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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 faces tough battle as Haqqanis unify the Taliban

Associated Press

Haqqani quickly set about uniting the fractured Taliban, first by bringing Mullah Omar's son, Mullah Yaqoob, and his brother, Mullah Abdul Manan Omari, into the fold, according to a Taliban official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to talk to the press. Fahd Humayun, program and research manager at the Jinnah Institute, a think-tank in the Pakistani capital, who closely follows Taliban developments, also said Haqqani was key to healing the divisions. A four-nation group that included Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States launched efforts earlier this year to try to bring Afghanistan's protracted war to a negotiated end but the push fell apart amid recent Taliban battlefield gains. "We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest level of the government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups, such as the Haqqani network, operating from Pakistani soil," U.S. State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau said at a press briefing following the Kabul attack.

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.

Taliban No. 2 Haqqani may be even more deadly foe than Mansour

The Japan Times

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – Afghan guerrilla commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, a possible successor to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, would likely prove an even more implacable foe of beleaguered Afghan government forces and their U.S. allies. The United States killed Mansour in an airstrike in a remote border area just inside Pakistan, the Afghanistan government said Sunday, in an attack likely to dash any immediate prospect for peace talks. The U.S. has not confirmed Mansour's death. Haqqani, who has a 5 million U.S. bounty on his head, is widely seen by U.S. and Afghan officials as the most dangerous warlord in the Taliban insurgency, responsible for the most bloody attacks, including one last month in Kabul in which 64 people were killed. If Haqqani is confirmed as the next Taliban leader it may be seen as fitting for the scion of a family that has been famously involved in Afghanistan's decades of bloodshed.

Militant leader, bin Laden ally roams freely in Pakistan

FOX News

ISLAMABAD – He is crisscrossing Pakistan championing a fatwa, or Islamic religious decree, forbidding militant violence inside the country. But the mere fact that Fazlur Rehman Khalil, veteran leader of an organization designated as a terror group by the U.S., is free has experts questioning Pakistan's willingness to fight extremism. Khalil, once a close friend of the late al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, co-founded Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, a group accused by India of attacking its forces in the Kashmir region and by the U.S. of training militants and carrying out attacks in Afghanistan. The group has undergone several name changes over time and is now known as Ansar-ul Ummah. But authorities have left him alone.