The 22 Navy SEALs killed when their helicopter was shot down in Wardak province were part of a mission to go after a known Taliban leader directly responsible for attacks against American troops, two U.S. military officials have told CNN.
According to new information CNN's Barbara Starr obtained, the SEALs who were killed had been called in to assist another unit on the ground pinned down in a firefight. The officials did not know if the Taliban leader had been killed. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of ongoing operations in the crash area.
Coalition forces remain at the crash site in order to remove all the wreckage, and prevent insurgents from taking photos of the scene to use as a "propaganda tool," one official said. Investigators will be examining the wreckage, but the same official said the crash was catastrophic that there may be little to glean from it. The United States had specific reports of enemy weapons activity in the same area at the time of the crash, so officials continue to assume that the Chinook was shot down. One of the officials also said that while the Chinook helicopter has been described as a "conventional" aircraft, it did have all the latest electronic equipment and that the crew had special operations training.
This week's deadly suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that is popular with Westerners has been linked to a terrorist group called Haqqani.
Based in Pakistan's tribal region, Haqqani (which the U.S. government has dubbed the Haqqani network) is a militant group closely allied with the Taliban and linked to al Qaeda. For several years, it has reportedly targeted American and international forces across the Afghanistan border and the region. American officials say they consider the network one of the greatest threats in Afghanistan.
Members of Haqqani are bound together by tribal or clan relationships, according to the military blog the Long War Journal, which has a long explanation of the roots of the group and the Haqqani family, which is believed to be at the helm of the group.
Jane's Defense and Security Analysis says that in 2008, Siraj Haqqani was believed to be the leader of the network. At that time, he phoned The News, a Pakistani newspaper, and claimed he had masterminded a suicide bombing in the District Centre of Sabari, in southeast Afghanistan's Khost province, with an IED in March. Two U.S. soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were killed in the attack, according to U.S. sources, Jane's says. Siraj Haqqani told the paper that a gunman had fired on guards manning the entrance to the base, allowing a suicide bomber to drive his car inside.
Also in 2008, Afghan officials blamed the Haqqani network for a January assault on Kabul's Serena Hotel. In that attack, three gunmen with explosives "bluffed, shot and blasted their way through the hotel's security measures, terrifying Afghanistan's small international community in the process," according to Jane's.
This week, terrorists entered the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul by avoiding the main entrance, instead attacking a smaller entrance on another side of the building. The attackers killed two Afghan police officers manning the entrance, according to Falak Merzahi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. The terrorists then stormed the hotel, and six of them detonated explosives. Three of the attackers were shot and killed on the roof of the hotel, Afghan officials told CNN. Although a NATO helicopter carrying International Security Assistance Force snipers flew to the scene and fired at the attackers, Merzahi said it was Afghan army soldiers who killed the three gunmen on the roof.
The attack at the Inter-Continental has led many to question whether Afghan security forces can take control in the country.
In February 2010, the son of a Haqqani leader was killed in a suspected American drone strike in Pakistan, Pakistani intelligence sources said. Muhammad Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of the four people killed in a militant compound in the country's tribal region in North Waziristan. A Taliban source also confirmed the death.
Kabul hotel attack - Eight suicide attackers and 10 others were killed in an attack at a Kabul hotel popular with Westerners, journalists and politicians. President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that the attack at the Inter-Continental won't interrupt the power handover from international troops to Afghan forces. Police say the number of dead may go up as they continue to search the hotel. One guest, a student, began to write his will inside his room while he heard shooting and explosions outside his room, because people he contacted outside the hotel told him it was safer if he stayed put. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the carnage. Stay with CNN.com for developments in this story, and check out CNN.com's Afghanistan Crossroads blog which focuses on life in Afghanistan.
Wildfire near nuclear lab - The wildfire near Santa Fe, New Mexico, is within miles of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, so the facility will remain closed at least through Thursday. Officials say the nuclear and hazardous materials at the lab are safe.
First presser since March at White House - President Barack Obama will hold his first news conference since March on Wednesday. He's expected to field questions about Afghanistan, American involvement in Libya, and the United States economy. He's also expected to address the debt ceiling crisis and present his position that the federal government should be allowed to borrow more money.
Teen drug use big problem - A new study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse finds 90% of people who become addicted started smoking, drinking or using other drugs before the age of 18. Columbia University, which published the study, is calling it America's top health problem.
[Updated at 12:36 a.m. ET Wednesday] Seven Taliban attacked Kabul's Hotel Inter-Continental in a brazen, carefully orchestrated operation that began Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday, ending with their deaths and those of 11 other people some six hours after it began, police said.
"We are still searching the hotel; the death number may increase," said Chief of Criminal Investigations Mohammad Zahir on Wednesday morning. Twelve people were wounded or injured, he added.
"The situation is secure," Interior Minister Bismullah Khan said. By then, the top floor of the hotel was ablaze, but within a couple of hours, the flames were gone, though smoke continued to rise from the wreckage.
Two security personnel were killed in the attack, he said.
The Taliban penetrated the hotel's typically heavy security in the attack, and one of them detonated an explosion on the second floor, said Erin Cunningham, a journalist for The Daily in Kabul. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in an e-mail that the suicide attackers entered the hotel after killing the security guards at the entrance.
The Inter-Continental is popular among international guests. A news conference had been scheduled to take place there Wednesday to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces that U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week.FULL STORY
Chess was originally brought to Europe via Spain from the Arab world. Now, a Canadian veteran is sending Chess sets back to the Middle East – with kings modeled after President Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden.
Jeff Train, who had been in the Canadian military until 1989, was working as a military contractor in Afghanistan when he noticed soldiers buying chess sets from local vendors. Train said he was concerned those vendors, in transporting their wares from Pakistan, were actually aiding the enemy.
“They have to drive through Taliban country and they have to pay the toll,” Train said. “So basically the soldiers were funding the insurgency.”
Train, 48, who lives in the Philippines, said he wanted to develop an alternative product for soldiers, one that would document the history they have lived. In 2009, he began making and selling sets of Canadian and American soldiers that played opposite Taliban chessmen under the company name Hobby Leisure Manufacturing. Then he began getting requests from soldiers from other countries and now manufactures British, Finnish, Norwegian, German and Australian soldiers as well. He also makes a set of Iraqi soldiers that fight Americans.
As Americans anticipate Obama’s impending announcement of troop withdrawals, Train is thinking ahead to how the soldiers will remember and represent their experiences in the Middle East. He said he wants them to be able to use the game to demonstrate actual events of the past decade.
“When a soldier gets older, he can sit down with his kids and his wife, who really don’t understand what’s going on, use the board and say, ‘The world went to war against this guy and these people,’ ” Train said.
A day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States is in preliminary talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan to quell the violence, experts say don't expect miracle results.
Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, said negotiating with "Taliban Central" will be difficult, especially because of the hard-core ideology espoused by Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and the powerful Haqqani network.
An effective strategy the U.S. and its allies can employ is reaching out to local insurgents, O'Hanlon said.FULL STORY
Six people were killed and 26 injured in a suicide bombing at a military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, authorities said.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, and said 51 people had died.
At least 26 people were injured, said Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the ministry of defense.
Two Taliban members carried out suicide attacks on the Charsd Bester military hospital, Zabiullah Mojahed, a spokesman for the militant group, told CNN
"One of them detonated inside the eating place and the second one was shot to death and now the operation is over," he said. "As a result, 51 people (have) been killed, including foreigners."
Two South Florida imams and a third family member were arrested Saturday on charges of providing support to the Pakistani Taliban, the Justice Department said.
Three others in Pakistan also were indicted on the same charges.
The four-count indictment alleges that all six defendents conspired to provide material support to a conspiracy to kill, injure and kidnap people abroad, and that they provided support to the Pakistani Taliban.FULL STORY
President Barack Obama asserted Thursday that the United States is making significant progress in the nine-year war in Afghanistan, but warned that the conflict "continues to be a very difficult
We are "on track to achieve our goals" of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, he said. The gains, however, are fragile.
The president noted, among other things, that there has been a "successful increase" in the recruitment and training of Afghan forces due partly to the July 2011 deadline set by the administration to start withdrawing
the U.S. military.
The Florida Democrat hasn’t even taken office, but she is already gearing up for a fight over an age-old U.S. House rule.
Wilson is a connoisseur of hats, especially sequined cowboy ones, and she doesn’t take kindly to being told that the House doesn’t cotton to its members rocking Stetsons in its chamber.
“It's sexist,” Wilson told The Miami Herald. “It dates back to when men wore hats, and we know that men don't wear hats indoors, but women wear hats indoors. Hats are what I wear. People get excited when they see the hats. Once you get accustomed to it, it's just me. Some people wear wigs or high heel shoes or big earrings or pins. This is just me.”
Wilson had to take off her hat for her official congressional picture, a ruling she said she plans to appeal.
The odds are against the flamboyant freshman, according to PolitiFact. The hat ban has been in place since 1837, and was upheld during the 1970s when Rep. Bella Abzug pushed to sport her trademark broad-rimmed hats.
It will likely take a full House vote to overturn the rule, PolitiFact reported.
But Wilson does not seem deterred. Though she recently said she doesn’t know how many hats she owns, she told the Tampa Bay Times last year that she owns about 300, some of which are custom-dyed to match her suits.
Though it would be unreasonable to expect a photo gallery of all the hats, which take up an entire room in her house, the Miami New Times is showcasing 25 of its favorites.
The Washington Post, citing Afghan and Arab sources, is reporting that representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government are in "secret, high-level talks over a negotiated end to the war."
Talks last year in Saudi Arabia were unfruitful, but the sources told the Post that representatives now are fully authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Taliban faction led by the notorious Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The Taliban "are very, very serious about finding a way out," one source close to the talks told the Post.
Meanwhile, an airstrike in northwestern Afghanistan killed a Taliban leader, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said on Wednesday.
Qari Ziauddin, the Taliban's shadow governor in Faryab province, died Tuesday. He was "directly associated with and took direct operational orders from a Pakistan-based leader of the northern front," according to ISAF.
Hakimullah Mehsud, a key leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has been charged for his alleged involvement in the murder of seven U.S. citizens at an American military base in Afghanistan in 2009, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
A $5 million reward is being offered for information leading to the capture of Mehsud and another top Pakistani Taliban leader, Wali Ur Rehman, U.S. officials announced Wednesday.
A complaint listed two criminal charges against Mehsud.
The group - which was declared a terrorist organization by the United States - is believed to be responsible for terrorist acts, including the December 30, 2009, suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan and the attempted Times Square bombing earlier this year.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is defending its practice of providing medical training and basic medical supplies to the Taliban in Afghanistan – saying it is in line with the ICRC’s mandate not to discriminate between different sides in a conflict.
In the latest situation report issued Tuesday the Red Cross disclosed that in April its workers “reached over 100 Afghan security personnel, over 70 members of the armed opposition, taxi drivers involved in the transport of wounded people, first-aiders and its own staff.”
That prompted plenty of quizzical and some critical comments in the international media and among bloggers – and some grumbling among Afghan officials. But an ICRC spokesman in Geneva said the practice is consistent with its obligation of neutrality and its mandate to provide assistance to all sides in conflict. FULL POST
Editor's note: This is the second of a three-part blog series on terrorist finances. In Part 1 we examined al Qaeda’s challenging financial situation. In Part 2 we'll examine at the Taliban’s money trail and in Part 3 we'll look at international coooperation (or sometimes the lack-thereof) in tracking terrorist financing. Bookmark our Security Brief section and check back Friday for Part 3.
With its columns and colonnades, the U.S. Treasury is one of the grandest buildings in Washington. But a handful of its staff are currently working in less salubrious surroundings. They’ve been dispatched to Kabul in an effort to stifle the Afghan Taliban’s cash-flow. Their mission: to detect money laundering schemes, investigate offshore accounts and cell-phone transfer, and try to rein in Afghanistan’s huge “informal” banking sector.
It is an uphill task. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the Taliban’s revenues from illicit drugs alone last year at $150 million. U.N. sources say that insurgents (a wider definition than the Taliban) made between $450 and $600 million out of the opiate business between 2005 and 2008. But it may be much more. The U.N. estimates the “narco-profits” made in Afghanistan at $2.8 billion. A huge sum is unaccounted for.
The Taliban announced Saturday they would begin a new operation against U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, vowing that "all foreign invading forces will ultimately face defeat," according to a statement from the group.
"The Al-Faath (victory) operations will target the invading Americans, the NATO military personnel, foreign advisers, spies who pose as foreign diplomats, members of the Karzai stooge administration and members of the cabinet," the Taliban statement said.
The statement, which listed 10 other targeted groups, said the operation would begin May 10, and would use IEDs, blockades, assassinations, abductions and suicide missions.
Unlike al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban organization has shown little appetite for taking its brand of jihadism beyond the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Maybe that's changing.
Certainly that's the case if the messages from the organization's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, are to be taken at face value. "From now on," he says in an audio message said to have been recorded in April, "the main targets of our fedayeen [fighters] are American cities. This good news will be heard within some days or weeks. Today onwards, the direction of our jihad is American states and cities. Inshallah we are successful in this mission and objective."
[Updated at 6:35 p.m.] A suicide car bomber's attack here Thursday killed three people, all of them Afghan security guards, CNN's Michael Holmes reported.Another 17 people were wounded in the attack, including 11 Afghans, a Briton, a South African, three U.S. nationals and a Nepalese security guard, he said.
Sixty-seven militants were killed Saturday in separate airstrikes in two areas of Pakistan's tribal region, officials tell CNN.
Two Pakistan intelligence officials said about 50 militants were killed in the valley of Tirah of Khyber Agency, one of the seven districts of Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Officials say a meeting of the militants was under way when shelling from helicopters started. Officials say they received intelligence and then destroyed six militant hideouts.
Officials further informed CNN that in a second wave of air strikes on the hideouts of the militants in Orakzai Agency, 17 militants were killed and three hideouts were destroyed. The officials asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
This strikes came as the Pakistan military continues its push into tribal areas where both al Qaeda and Taliban operatives are believed to be hiding.
- From journalist Nasir Habib