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Twitter ‘misplaces’ Taliban official in Pakistan

tweet

A senior spokesman for the Taliban has denied that he is in Pakistan, after one of his tweets located him there.

Zabihullah Mujahid appeared to have had his location tagged to his Twitter updates on Friday, labelling him as being in “Sindh, Pakistan”.

He dismissed the location as an “enemy plot”, tweeting that he was definitely in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is often accused of having covert links with the Taliban, an allegation it denies.

After Twitter users noticed the labelling, he tweeted: “My Twitter account has been manipulated – as part of weak efforts of enemy plot, it showed that I am based in Sindh of Pakistan, I call this attempt as fake and shame [sic].”

“Now, the enemy’s fake act has been exposed, and with full confidence, I can say that I am in my own country.”

His exact location is a secret. However, many Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to seek shelter in neighbouring Pakistan.

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Nanga Parbat: summit and first winter ascent by Simone Moro, Ali Sadpara and Alex Txikon

On Friday 26 February 216 Italy’s Simone Moro, Spain’s Alex Txikon and Pakistan’s Ali Sadpara successfully carried out the historic first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat (8126m, Karakorum, Pakistan). Italy’s Tamara Lunger stopped her bid on the ridge below the summit. Towards 20:00 circa (Pakistan time) all four alpinists returned to Camp 4 at 7100m.

Good things come to those who wait. And the waiting game certainly paid off for the Italians Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro, Spain’s Alex Txikon and Pakistan’s Hassan Ali Sadpara. They held on to their beliefs, adapted where necessary, changed plans, combined forces and resisted even when everyone (or almost everyone) no longer thought it was possible.

Their ‘journey’ lasted two months and a half. A period marked by the eternal waiting game, by high winds, ‘polar’ temperatures, terrible weather but also disappointments, sudden changes of plans and a thousand other obstacles that needed dealing with. Then, almost unexpectedly, the fleeting moment arrived and they managed to seize it.

At 15:37 local time today Moro, Txikon and Sadpara reached the summit of Nanga Parba while Tamara Lunger halted her attempt lower down, a truly immense achievement as she had not been feeling well since early this morning. The news regarding the summit was anounced by Igone Mariezkurrena directly from Base Camp, after having received comunication from the team of alpinists via walkie talkie. This is now the first time that the Naked Mountain has been climbed in winter.

A fact which – regardless of how people choose to view it – adds another important chapter to the history of winter mountaineering on the 8000m giants, and not only. It’s worth bearing in mind that prior to today’s success, Nanga Parbat had been attempted in winter by 30 or so previous expeditions. As of today, the only summit missing off the list of the 14 highest mountains climbed in winter is K2.

Another fundamental piece of information: Base Camp reported the much-awaited news that (at circa 20:00 local time, 16:00 CET) all four alpinists had returned to Camp 4 a 7100m. Circa 14 hours had passed since setting off from Camp 4, and 5 days since leaving Base Camp! Lunger, Moro, Txikon and Sadpara now need to complete the final important act. Another night and another day (or two) on the mountain lie in store.

Nanga Parbat (8126m) on 26 February 2016 when it was climbed for the first time in winter by Simone Moro, Alex Txikon and Ali Sadpara. The fourth member of the team, Tamara Lunger, stopped on the ridge just short of the summit.

They (and we) are comforted by the fact that the weather forecast is good. We’ll wait for them at Base Camp, when it really is all over. In the meantime it’s worth recognising that this summit represents, for each of the four alpinists (we’d also like to add Tamara to these three successful summiters), an absolutely cutting-edge achievement. For Simone Moro this mountain is now his fourth first winter ascent of an 8000er, after  Shisha Pangma (2005), Makalu (2009) and Gasherbrum II (2011). No one has achieved more than this!

Alex Txikon, Simone Moro, Ali Sadpara and Tamara Lunger at Base Camp before setting off for the historic first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat

Alex Txikon is the first Spanish mountaineer to add his name to the hall of fame of first winter ascents on one of the 14 eightthousanders. And, last but certainly not least, there’s Ali Sadpara. In the words of Moro: “he’s a great alpinist!” Sadpara is unsurprisingly considered Pakistan’s most successful mountaineer and, apart from being the first Pakistani to climb an 8000er in winter, with this summit he has now climbed all five of his country’s 8000ers as well as Mt. Everest.

Nanga Parbat in winter, the naked mountain at night

His success crowns last year’s unsuccessful bid that ground to a halt, together with Italy’s Daniele Nardi and Txikon at 7,800m… “off route” while on their way to the summit. At the time the trio descended in order to make a second summit push the next day, but Sadpara then felt unwell and this plan was abandoned.

For her part, Tamara Lunger has proven – regardless of the “non summit” – her true workhorse strength once again. Furthermore it’s worth noting that she was the only member of this 4-person team to not have attempted Nanga Parbat previously in winter.

Nanga Parbat in winter

We mentioned that many had almost stopped believing in today’s summit. And in effect, everything or almost everything took place during the last couple of days. At 5:30am on 22 February the four alpinists set off from Base Camp on the Diamir side of the mountain. Their aim, agreed on a long time ago, was to follow the Kinshofer route, first climbed in 1962 by Toni Kinshofer, Anderl Mannhardt and Siegfried Loew along the Diamir Face.

Nanga Parbat in winter

This is considered the “normal” route up Nanga Parbat, the second to be climbed after the legendary first solo ascent carried out by Hermann Buhl in 1953. Moro and Lunger had opted for this route only recently, initially they had planned to climb the Messner – Eisendle route but the serac above the starting traverse loomed too dangerously overhead.

Hence the consensual decision to join forces with Txikon and Sadpara on the Kinshofer line. In truth initially it seemed as if Daniele Nardi would form part of this team, but the Italian subsequently returned home as other components had done before him, belonging to other expeditions (this winter 6 expeditions had set their sights on this mountain).

Nanga Parbat in winter

As mentioned, the four had set off from Base Camp on 22 February. After 10 hours of “hard work” they reached Camp 2 at 6200m. Nothing could be taken for granted at this stage, there were still far too many doubts. Starting with their lack of acclimatisation.

Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara, Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger before setting off for the historic first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat

Due to the impeding weather (and avalanches), the maximum altitude Txikon and Sadpara had reached was 6700m, while Lunger and Moro had only climbed as high as 6100m. Furthermore, the pit stop at Camp 2 lasted all of 23 February due to… stormy conditions in true Nanga Parbat style.

Nanga Parbat in winter: the view from Camp 3 at 6700m towards the summit

Karl Gabl, the magic Austrian weather forecaster, had predicted the following: very favourable conditions were expected for Friday 26, but above all Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 February. Which meant that should they succeed in gaining height on Thursday and reach Camp 4 at 7100m, and should they then make their summit push on Friday, they’d have another two days to descend in good weather.

Nanga Parbat in winter

In the meantime though they still had almost 2000m of climbing looming above them, coupled with the unknown route conditions and, above all, questions about how their bodies would react to the altitude. As Moro stated, the chances of scoring a winter ascent on an 8000m peak are always tiny.

Nanga Parbat in winter: Tamara Lunger

Fortunately on Wednesday 24 February the storm settled and the team set off once again. After a mere five hours they reached Camp 3 at 6700m. They were on form, could see the summit but… were separated from this by 1400 long meters. The route above was still eternal. Nevertheless, they continued to climb according to schedule. On Thursday 25 they reached Camp 4 at 7200m.

Nanga Parbat in winter

Now another 1000m vertical height gain remained to be climbed, the highest, the most unpredictable of all. Anything could still happen. All that could be done now was cross fingers and… hope.

Nanga Parbat in winter

The rest, as they say, is history. Written only a few hours ago. For the first time ever the summit of Nanga Parbat was reached in winter by Simone Moro, Alex Txikon and Ali Sadpara.

Nanga Parbat in winter: Tamara Lunger

Tamara Lunger stopped slightly short of the summit, somewhere along the ridge. Given the time of day, her decision to turn back was obligatory and absolutely the right one. Time had run out: only two or three hours separated the four from total darkness.

Nanga Parbat in winter: Simone Moro

And, at this point, the only summit they now had to reach was Camp 4, a thousand meters below them. They had made another good decision. Like a true team. Now we’ll wait for them to reach Base Camp. Another extremely important objective, the most beautiful one of all!

Nanga Parbat in winter: Tamara Lunger

by Vinicio Stefanello

UPDATE 27/02/2016 at 14:30
All have descended to Base Camp! Tamara Lunger, Simone Moro, Ali Sadpara and Alex Txikon have returned safely: the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat has been successfully completed. Congratulations!

Al-Qaeda leader announces India wing

Ayman al-Zawahiri says his armed group will “raise the flag of jihad” across parts of India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has announced the formation of an Indian branch of his global armed group that he said would spread Islamic rule and “raise the flag of jihad” across the subcontinent.

In a video spotted in online “jihadist” forums on Wednesday by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, Zawahiri said the new force would “crush the artificial borders” dividing Muslim populations in the region.

Al-Qaeda is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where its surviving leadership are thought to be hiding out, but Zawahiri said the group would take the fight to India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“This entity was not established today but is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian sub-continent into a single entity,” he said.

Founded by Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by US commandos in May 2011, al-Qaeda has long claimed leadership of the self-declared jihadists fighting to restore a single caliphate in Muslim lands.

But since the death of its figurehead, it has been somewhat eclipsed, first by its own offshoots in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and now by the so-called “Islamic State” fighting in Iraq and Syria.

While still regarded as a threat to the West, the group has never managed carry out another attack on the scale of the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington.

But, in launching “Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian sub-continent,” Zawahiri may be attempting to recapture some of the limelight for his group and to exploit existing unrest in Kashmir and Myanmar.

“It is an entity that was formed to promulgate the call of the reviving imam, Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy upon him,” Zawahiri said.

‘Waging jihad’

Zawahiri called on the “umma,” or Muslim nation, to unite around “tawhid,” or monotheism, “to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate.”

He said the group would recognise the overarching leadership of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and be led day-to-day by senior Pakistani fighter Asim Umar.

The 55-minute video begins with stock footage of the late bin Laden giving a sermon, before cutting to a satellite map of southwest Asia, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and the Horn of Africa.

Then it cuts to a white-bearded Zawahiri, in a white turban and glasses, against the backdrop of a brown floral curtain and desk with hardback books and a tin holding ballpoint pens and prayer beads.

Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location, in this still image taken from video uploaded on a social media website June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Social Media Website via Reuters TV

Umar also speaks in the video – using the Urdu language of Pakistan rather than the Egyptian doctor Zawahiri’s native Arabic – along with a new group spokesman identified as Usama Mahmoud.

The video is produced by Al-Qaeda’s usual media arm, the As-Sahab Media Foundation – “The Cloud” – and SITE reported that it had been widely distributed on jihadist online forums.

Syria conflict: US strike ‘kills Khorasan Group leader’

Muhsin al-Fadhli
The US had offered a large reward for information leading to al-Fadhli’s capture or death

The United States says it has killed a senior al-Qaeda militant in an air strike in north-western Syria.

A Pentagon statement said Muhsin al-Fadhli was targeted two weeks ago while travelling in a vehicle near Sarmada.

It described Fadhli as the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaeda operatives, known as the “Khorasan Group“, who were allegedly plotting external attacks against the US and its allies.

The Kuwaiti was also reported to have been killed in a US strike last year.

Fadhli was a confidant of Osama Bin Laden and one of the few al-Qaeda members to receive advanced warning of the 11 September 2001 attacks, according to the US.

Reward

Shortly before the US began air strikes on Islamic State (IS) across Syria in September, cruise missiles struck two areas near the northern city of Aleppo. The targets were not IS positions, but buildings allegedly used by the Khorasan Group.

US officials said the shadowy organisation was made up of about 50 veteran militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which jihadists refer to as Khorasan, as well as North Africa and Chechnya.

Map showing territorial control in the Syrian conflict
Map showing territorial control in the Syrian conflict

They had been sent to Syria by al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, not to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad but to “develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations”, the officials claimed.

Fadhli, their alleged leader, was believed to have arrived in Syria in 2013 but kept a low profile.

In 2005, the US treasury department said Fadhli was based in the Gulf and had been providing support to al-Qaeda militants fighting US-led forces in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Seven years later, the state department offered a $7m (£4.5m; €6.4m) reward for information that led to the capture or killing of Fadhli, saying he had become the leader of al-Qaeda’s network in Iran and was responsible for the movement of money and fighters for its operations in the region.

‘Serious’ blow

Reports on social media following September’s missile strikes said Fadhli was among the dozens of militants who were killed, but they were not confirmed by US intelligence agencies.

On Tuesday night, Pentagon spokesman Capt Jeff Davis announced that they were now confident that the 34 year old had been killed “in a kinetic strike” on 8 July near Sarmada, only 7km (4 miles) from Syria’s border with Turkey.

“His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaeda against the United States and its allies and partners,” he added.

Supporters of al-Nusra Front protest against US missile strikes on so-called Khorasan Group militants in Syria (26 September 2014)
Al-Nusra Front and its supporters insist the Khorasan Group does not exist

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who is now at the Brookings Institution, meanwhile told the AFP news agency that Fadhli’s death was a “serious but not fatal” blow to the jihadist network.

Before September’s missile strikes, US intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was “in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks”.

Classified US assessments said it was collaborating with bomb makers from the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to test ways to get explosives past airport security.

However, some opponents of the Syrian government expressed doubts about whether the Khorasan Group actually existed, saying the US created it to justify attacks on al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, al-Nusra Front.

In May, al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani said in a TV interview that he had been ordered by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri not to use Syria to launch attacks on the West.

“There is nothing called Khorasan Group. The Americans came up with it to deceive the public,” he insisted.

Here’s What 44 Countries List As The Greatest Dangers In The World

Iraqi Shi'ite

Amid rising conflicts engulfing the Middle East, most of the 44 nations surveyed in a new Pew Research Center study listed the top threat in the world as “religious and ethnic hatred.”

Nations were given the option of selecting between five dangers: nuclear weapons, pollution, AIDS and other diseases, inequality, and religious and ethnic hatred.

map danger larger

At 58%, Lebanon had the highest level of concern of any country and identified religious and ethnic hatred as the single greatest danger to the world, correlating to its diverse religious makeup of Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Lebanese Christians, Greek Orthodox, and Jews.

Meanwhile, severe battles between Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra have brought war to Lebanon. Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Tunisia also shared Lebanon’s concern.

Meanwhile in the West, “the gap between the rich and the poor is increasingly considered the world’s top problem by people living in advanced economies,” the Pew Research Center says

Americans, and generally most European nations listed “inequality” as the world’s greatest danger. Spain cited this concern at a rate of 54%, the highest level of concern in this category.

global dangers survey pew research

Ukraine and Russia both named “nuclear weapons” as their highest threat, along with Japan, Pakistan, and Turkey. It is estimated that Russia —which leads the world in number of nuclear weapons — along with the US, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, possess approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons altogether.

Most African countries claimed “AIDS and other infectious diseases” as their most pressing issue in the world today.

Inside Osama bin Laden’s Afghan lair

Osama Bin Laden at his Tora Bora hideout high in the Afghan mountains in 1996

Rare images of al-Qaeda leader in Tora Bora during the 1996 visit of a journalist are revealed during US terror trial

Rare photographs of Osama bin Laden’s life in Afghanistan have emerged during a terrorism trial in Manhattan.

They show the spartan life of al-Qaeda’s leader in the years before terrorists flew airliners into the World Trade Centre in New York and offer a glimpse into the warren of tunnels and fortifications he was building in the remote, mountainous area of Afghanistan known as Tora Bora.

They were taken by Abdel Barri Atwan, a Palestinian journalist who was invited to the hideout in 1996, as part of Bin Laden’s propaganda campaign to spread his message of hate around the world.

The images came to light last month in a Manhattan courthouse, only a few blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. They were shown during the terrorism conspiracy trial of Khaled al-Fawwaz, who acted as Bin Laden’s mouthpiece in London during the mid-1990s.

He helped set up bin Laden’s first television interview – with CNN’s Peter Arnett and Peter Bergen in 1997 – and the visit by Mr Atwan that yielded the photographs.

“I was told that Osama bin Laden was fond of my writing, he liked my style, and he wanted to meet me personally,” he was quoted as saying in Mr Bergen’s 2006 book, The Osama bin Laden I Know. “I was hesitant, because it was very dangerous.”

The photographs show the al-Qaeda leader in a string of poses, looking healthy and relaxed. He cracks a smile in some.

He arrived in the Afghan city of Jalabad after being asked to leave Sudan in 1996, and promptly set about building a fortified lair in the mountains close to the border with Pakistan, ready for a last stand.

Mr Atwan met bin Laden in a small, book-lined cave. It was location used to film his pronouncements.

“He wanted media exposure,” Mr Atwan said. “He wants to say, ‘Now I am an international figure; I’m not just a Saudi. I am aggrieved at Americans who are occupying Saudi Arabia who are desecrating the Holy Land.’ “

Ajai Shukla: Pakistan’s new spymaster

On September 22, Pakistan’s military nominated Lieutenant General to replace as chief of the (ISI) on October 8.

It is important to know what makes him tick, given his organisation’s continued reliance on “sub-conventional assets” – referred to in more sensible circles as jihad-fuelled crazies.

The announcement was notable for two reasons. First, it was made by the military, not the civilian government, indicating that the army, not Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, controls the appointments of generals.

Second, this was the first time Pakistan’s military made such a key announcement on Twitter and Facebook, proving itself a hip, trendy, forward-looking bunch of really cool dudes.

No, not really! Like most armies, it remains an insular, inward-looking, self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Unlike most armies, it also radicalises and trains killers to use against India – which is so, so uncool.

Most chiefs are anonymous folks, since militaries value officers who remain in the background. Yet in 2008, when Lt Gen Akhtar was a brigadier attending a one-year course at the US Army War College, he wrote a 6,313-word paper entitled: “US-trust deficit and the war on terror”.

This spelt out his views on America; militant Islam; the roiling (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where Pakistan’s army is currently fighting; and Pakistan’s relations with India.

A caveat: a paper written by a sub-continental military officer on a course in America, or in a military publication in his own country, is seldom an outpouring of deeply held beliefs. Instead, most such writing is an image-building exercise.

On an American course, a Pakistani brigadier would want to be seen as rational and accommodative. While writing in a Pakistani publication, he would portray himself as a staunch upholder of military and national ideology.

Even so, Lt Gen Akhtar’s dissertation is worth reading, if only because of a paragraph that goes: “Pakistan needs to enhance its credibility by publicly identifying some of its critical strategic challenges.

It must reform its governance, improve the economy, confront and eliminate Islamic extremism, and create a more tolerant society. Most important, it must aggressively pursue rapprochement with India.”

Encouraging, but a full reading of Lt Gen Akhtar’s paper suggests that his proposed outreach to India, like that of many Pakistanis, can be summed up as:

“We must have peace, and we must have Kashmir, and Washington must deliver it.” Lt Gen Akhtar writes, “[T]he threat posed by India has served as a primary enabler for US-Pakistani relations as US involvement and support can help mediate and ensure an equitable settlement of the Kashmir issue as well as help represent Pakistani interests within the United Nations.”

Lt Gen Akhtar acknowledges Washington’s role in preventing the Kargil conflict (1999) and Operation Parakram (2001-02) from triggering a full-scale conflagration.

Yet Lt Gen Akhtar recognises that United States-Pakistan ties are transactional, an on-off relationship based on transient convenience. He writes: “The US and Pakistan have been drawn together by coincident interests on three separate occasions.

The first occurred during the height of the Cold War (from the mid- 1950s to mid-1960s); the second was during the Afghan in the 1980s (again lasting about a decade); and the third engagement dates to September 11, 2001, and the subsequent war on terrorism. Since the event of 9/11, Pakistan has been a key ally in the Global War on Terrorism.”

In this cynical alliance, friction is inevitable. Yet Lt Gen Akhtar wants differences to remain unseen, especially those that make Pakistan seem mercenary.

He writes: “[I]t is routinely reported in the news media that the US has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in assistance, channeled primarily through the Pakistani military, and these reports add that Pakistan is not doing enough to control Taliban/elements in FATA.

The general impression it gives to the Pakistani people and many international actors is that this is some sort of business transaction where Pakistan was hired to perform a job and is being paid.”

Lt Gen Akhtar’s paper reflects his army’s increasing tolerance for the rhetoric and trappings of democracy, providing the generals retain control over key security policies. In an unusually forthright endorsement of democracy he writes:

“The mechanism for establishing the rule of law begins with a free political process but also extends to an effective and independent judicial system and a modern, well equipped professional police force. The role of the military should be limited to ensuring the Nation’s security from external threats and in waging the war against terrorists and only be utilized for internal security as a last resort.”

On the issue of the moment – military operations in the – Lt Gen Akhtar laments America’s “short-term perspective”. He says United States operations (presumably drone strikes) “alienate the tribals and result in increased tribal support for the Taliban/Al Qaeda”.

In contrast, “the Pakistani government understands the importance of building close ties with the tribal chiefs (Maliks) for the long-term strategic success against the Al Qaeda/radicals”.

Numerous independent commentators have said this is rubbish. They say Pakistan triggered the radicalisation of the FATA in the 1980s, during the anti-Soviet jihad, when the army preferred radical Islam, rather than Afghan nationalism, as the driving ideology of the Afghan resistance.

 

None but the ISI engineered the passage of tribal leadership from the Maliks to a crop of radical clerics, many closely linked to Islamist institutions in Saudi Arabia. In this, the ISI dealt directly with jihadi leaders, marginalising America so that Pakistan’s agenda could prevail.

Lt Gen Akhtar indirectly admits this modus operandi was used again in the FATA, noting “Pakistan has repeatedly rejected requests by the US to allow its combat troops to operate in the tribal areas inside Pakistan or to allow US personnel to deal directly with local tribal leaders”.

All told, Pakistan’s new spymaster comes off as a rational, intelligent officer who can see the shortcomings within his establishment but is unwilling to challenge core beliefs. For now, Rizwan Akhtar must dance to the tune of his boss, Raheel Sharif, which has so far resonated as a distinctly anti-Indian melody.

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