pentagon never listed him as a POW. When he first disappeared, he was listed as “duty status whereabouts unknown.” Two days later it was changed to “missing/captured,” where it remained until his release. Detainees at Guantanamo Bay have never been referred to as POWS either, largely reflecting the reality that terrorists are international gangsters rather than soldiers of a nation state.

Read more at Front page

Taliban Hails Prisoner Swap as “Victory”

bowe-bergdahl-IP

The prisoner swap is a tremendous morale boost for the Taliban and its allies who are eagerly looking for evidence that they are winning.

By Ryan Mauro:

The U.S. government’s decision to swap five senior Taliban commanders that collaborated with Al-Qaeda for an American soldier (who may have been a deserter) is being heavily criticized for valid reasons. Now, the Taliban is describing it as a “victory” attributable to Allah’s blessing.

“This huge accomplishment brings the glad tidings of liberation of the whole country and reassures us that our aspirations are on the verge of fulfillment,” said Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Omar reiterated his commitment to winning the release of “all those who have been imprisoned for defending the honor and freedom of their country.” We should therefore expect more Americans to be kidnapped, since the prisoner swap has proven the tactic to be fruitful.

Taliban spokesperson dismissed the idea that the swap would lead to political reconciliation, stating, “It won’t help the peace process in any way, because we don’t believe in the peace process.”

The five Taliban commanders will move to Qatar and cannot leave for one year. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says Qatar has an arrangement with the U.S. to make sure the commanders don’t pose a threat to the U.S.,  but this is the same U.S. “ally” that supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The Qatar-based spiritual leader of the Muslim BrotherhoodSheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, was a key mediator.

Read more at Clarion Project

Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner exchange ‘won’t help the peace process in any way’

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, "It won't help the peace process in any way, because we don't believe in the peace process"

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, “It won’t help the peace process in any way, because we don’t believe in the peace process”

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One of the Taliban’s top spokesmen said that the recent prisoner exchange between the US and the Taliban will do nothing to further US hopes for reconciliation in Afghanistan as the Taliban “don’t believe in the peace process.”

The exchange of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who reportedly went absent without leave while on duty in Paktika province in 2009, for five senior al Qaeda-linked Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay took place over the weekend. The five Taliban leaders, who were deemed “high” risks to the US and its allies by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), include two accused of war crimes by the UN.

The five freed Taliban commanders have been identified as Abdul Haq Wasiq, an intelligence official; Mullah Norullah Noori, senior military commander; Mullah Mohammad Fazl, the Taliban’s former deputy minister of defense; Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, the Taliban’s former governor of Herat province; and Mohammad Nabi Omari, a senior leader. JTF-GTMO had previously recommended that all five remain in custody as they posed a threat to the US. [See LWJ reports, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl exchanged for top 5 Taliban commanders at Gitmo, and Taliban says ‘five senior leaders’ have been ‘liberated’ from Guantanamo.]

The prisoner exchange took place over the course of several months of negotiations between the US and the Taliban which were brokered by the government of Qatar. The five Taliban leaders have been sent to Qatar and are banned from travel for one year.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had told NBC’s Meet the Press that the US is hopeful that the negotiations that led to the prisoner exchange can further reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“So maybe this will be a new opening that can produce an agreement,” between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Hagel said yesterday.

Within hours, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid shot down Hagel’s optimism for reconciliation.

“It won’t help the peace process in any way, because we don’t believe in the peace process,” Mujahid said.

Instead of portraying the exchange as the beginning of reconciliation, Taliban emir Mullah Mohammed Omar called the release of the five commanders a “great victory” and a “huge and vivid triumph.” The Taliban also published photos of the five released commanders as they arrived in Qatar. [See LWJ report, Mullah Omar hails release of 5 top Taliban commanders as ‘great victory’.]

“This huge accomplishment brings the glad tidings of liberation of the whole country and reassures us that our aspirations are on the verge of fulfillment,” Omar said, according to a statement released yesterday at the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad.

Read more at Long War Journal

To Free Five Jihadists

guant-450x254by Mark Tapson:

“It was an extraordinary day for America,” said National Security Advisor Susan Rice on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, referring to the announcement of a deal that would free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Afghan captivity after five years. Indeed it was an extraordinary day: it was a day when we signaled to the world that America officially caves in to terrorists for hostages.

Well, not America herself, but President Barack Obama specifically. Obama, who has openly expressed frustration with the Constitutional constraints of checks-and-balances on his dictatorial impulses, circumvented Congress’ collective back to clinch a deal that would free five of the most dangerous guests at Club Med Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl. Even the Afghan government condemned it as a breach of international law.

His administration denies, of course, that it broke any laws or this country’s longstanding policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. Bergdahl wasn’t a “hostage,” claimed our anti-war, anti-Israel, anti-military, anti-American exceptionalism Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: “We didn’t negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl is a prisoner of war. That’s a natural process.” What does that even mean? Is he saying we didn’t negotiate, or that the enemy aren’t terrorists? A prisoner of war can’t be a hostage? Sorry, but a prisoner of war becomes a hostage the moment the enemy makes demands for his safe return. A “natural process”? That phrase is meaningless.

I should concede that Hagel is technically correct: we didn’t negotiate, because giving the enemy exactly what they ask for isn’t negotiation – it is capitulation. Though America should not abandon her dead, wounded, or captured warriors, trading five Taliban leaders for one soldier who deserted after expressing his disgust for our own military is surrender, not a successful trade that benefits American interests. Bergdahl reportedly emailed his parents that “the US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,” that he was “ashamed to even be an American,” and that “the horror that is America is disgusting.” Some report that he converted to Islam during his captivity and, outrageously if true, trained his captors in bomb-making and ambush skills.

And let’s get this clear about Bergdahl – he didn’t “wander” off base that June day in 2009, as the media so often put it, like a lost toddler; if reports from the ground are to be believed (and they are), he intentionally and premeditatedly deserted. In the wake of that, at least six good American soldiers died or were wounded in search attempts. Their names:  Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen, Pfc. Morris Walker, Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss, 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, Pfc. Matthew Michael Martinek, and Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey. Their families and friends have suffered a far greater loss than the Bergdahl parents.

As Jake Tapper reports, “other operations were put on hold while the search for Bergdahl was made a top priority… Manpower and assets – such as scarce surveillance drones and helicopters – were redirected to the hunt. The lack of assets is one reason the closure of a dangerous combat outpost, COP Keating, was delayed. Eight soldiers were killed at COP Keating before it was ultimately closed.” What punishment will Bergdahl face? An anonymous senior Defense official told CNN that he will not likely face any: “Five years is enough.”

Meanwhile our enemy rejoices. Five more dangerous Guantanamo terrorists are back in the field to plot havoc against American infidels, to kill and wound more American soldiers, soldiers who are already fatally hamstrung by Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan that don’t even allow them to engage unless they’re already under attack – and sometimes not even then. Taliban leader Mullah Omar rightfully declared the trade a “great victory.” It will result in more Americans – and not just soldiers – being targeted for hostages, because terrorists everywhere now know that that will pay off.

Read more at Front Page

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SGT. BERGDAHL: WHAT WE ARE NOT BEING TOLD

bowe-bergdahl-usarmyBreitbart, by DR. SEBASTIAN GORKA:

The inconsistencies and suspicious aspects of Sgt. Bergdahl’s release and exchange for five Taliban commanders would strain the credulity of an episode of the national security drama Homeland.

Unfortunately, however, this is reality and part of a war in which thousands of Americans, civilian and uniformed alike, have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Those in the administration who authorized negotiations with the terrorists who are ideologically allies to those responsible for the murders of September 11th, 2001 will have to answer these questions:

    • How did Sgt. Bergdahl fall into the hands of the Enemy? The official version is that he left his post without permission, yet on a video his captors released, Bergdahl says he was the Tail-End Charlie of a foot patrol and became separated. Which is it? Did he go AWOL? Will he be charged with desertion?
    • Why did his father – who wears a full beard typical of fundamentalist Salafi Muslims – praise Allah in Arabic in the press conference with the Commander-in-Chief in front of the White House?
    • Why did the Haqqani Network, one of the deadliest jihadi groups in the world, agree to exchange Bergdahl for five commanders from the Afghan Taliban who are not members of the Haqqani Network? Instead of, for example, for Mali Kahn another Guantanamo detainee who is a senior Haqqani commander.
    • According to his friends and those that know him, Bergdahl joined the military in order to help the Afghan people and provide “philanthropic support to the war effort.” When did we change US Armed Forces recruiting protocols and start looking for charity workers instead of professional soldiers for our infantry?
    • At the strategic level, what response will the administration have to all the allied nations, including France, Spain, and Italy, to whom we have insisted since 2001 that they do not negotiate with terrorists for the release of their nationals and who did as we requested?
  • Lastly, what other concessions is the Obama White House prepared to make with the Enemy?

With this move, more than any other, President Obama violated a fundamental premise of American National Security which has both a moral and strategic rationale: that we do not negotiate with terrorists.

We do not negotiate with terrorists because in their willful targeting of the weak they embody evil, and because when you give in to evil, evil grows.

Now we have sent a message to all jihadists around the world: capture an American and America will do your bidding.

Dr. Sebastian Gorka has been appointed to Major General Horner Chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University and is National Security Affairs Editor for Breitbart.com.

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Obama Replenishes the Taliban … Or ‘How Wars End in the 21st Century’

rgBy Andrew C. McCarthy:

President Obama finally completed the prisoner swap he has been pleading with the Taliban for years to accept. While the president draws down American forces in Afghanistan and hamstrings our remaining troops with unconscionable combat rules of engagement that make both offensive operations and self-defense extremely difficult, the Taliban get back five of their most experienced, most virulently anti-American commanders.

In return, thanks to the president’s negotiations with the terrorists, we receive U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl—who, according to several of his fellow soldiers, walked off his post in 2009 before being captured by the Taliban. (For more on this, see Greg Pollowitz’s post at The Feed.) This was shortly after Sgt.Bergdahl reportedly emailed his parents that “The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at”; that he was “ashamed to even be an American”; and that “The horror that is America is disgusting.”

Sgt. Bergdahl’s father, Robert, was by Mr. Obama’s side during Saturday’s Rose Garden press conference, at which the president announced Sgt. Bergdahl’s return but carefully avoiding mention of the jihadi-windfall the Taliban received in exchange. Mr. Bergdahl is an antiwar activist campaigning for the release of all jihadists detained at Guantanamo Bay. His Twitter account, @bobbergdahl, has apparently now deleted a tweet from four days ago, in which he said, in echoes of Islamic supremacist rhetoric, “@ABalkhi I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child,ameen!”

We have been warning for years here that Obama was negotiating with the Taliban—even as he duplicitously bragged that the U.S. had “removed the Taliban government.” The president and his minions reportedly even turned for mediation help to Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi—the top Muslim Brotherhood sharia jurist who issued a fatwa in 2003 calling for violent jihad against American troops and support personnel in Iraq. (Indeed, the administration has hosted Qaradawi’s sidekick, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah—who also signed the fatwa—at the White House for consultations … and the State Department was embarrassed to be caught touting bin Bayyah just a week ago.)

Nearly two years ago, I noted that Obama had just sweetened the pot on a longstanding offer to release the five Taliban leaders—beseeching the Taliban just to agree to participate in Afghan peace talks, not to make any actual concessions (other than freeing Sgt. Bergdahl). As Reuters reported at the time:

The revised proposal, a concession from an earlier U.S. offer, would alter the sequence of the move of five senior Taliban figures held for years at the U.S. military prison to the Gulf state of Qatar, sources familiar with the issue said. U.S. officials have hoped the prisoner exchange, proposed as a good-faith move in initial discussions between U.S. negotiators and Taliban officials, would open the door to peace talks between militants and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The revised proposal would send all five Taliban prisoners to Qatar first, said sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. Only then would the Taliban be required to release Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. prisoner of war. Previously, U.S. officials had proposed dividing the Taliban prisoners into two groups, and requiring Bergdahl’s release as a good-faith gesture to come before the second group of prisoners would be moved out of Guantanamo.

The Obama administration has never designated the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization. (The Bush State Department similarly failed to designate the Taliban, although President Bush did designate the group as a terrorist organization in an executive order that, pursuant to a congressional statute, criminalized the conducting of various financial transactions with it.) In 2012, the Obama White House made much of the fact that it finally designated a close Taliban confederate, the Haqqani network, as a terrorist organization. But as Eli Lake reported earlier this year, the administration refrained from using the designation to seize assets—which is the whole point.

Plain and simple, President Obama has never had any intention to confront and defeat the Taliban. As I observed back in 2009, General Stanley McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, pronounced in a memo explaining U.S. strategy that the war in that country was the Afghans’ war, not ours. In his estimation, our troops’ primary reason for being there was not to defeat America’s enemies but to enable the Afghans to build a better life, and therefore “our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population”—meaning, to protect Afghans.

Read more at National Review

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Five of the Most Dangerous Taliban Commanders in U.S. Custody Exchanged for American Captive

1401564097262.cachedBy Thomas Joscelyn:

The Obama administration announced today that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held by the Taliban for several years, has been freed from his captors. Reading the stories of his newfound freedom it is impossible not to feel joy for Bergdahl and his family. NBC News reports that Bergdahl held up a sign once he was on board an American helicopter that read, “SF?” The operators quickly confirmed that they were in fact U.S. Special Forces: “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

“On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal,” President Obama said in a statement. The president rightly noted: “Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”

Unfortunately, America is not the only party in this war that is committed to leaving no man behind. So are the Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked groups. But the president did not say who America exchanged for Bergdahl: five of the most dangerous Taliban commanders in U.S. custody.

The Taliban has long demanded that the “Gitmo 5” be released in order for peace talks to begin in earnest. The Obama administration has desperately sought to engage the Taliban as American forces are drawn down in Afghanistan, but those talks have gone nowhere to this point.  At first, the administration set preconditions for the talks, including that the Taliban break its relationship with al Qaeda. When it became clear that this was a non-starter, the administration decided to make the Taliban’s desired break with al Qaeda a goal, and no longer a precondition, for its diplomacy.

There is little hope that the peace talks will be more successful now. But the president seems to believe that Bergdahl’s exchange for the Gitmo 5 (who are reportedly being transferred to Qatar) may break the ice. “While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground,” Obama said in his statement.

The Obama administration says that security measures have been put into place to make sure that the Gitmo 5 do not pose a threat to American national security. Let’s hope that is true; it certainly has not been the case with many ex-Gitmo detainees in the past.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has profiled these jihadists previously on multiple occasions, and what follows below is culled from these accounts.

There are good reasons why the Taliban has long wanted the five freed from Gitmo. All five are among the Taliban’s top commanders in U.S. custody and are still revered in jihadist circles.

Two of the five have been wanted by the UN for war crimes. And because of their prowess, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed all five of them “high” risks to the U.S. and its allies.

The Obama administration wants to convince the Taliban to abandon its longstanding alliance with al Qaeda. But these men contributed to the formation of that relationship in the first place. All five had close ties to al Qaeda well before the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, it is difficult to see how their freedom would help the Obama administration achieve one of its principal goals for the hoped-for talks.

Here are short bios for each of the five Taliban commanders. All quotes are drawn from declassified and leaked documents prepared at Guantanamo.

Read more at Weekly Standard

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