Hunt for Taliban insurgents intensifies in Pakistan

Carly Nyst
14 September 2009

The top Taliban leader in Swat Valley was the target of intensified Pakistan military action over the weekend, Pakistani officials have reported. Sixteen militants, including two senior Taliban members, were killed in the hunt for self-styled cleric Fazlullah, the reputed chief of the Taliban in Swat. A senior military official remarked that Pakistan's security forces had surrounded Fazlullah, and were close to capturing the leader. As the hunt intensified, a U.S. drone launched a missile strike in the area near the Afghan border, killing four other militants.

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The toD verdict: As the Pakistani military directed its efforat at eliminating Taliban forces in Pakistan over the weekend, officials and strategists met in Geneva at an event hosted by Britain's International Institute for Strategic Studies, to discuss the potential effect of Western military disengagement from Afghanistan. The former British High Commissioner in Pakistan, Hilary Synnott, rebuffed critics of Western strategy to remain in Afghanistan and intensify military efforts. Synnott warned of the ‘very great consequences of perceived American defeat,' adding that ‘there is real concern about Pakistan, with five times the population of Afghanistan, which has nuclear weapons and which has a new Pakistani Taliban threatening the state itself.' Western officials recognised that the instability which would result if American and NATO troops were to withdraw from the conflict would ultimately require an even bigger Western involvement, and Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, concurred, warning that the cost of a withdrawal ‘will be way higher than what you are spending right now.'

Nevertheless, participants at the meeting gave sober assessments of the situation in Afghanistan, described as being ‘in extremis' by Harlan Ullman, an adviser to the American thinktank, Atlantic Council. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, warned that Western powers involved in Afghanistan are at risk of suffering humiliation similar to that faced by the Soviet Union if they are unable to curb the growing insurgency and counter the Afghan perception that they are foreign invaders. Recognising that ‘Afghans have a well-established, historically-rooted attitude that does not look with favour upon foreigners with guns in their country,' Brzezinski welcomed a call by Britain, Germany and France for an international conference to reassess the situation and set targets for the withdrawal of Western troops.

Bin Laden calls Obama 'powerless' on 9/11 anniversary

A video ‘statement to the American people,' thought to show Osama Bin Laden, has appeared on the al-Sahab website, two days after the eight-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York City. Bin Laden used the 10-minute address to warn Obama that, unless the US withdraws from Afghanistan, al-Qaida will ‘continue the war of attrition against [US and NATO forces] on all possible axes.' According to a number of intelligence groups which translated the address, the al-Qaida leader called Obama ‘a powerless man who will not be able to end the war as he promised.'

Bin Laden blamed the continuing war in Afghanistan on US allegiance to the ‘pro-Israel lobby,' maintaining that the only way to secure peace in Afghanistan was the total withdrawal of support for Israel.

Venezuela secures $2 billion military loan from Russia

Russia and Venezuela have signed an agreement which will allow Venezuela to borrow $2 billion from Russia to purchase tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles. Chavez announced the agreement on Sunday after visiting Moscow last week. The deal will allow Venezuela to buy 82 tanks and an S-300 missile system capable of targeting fighter jets and cruise missiles.  

Chavez maintained that the weaponry was designated for a purely defensive purpose, expressing concerns that the United States could potentially attack Venezuela to secure its oil reserves. He also announced that Moscow was helping Venezuela develop nuclear energy, but that the country had no intention of developing a nuclear weapon.

The partnership between the two countries is a yet another concerning display of Moscow's anti-American attitude. Russia has previously sold over $4 billion in weapons to Chavez, who is a fierce critic of US foreign police, and who is presently involved in a dispute with Columbia over a deal to allow more US army bases on Columbian territory.

Hundreds arrested in Uganda riots

Police arrested at least 640 people as fighting raged in Kampala between government forces and loyalists of a traditional kingdom last week. Ugandan police chief Kale Kayihura reported that 14 people had died in the three day riots, with 82 people reporting injuries. Tensions flared last Thursday when the government announced that the head of Buganda kingdom, Kind Ronald Mutebi II, would be prevented from travelling to an area claimed by Buganda but controlled by a rival group. Young Burgandans took to the streets in protest, arguing that cultural leaders should not be the subject of government restrictions. Throughout the fighting, loyalists looted police stations and stores, and burned cars and buildings.

The situation cooled on Sunday, with police patrolling the streets while residents attempted to return to their daily lives. A government official announced that the Buganda leader plans to meet with the central government in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
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