U.S. Drone Missile Kills Filipino Bomber in Pakistan

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Inquirer.net, News Report, Philippine Daily Inquirer

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — An alleged Abu Sayyaf demolition expert wanted by the United States for $1M is believed to have been killed in an American drone strike close to the Afghan border earlier this month, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.

If confirmed, the death of Abdul Basit Usman would represent another success for the U.S. covert missile program on targets in Pakistan. There have been an unprecedented number of attacks this month following a deadly Dec. 30 bombing of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base in Afghanistan.

There had been no previous indication that Usman, who was captured by Philippine authorities in 2002 but escaped months later, was in Pakistan.

If the reports of his death are true, it may indicate stronger ties between the worldwide terror group al-Qaida and Southeast Asian extremist groups than previously thought.

In Manila, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it was verifying the report.

AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told reporters military intelligence was still checking if indeed it was Usman who was killed in Pakistan.

Brawner said an intelligence report “sometime last year” indicated Usman was still in Mindanao. “We are still waiting for the report from our intelligence,” he said.

But if the report of Usman’s death was true, it would “to some extent” cripple the capability of the Abu Sayyaf, Brawner said.

MILF Welcomes Report

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed relief at the report.

“We are happy and we welcome the report. We hope it is true,” Eid Kabalu, MILF civil-military affairs chief, said.

Kabalu said Usman’s death vindicated the MILF, which had been accused by the military of coddling the alleged bomber.

Usman was linked to a series of attacks in Mindanao, including the 2006 bombing in Makilala, North Cotabato, that killed half a dozen people.

In 2002, cohorts sprang him from the Sarangani provincial jail. He escaped along with Pentagon gang leader Alonto Tahir.

Maguindanao Tribe

Kabalu said Usman belonged to the Maguindanao tribe, having been born and raised in Ampatuan town.

There were also reports that Usman was involved in extortion activities of the Abu Sofia and the al-Khobar gangs, which have been linked to the Abu Sayyaf.

Kabalu said Usman had never been an MILF member but that his brother, Ustadz Mohiden, belonged to the MILF’s religious committee. Mohiden disappeared in 2004 after government agents seized him, Kabalu said.

“He (Usman) was not a member (of the MILF) but he trained many MILF members in bomb-making,” said Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command.

On Most-Wanted List

Two military intelligence officers in northwestern Pakistan said Usman was believed killed on Jan. 14 on the border of Pakistan’s South and North Waziristan tribal regions. Another 11 militants were also killed in the strike on an extremist compound.

The US State Department’s list of most-wanted terrorists identifies Usman as a bomb-making expert with links to the Abu Sayyaf bandit group and the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah network.

The State Department has put a bounty of $1 million for information leading to Usman’s conviction, and says he is believed responsible for bombings in the southern Philippines in 2006 and 2007 that killed 15 people.

Home to Terrorists

Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan’s border region have long been home to militants from all over the world, primarily Arabs and central Asians.

Up to several hundred Filipino and other Southeast Asian militants traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and ’90s to fight the Soviets and attend al-Qaida-run camps, but they are no longer believed to be in the region in significant numbers.

The apparent presence of Usman in Waziristan may raise fresh questions as to links between al-Qaida in Pakistan and extremists in Southeast Asia, which has seen several bloody bombings and failed terror plots since 2000. Many were carried out by extremists who had returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani officials cited extremist informers as the source of the information on Usman’s death—which could not be independently confirmed. One of them said Usman had been in Waziristan for one year after arriving from Afghanistan.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the record.

Pakistani government officials rarely confirm the identities of those killed in US attacks.

Unmanned Planes

Islamabad publicly complains about the US missile strikes because admitting to cooperating with the United States would be politically damaging, but it is believed to provide intelligence for many of them.

US officials, also, do not often talk about the missile strikes or their targets, but they have in the past confirmed the deaths of several mid- and high-level al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Most of the missiles are fired from unmanned drone aircraft launched from Afghanistan.

Asked about the drone program during an interview with local Express TV, visiting US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “I’m not going to discuss operations but I will say this: These unmanned aerial vehicles have been extremely useful to us, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

Shadow Aircraft

Gates said he was expanding the program by buying more of the aircraft. He also said the United States was considering ways to share intelligence with the Pakistani military, including possibly giving it US-made drones for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes.

U.S. officials said Gates was referring to a proposed deal for 12 unarmed Shadow aircraft.

With reports from AP; Jocelyn R. Uy, in Manila; and Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao

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Pakistan Preps Attack

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan prepares offensive on Taliban stronghold

By Rohan Sullivan, AP

2009-06-13T204536Z_01_AAL110_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE

A policeman stands atop Punjab University, keeping guard over a crowd of thousands attending funeral prayers for Muslim cleric Sarfraz Naeemi in Lahore June 13, 2009. Naeemi was attacked by a suicide bomber in his mosque complex after leading Friday prayers a day earlier. Pakistani warplanes struck a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday in retaliation for the killing of the anti-Taliban cleric, the military said.   

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s army launched airstrikes and ferried in tanks and artillery as it confirmed Tuesday that it was preparing a major offensive against insurgents in al-Qaida and the Taliban’s safest haven along the Afghan border.

The highly anticipated military operation in South Waziristan is seen as a potential turning point in the yearslong and sometimes half-hearted fight against militancy in Pakistan. It could also help curb Taliban attacks on Western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
But the offensive in the lawless tribal region will also be the toughest yet for Pakistan’s military, testing both its fighting capability and the government’s will to see it through, analysts said.
Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the military had received executive orders from the government to begin operations against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose base is in South Waziristan.

“The necessary measures and steps which are part of a preliminary phase of the operation, the preparatory phase of the operation, that has commenced,” Abbas told a news conference.

But Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira stressed that the operation “has not been officially started.”

They declined to give more details, citing operational secrecy.

Convoys of military trucks carrying tanks and artillery were seen Tuesday in the towns of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, near South Waziristan. Intelligence officials said they were part of the buildup for the operation against Mehsud.

In recent days, the military has shelled and launched airstrikes in both South Waziristan and neighboring Bannu, although so far there has not been large-scale fighting with the militants.

On Tuesday, the army shelled suspected militant hideouts in three villages in South Waziristan in response to attacks on two military checkpoints, and helicopter gunships targeted Mehsud hide-outs in the region, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

One official called the attacks “surgical strikes” ahead of the main operation.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information to the media.

The military buildup comes as the army says it is entering the final stages of a major operation against the Taliban in the northwestern Swat Valley, which has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks by militants across Pakistan that have been blamed on Mehsud.

More than 100 people have died since late May in suicide bombings on targets including police and security buildings, mosques and a hotel catering to foreigners. The attacks have fueled anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan that in turn has emboldened the politically weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

A military assault in South Waziristan would likely trigger an escalation in the attacks — something the government is bracing for.

“The risk of lives is there — we have to give sacrifices, we have to pay this price and the nation is ready to give this price to get rid of this menace,” Kaira said.

The slow start to the offensive may indicate the government is talking it up before launching it to allow civilians time to flee. The Swat offensive displaced more than 2 million people.

Thousands of residents have already fled Waziristan, local officials and refugees say, and are most are staying with extended family. Aid agencies have warned that the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan’s northwest could worsen if fighting spreads in the tribal belt.

The armed forces may also need more time to mobilize for a full-scale battle in Waziristan, a hard-scrabble, mountainous area where well-armed tribes hold sway and the government’s influence is minimal.

Many Taliban and al-Qaida militants fled to the region after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. It remains a base for cross-border attacks on Western and Afghan forces and a training center for militants operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. South Waziristan is also a possible hiding place of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.

Militants have had years to dig in and store arms and ammunition in bolt-holes that include concrete bunkers and tunnel networks, said Asad Munir, a retired brigadier and former intelligence chief for the tribal region.

Battle-hardened fighters from Afghanistan, Swat and elsewhere will rally to join the fight, he predicted.

“This is going to be their final battlefield because the prominent leaders of al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban, the local Taliban and our own terrorist jihadi organizations, they are all here,” Munir said. “They will defend this place, which has acted as a sanctuary for them.”

U.S. missiles fired from unmanned drones have repeatedly struck South Waziristan, most recently on Sunday, and militants would become far more vulnerable to airborne attacks if they are forced out of their strongholds by Pakistan’s offensive. The military has launched repeated operations in the past, only to later back off as the government has pursued failed peace deals instead.

Abbas said Tuesday there were unconfirmed reports that al-Qaida-linked Uzbek militant leader Tahir Yuldash was injured in a Pakistani air force strike Sunday in South Waziristan. He gave no further details.

Yuldash leads the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and has survived numerous Pakistan military operations to trap him in the tribal regions.

___
Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Masud in Dera Ismail Khan, and Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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