Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Jonathan S. Landay and Hal Bernton, McClatchy Newspapers Jonathan - Wed. Oct 14,2009
WASHINGTON -- A recent U.S. intelligence assessment has raised the estimated number of full-time Taliban -led insurgents fighting in Afghanistan to at least 25,000, underscoring how the crisis has worsened even as the U.S. and its allies have beefed up their military forces, a U.S. official said Thursday.
The U.S. official, who requested anonymity because the assessment is classified, said the estimate represented an increase of at least 5,000 fighters, or 25 percent, over what an estimate found last year.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry assured Afghans that America would continue to fight until "extremists and insurgents" were defeated in the war-torn nation.
The new intelligence estimate suggests that such a fight would be difficult. Not included in the 25,000 tally are the part-time fighters -- those Afghans who plant bombs or support the insurgents in other ways in return for money -- and also the criminal gangs who sometimes make common cause with the Taliban or other Pakistan -based groups.
The assessment attributed the growth in the Taliban and their major allies, such as the Haqqani Network and Hezb-e-Islami, to a number of factors, including a growing sense among many Afghans that the insurgents are gaining ground over U.S.-led NATO troops and Afghan security forces.
"The rise can be attributed to, among other things, a sense that the central government in Kabul isn't delivering (on services), increased local support for insurgent groups, and the perception that the Taliban and others are gaining a firmer foothold and expanding their capabilities," the U.S. official said.
"They (the insurgents) don't need to win a popularity contest," said Michael O'Hanlon , a military analyst at the center-left Brookings Institution in Washington . "They are actually doing a good job in creating a complex psychological brew. The first part is building on frustration with the government. The second part is increasing their own appeal or at least taking the edge off of the hatred that people had felt for them before. But on top of that they are selectively using intimidation to stoke a climate of fear. And on top of that they have momentum."
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Taliban wealthier than al-Qaeda: US Treasury
Tuesday, 13 Oct, 2009
WASHINGTON: The Taliban are in much stronger financial shape than al-Qaeda and rely on a wide range of criminal activities to pay for attacks on US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, a senior Treasury Department official said on Monday.
David Cohen, the department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said the extremist group extorts money from poppy farmers and heroin traffickers involved in Afghanistan’s booming drug trade. The Taliban also demand protection payments from legitimate Afghan businesses, he said during a speech at a conference on money laundering enforcement.
President Barack Obama and his top advisers are discussing whether many more troops may be needed in the 8-year-old Afghanistan conflict. A critical part of the deliberations is whether the fight should be a more narrow one against al-Qaeda or a broader battle against the Taliban-led insurgency.
According to Cohen, al-Qaeda is a cash-strapped organisation that is losing its influence.
That condition is the product, he said, of a long-running effort by the United States and its allies to cut off the terror group’s sources of funding by targeting its deep-pocketed donors and interfering with its ability to move money.
In the first half of 2009, he said, al-Qaeda’s leaders made four public appeals for money to bolster recruitment and training.
‘We assess that al-Qaeda is in its weakest financial condition in several years, and that, as a result, its influence is waning,’ Cohen said at the conference, sponsored by the American Bankers Association and the American Bar Association.
But Cohen cautioned that situation could reverse quickly because multiple donors ‘who are ready, willing and able to contribute to al-Qaeda’ still exists.
The Taliban, meanwhile, appear to be heading in the other direction despite an international effort to shut down the movement’s cash supply. Drugs are a major money-maker for the group.
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the Taliban get most of their cash from private benefactors in the Persian Gulf.
Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said in his 66-page assessment of the war that the diversity of the Taliban’s streams of cash makes it difficult to blunt their ability to operate.
Cohen said portions of the Taliban’s illicit proceeds make their way out of the country and into the global financial system. But he did not specify how much or detail the money’s suspected entry points.
Shootout kills two al-Qaeda members, one Saudi soldier
RIYADH: A shootout Tuesday between Saudi security forces and al-Qaeda militants — some of whom were disguised as women and wearing explosives belts — left two of the militants and a soldier dead, the Interior Ministry said.
Another soldier was lightly injured in the clash at a checkpoint in the south of the country, near the border with Yemen, said ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki.
The shootout was the first known confrontation between authorities and al-Qaeda since a suicide bomber injured Assistant Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in the western seaport of Jeddah on August 27.
The attacker was a member of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In Tuesday's attack, security forces at the checkpoint stopped a car carrying three men, two of whom were disguised as women, al-Turki said in a statement.
When a female inspector approached the car to check the identities of those dressed as women, the three opened fire.
He said two of the militants were wearing explosives vests and hiding hand grenades in their clothes.
More grenades as well as machine-guns and materials used in making explosives were found in the car.
One of the assailants was captured.
The statement said no other details will be released now because the investigation is ongoing.
It was not clear whether the militants were part of al-Qaeda's operations in Yemen.
Saudi officials have expressed concern that al-Qaeda could use Yemen as a sanctuary to launch cross-border attacks after the network's Saudi and Yemeni branches merged in January.
The Interior Ministry has spearheaded the kingdom's aggressive campaign against al-Qaeda, killing or capturing most of its leaders after a string of attacks that started in 2003.
Al-Qaeda launched its campaign of attacks, primarily targeting foreigners and oil infrastructure, in a bid to bring down the Saudi ruling family, which it considers repressive, corrupt and in support of the United States' policies in the Middle East.
Pakistan: airstrikes killed 9 militants
Associated Press Writer Ishtiaq Mahsud - Wed Oct 14, 2009
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – Pakistani jets pounded militant hide-outs along the Afghan border and killed at least nine guerrillas, intelligence officials said Wednesday, part of a stepped-up campaign of airstrikes before an expected government offensive in South Waziristan.
Government officials have been threatening an operation in the lawless border area for months, but a string of recent suicide bombings blamed on the Taliban appeared to have strengthened their resolve to engage in what will likely be a long and bloody confrontation.
Military jets have been hitting suspected Taliban strongholds in the region for weeks. The airstrikes have grown more frequent in recent days in what appears to be an effort to soften up the militants ahead of a ground assault.
The military launched a new wave of air attacks across the militant heartland late Tuesday and early Wednesday, hitting at least five different areas, two intelligence officials said. One attack on a hide-out in Makeen killed three insurgents, and another in Barwand killed six, they said. Meanwhile, forces in an army camp in Razmak shelled militant positions in the surrounding mountains, they said.