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LeT vows more attacks as gun battle erupts in Kashmir

Oliver Scanlan
25 March 2009

Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group thought to be behind the Mumbai bombings, said on Wednesday that "the coming days would prove costly for Indian forces" in Kashmir. The threats, articulated by LeT spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi, came after a five day gun battle between the group and the Indian army that began in Shamsbari forest near the Line of Control in Kashmir.

In the end, seventeen militants and eight Indian soldiers were killed in the exchange. Indian army spokesman Brigadier Gurmit Singh said that the militants were "well trained, heavily armed and indoctrinated."

The toD verdict: Ashley J Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his January 2008 testimony to a US House Foreign Affairs sub-committee characterised Laskar-e-Taiba as an organisation based on Pakistani soil and allegedly nurtured and supported by the Pakistani army and Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for the express purpose of fomenting violence in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge, but suspicions surrounding such alleged links led India to consider direct military retaliation against Pakistan after the LeT struck Mumbai in November. According to former Indian army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury, it was only Pakistan's nuclear deterrent that prevented India from carrying out the strikes.

Lashkar-e-Taiba's latest attacks come at the worst possible time for security across the wider sub-continent. With Islamic extremists apparently behind the recent mutiny of the Bangladesh border guards, a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan racked by domestic chaos and violence continuing in Sri Lanka, renewed tension between the region's two nuclear rivals is all the more alarming.

No measure for success in Afghanistan, says NATO's top solider

US Army General John Craddock told a senate panel on Tuesday that NATO has no way to measure progress in Afghanistan. Decrying current methods of measuring progress as "anecdotal" and variable, Craddock said that there was both a need for more objective metrics and for greater co-ordination between different development databases. He also told the senators that military officers from other countries of the NATO alliance had both the willingness and capacity to do more, but were held back by political considerations.

Craddock is "dual hatted", holding the twin posts of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), NATO's most senior military officer, and combatant commander of the United States' European Command. His comments come just shortly before a widely anticipated Afghanistan strategy review.

Only hours after the general's comments, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, seven civilians were killed and nine injured when a bus hit a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Khost province. Local police chief Abdul Qajum Bakizoy blamed the bomb on Taliban forces. NATO says that roadside bombings rose by 30 percent in 2008.

Israeli Labour Party joins Netanyahu Government

On Tuesday, the Israeli Labour party narrowly voted to join a coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, alongside the ultra-conservative Yisrael Beiteinu and Orthodox Jewish Shas parties. The vote has been bitterly divisive, and at this stage it is far from clear that Labour leader Ehud Barak will be able to bring all thirteen Labour Knesset Members into the coalition. But Barak was in a bullish mood as he told delegates that he was not afraid of Netanyahu and that he "won't serve as a fig-leaf to anyone."

In what some commentators are referring to as an apparent attempt to soften his hard-line image, Netanyahu followed this move by affirming his incoming government's willingness to be a "partner for peace" with the Palestinian Authority. Speaking at an economics conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu did not specify whether this approach would extend to his government's acceptance of an independent Palestinian state.

US moves "hundreds" of agents to secure Mexican border

The secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told reporters on Tuesday that hundreds of federal agents were being redeployed to the 2000-mile long Mexican border in a bid to stop drug-related violence spilling into the United States. Specifically, 360 agents will be sent to Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement units, with another one hundred being diverted to Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives units. Secretary Napolitano characterised the move as "the first wave of things that will be happening."

She also said that the Obama administration was still considering requests from the governors of Texas and Arizona to deploy the National Guard. This deployment is part of Obama's vaunted "comprehensive strategy" for securing the US' southern border against the Mexican drug cartels. Other components of the strategy include the bolstering of law enforcement contingent based out of the US embassy in Mexico City and the continuation of the $700 million "Merida initiative" aimed at building the capacity of Mexico's own law enforcement agencies. Obama has been careful to emphasise his support for Mexican President Felipe Calderon as well as the mutual responsibility for the escalating violence: 90 percent of drugs entering the US come via Mexico, 90 percent of the weapons used by Mexican drug lords originate from north of the border.

Arms factory madrassa has UK links

The government of Bangladesh is currently investigating links between a UK-based NGO and a madrassa housing a substantial cache of arms. Security officials in Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which raided the Green Crescent seminary and orphanage on Tuesday, have stated that they have detained four alleged militants and are still hunting for a British citizen, known by his nickname "Faisal". "Faisal" is believed to be the owner of the British charity that established the seminary on the remote southern island of Bhola four years ago.

Major Mamun, who led the team that raided the madrassa, said that the seizure included pistols, shotguns, substantial quantities of ammunition and bomb-making equipment. A number of jihadist books were also recovered. He said that the militants were preparing for a "major operation". RAB commander KM Manumur Rashid said that the madrassa was being used as a militant training complex, and that the charity had plans to establish two more seminaries on the remote island.

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