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Afghanistan faces tough battle as Haqqanis unify the Taliban

U.S. News

A shadowy, Pakistan-based militant faction is on the rise within the Taliban after its leader was appointed deputy and played a key role in unifying the fractured insurgency. The ascendency of the Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, could significantly strengthen the Taliban and herald another summer of fierce fighting in Afghanistan. The firepower it brings to the Taliban was shown by a Kabul bombing last month that killed 64 people, the deadliest in the Afghan capital in years, which experts say was too sophisticated for the insurgents to have carried out without the Haqqanis. The network's role could also further poison already tainted relations between Islamabad and Kabul. Afghanistan is pressing Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqanis, accusing it of tolerating the group, a charge the Pakistanis deny.

Afghanistan's most feared: Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network behind Kabul blast that killed at least 95

The Japan Times

ISLAMABAD – Afghanistan on Saturday blamed a devastating suicide bomb attack in Kabul that killed at least 95 people and wounded 158 others on the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network -- a former CIA asset that now is considered one of the most dangerous factions fighting U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pentagon holds back $50 million from Pakistan for not pursuing Taliban network

Los Angeles Times

White House spokesman Sean Spicer, familiar to millions from his combative press conferences, resigns A look back at Spicer's greatest hits White House looks at Russia probe team for potential conflicts of interest Trump's complaints about Sessions pit the president against Justice Department State Department to ban Americans from traveling to North Korea Sessions says he has no plans to resign despite Trump's harsh criticism of him Sessions says he has no plans to resign despite Trump's harsh criticism of him The Pentagon will withhold $50 million in reimbursements to Pakistan because it was unable to verify that Islamabad conducted adequate counter-terrorism operations against the Haqqani network, a hard-line branch of the Taliban, officials said Friday. The decision comes as the Trump administration considers a tougher stance against Pakistan, an ostensible ally, as part of a new military strategy for the nearly 16-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan. Despite the $50-million cut, Pakistan received $550 million in U.S. aid in the last fiscal year for operations against militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, a rugged northwest region where the central government has limited control. "This is simply an assessment on the current state of play," Defense Secretary James Mattis told a Pentagon news conference. Washington has urged Pakistan to step up counter-terrorism operations against the Haqqani network for more than a decade with limited success.

Mansour's brief reign as chief marked by turmoil

Associated Press

Since his takeover of the movement following the announcement last year of founder Mullah Mohammed Omar's death, Mansour had battled other Taliban commanders. In a statement following the announcement that Omar had died two years earlier, Aga accused Mansour of hiding the founder's death in order to secure his power at the helm. This recently caused some within the movement, including Aga, to speculate that Mansour had intentionally concealed Mullah Omar's death. Under Mansour, the Taliban refused to negotiate directly with Kabul and largely ignored a four-country effort --involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States -- to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Taliban sources confirm leader's death in drone strike as Pakistan slams U.S. incursion

The Japan Times

Balochistan, PAKISTAN/KABUL/WASHINGTON – Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan, senior militant sources told AFP Sunday, adding that an insurgent assembly was underway to decide on his successor. Saturday's bombing raid, the first known U.S. assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil, marks a major blow to the militant movement, which saw a new resurgence under Mansour. The elimination of Mansour, who rose to the rank of leader nine months earlier after a bitter internal leadership struggle, could also scupper any immediate prospect of peace talks. "I can say with good authority that Mullah Mansour is no more," a senior Taliban source told AFP. Mansour's death, which risks igniting new succession battles within the fractious group, was confirmed by two other senior figures who said its top leaders were gathering in Quetta to name their future chief.