Asfandyar Mir Profile picture
Postdoctoral Fellow @StanfordCISAC. I study political violence and South Asia security issues.
24 Oct
Senior al-Qaida leader Husam Abd-Al Rauf — referred here as Mohsin al Masri — seems to have been killed by Afghan intelligence in Ghazni province. He had been in the region for a while including Waziristan circa 2005-2014 and there was no news of his targeting or leaving Af-Pak.
I speculated in (footnote of) @MiddleEastInst report that Rauf might still be in Afghanistan: mei.edu/publications/a…. He was on FBI wanted list: fbi.gov/wanted/wanted_…. He was a feature in al-Qaida media; as early as 05, wrote in Vanguards of Khorasan & released video in 2019.
Too bad he wasn’t captured alive — that could have provided more visibility into al-Qaida’s presence in and strategy for the region, and status of Zawahiri. Maybe they have picked up other documents etc from site of the raid?
Read 6 tweets
22 Oct
Great story by @wesleysmorgan: "the U.S. military has been quietly helping the Taliban to weaken the Islamic State...Remarkably, it can do so without needing to communicate with the Taliban, by observing battle conditions and listening in on the group." washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/1…
"...inside JSOC, the team working on this mission is jokingly known as the “Taliban Air Force,” one task force member told me."
"As negotiators closed in on their deal in Doha, officers repurposed tools honed against the Taliban: Reaper drones and an intelligence complex with nearly two decades of practice spying on Afghan guerrillas."
Read 8 tweets
16 Oct
Trump is thinking troops withdrawals from Afghanistan & Somalia. One proposal seems to be to shift Somalia strategy from a broad targeting + train-&-advise campaign to the Idlib model--limited to targeting of int'l terror cells in Shabab. nytimes.com/2020/10/15/us/…
"White House convened a small interagency meeting of senior officials late last week to discuss Mr. Trump’s demand for more drastic troop withdrawal options [from Afghanistan and Somalia?], according to three officials..."
On Somalia: "One idea now under consideration would involve removing most or all ground troops from the country...ending strikes aimed at combating or degrading the Shabab, Al Qaeda’s largest and most active global affiliate."
Read 6 tweets
14 Oct
Trump will make a major speech in which he will announce an "additional decrease" in troops in Afghanistan. nbcnews.com/politics/2020-…
Also has details on Trump's tussle with military advisers on troop reduction: "During a recent White House meeting the issue came up again, officials said, and Trump pushed for bringing home all American forces. But military advisers...argued in favor of keeping...residual force"
"Growing increasingly frustrated at the pushback, Trump made his views known on Twitter. "We should have the small remaining number...home by Christmas!"...Trump's public declaration was intended "to light a fire under the commanders," a senior administration official said."
Read 4 tweets
22 Sep
What are the main issues in the US-Pak relationship these days? Today, US ambassador-nominate for Pakistan William Todd detailed them in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Some highlights from his testimony. 1/n foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nomin…
His summary of where US relationship with Pakistan stands: "...this is a longstanding and important, but always complicated and sometimes contentious relationship. We certainly have our differences, but Pakistan is an essential regional partner..."
Issue #1 is Afghanistan: "Pakistan played a critical role in creating the conditions that brought Afghan leaders and the Taliban to the historic start of Afghan Peace Negotiations. They have an even more important role to play in supporting efforts..."
Read 12 tweets
22 Sep
Today Special Envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad testified to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security. Things which struck out: 1/n oversight.house.gov/legislation/he…
1. In his opening statement, Khalilzad criticizes Afghan leaders for the civil war in the 90s -- saying they "did not behave responsibly or judiciously." oversight.house.gov/sites/democrat…
2. He says the US will "continue to advocate our values, including electoral democracy, rights of women and
religious minorities, [but] recognize that only Afghans can find a sustainable formula that is unique to their history and culture." oversight.house.gov/sites/democrat…
Read 8 tweets
21 Sep
According to this story, ISIS is raising money by selling cigarettes, face masks and through cryptocurrency: wsj.com/articles/islam…
"...officials from the U.N., the U.S. and the U.K. have been investigating a network...from the Iraqi border town of Rawa...Known as “Selselat al-Thahab,” or the Golden Chain, authorities say the network is transferring cash out of...Eastern Syria to Dubai and through Turkey."
"Islamic State also has sought new opportunities in the Covid-19 pandemic. U.S. law enforcement earlier this year found Islamic State capitalizing on the shortage of safety equipment...in Turkey sold facemasks and other personal protective gear through online sites..."
Read 4 tweets
20 Sep
Nawaz Sharif’s speech definitely major. He assailed the military — in a way he hasn’t before — for involvement in politics. Also called out the army chief Bajwa without naming him for running a parallel gov’t, rigging the 2018 election, and bringing Khan to power.
I will (try to) post reactions of Pakistani politics watchers that I pay attention to:
Read 14 tweets
17 Sep
Director FBI Wray and Direct NCTC Miller testified on worldwide threats to the @HomelandDems. Assessments on al Qaida and other issues which struck out: 1/n
Director FBI Wray: "...groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (“ISIS”) and al-Qaeda intend to carry out large-scale attacks in the U.S."
Director NCTC Miller: "CT pressure against al-Qa’ida has diminished its cadre of veteran leaders...[but] Leadership losses have not diminished the group’s determination to strike American and Western targets."
Read 8 tweets
15 Sep
[Thread] Last week, @ColinPClarke and I wrote two pieces assessing al Qaeda. Here I want to compare our main points with the Trump admin's assessments of the group, especially as there is a @HomelandDems hearing on worldwide threats on Sept 17. 1/n
In the first piece in @ForeignAffairs, we examined the global trajectory of al Qaeda, making a case for more attention to the group's observable political cohesion across major affiliates, which has improved since 2014-16. foreignaffairs.com/articles/afgha…
In the second piece in @ForeignPolicy, we looked at Ayman al-Zawahiri's leadership of al Qaeda, arguing that analysts often overlook his careful politics, which many jihadists resent but it has aided al Qaeda's cause in recent years. foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/10/zaw…
Read 9 tweets
12 Sep
Director NCTC Christopher Miller says: "...it is now possible to see the contours of how the war against al-Qaeda ends." washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/…
"My assessment now is that al-Qaeda is in crisis. The group’s leadership has been severely diminished by U.S. attacks. Its sole remaining ideological leader is Ayman al-Zawahiri...no doubt fully aware of his vulnerability...long arm of the United States will inevitably find him"
"Al-Qaeda’s forces are similarly in disarray and focused simply on survival. They are on the verge of collapse."
Read 4 tweets
10 Sep
“An Iraqi man who lost his wife, daughter, brother and nephew in an airstrike after US intelligence misidentified his home as an Islamic state headquarters, is believed to be the first civilian awarded compensation by coalition forces.” theguardian.com/world/2020/sep…
“Razzo’s wife, Mayada, sleeping next to him, was killed instantly, along with his 21-year-old daughter, Tuqa, his brother Mohannad, and his 18-year-old nephew, Najib. Razzo’s sister-in-law, Azza, survived after being thrown through her bedroom window by the blast.”
“Compensation claims were made possible only after [F-16] pilot involved in the air raid agreed to be interviewed anonymously by Dutch media outlets last year...Razzo said he wished to meet the pilot responsible for the strike “so we can make peace”.”
Read 5 tweets
5 Sep
How serious is the US mission in protecting Afghan civilians? Lets see: “The U.S. military command...declined to grant an interview on the subject of civilian casualties and instead responded to some of The Washington Post’s questions submitted by email.” washingtonpost.com/world/2020/09/…
“For 2019, U.N. data on civilian casualties from American bombs is more than five times as high as that collected by the Pentagon. “
“...allegations of civilian casualties reviewed by the Pentagon doubled. But the number of in-depth investigations into those allegations dropped by half.”
Read 5 tweets
21 Aug
This notice of UN sanctions against Taliban leaders isn't new. It is required by the UN Taliban sanctions committee, which Pakistan has issued & kind of not complied with since 2015. But there is a slight change in the language on the exemption to travel for those on the list:
From 2015 to 2019, it said: "[travel restriction] shall not apply where...[UN Taliban] Committee determines on a case-by-case...that entry or transit is justified, including where this directly relates to supporting efforts by [Gov't] of Afghanistan to promote reconciliation"
This para is there from the April 2016 notice (mofa.gov.pk/wp-content/upl…) through to the Nov 2019 notice (mofa.gov.pk/wp-content/upl…).
Read 8 tweets
19 Aug
The DoD IG’s latest quarterly report on Afghanistan provides a good review of the state of the peace process. Here are highlights on some old and new new observations on levels of violence, Taliban ties with al-Qaida and the role of Russia, Iran and Pak. media.defense.gov/2020/Aug/19/20…
1. Afghan Taliban maintained ties with al-Qaida: Image
2. Afghan Taliban and the US military complied with the ceasefire towards each other but Taliban increased violence against the ANDSF: Image
Read 6 tweets
17 Aug
This is very poor: "Unlike other American commands, Resolute Support, which oversees U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, does not routinely release the results of investigations it may conduct into alleged civilian casualty incidents." washingtonpost.com/national-secur…
"...characterization of condolence payments as a counterinsurgency tool — typically focused on winning over local populations... — diminished the incentive to make payments in areas where the United States relies mostly on air rather than ground operations, like Syria."
Regularity and downstream effects of condolence payments are an important issue on which, for my liking, policy interest, advocacy, and scholarly work has lagged. But there is a recent paper by Daniel Silverman in @IntOrgJournal which corrects for it: cambridge.org/core/journals/…
Read 4 tweets
17 Aug
This story says that Iran reimbursed the Haqqani network for six attacks against US and Coalition interests in Afghanistan in 2019, including the December attack on the Bagram airbase: cnn.com/2020/08/17/pol…
There is also this: "A current...official and former senior official with knowledge of the situation told CNN that Iran's link to the Taliban was cited by US officials as part of the argument for conducting the strike that killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January."
In a way, it is not surprising. The one country that special envoy Khalilzad has named as likely to "spoil" the peace process is Iran:
Read 4 tweets
16 Aug
There are some new but mostly old ideas in this piece by @JoeBiden on his foreign policy. I want to highlight three:
1. In the first year, he is planning a summit for democracy to “honestly confront nations that are backsliding”; the summit will also talk about social media. ImageImage
2. He is planning on ending “forever wars”(not clear how though) but counterterrorism in safe havens and weak states will continue: Image
Read 4 tweets
15 Aug
Is the TTP resurging? Some angles on the trajectory and internal politics of the TTP. 1/n
Formed in 2007, TTP remains one of the most lethal center-seeking insurgent movements in Pakistan. It functioned as al-Qaida's paramilitary in Af-Pak; it hosted al-Qaida central & supported its int'l terror campaign from Pakistan; it is also allied with the Afghan Taliban.
From 2010 to 2016, TTP steadily declined in organizational capital, manpower, & territory. It also struggled politically, experiencing fratricide & splintering. This was due to US drone strikes, Pakistan military operations, and the rise of ISIS. mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.116…
Read 20 tweets
14 Aug
"[FB] top public-policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Mr. Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, said...current and former employees.."
."..current and former Facebook employees said Ms. Das’s intervention on behalf of Mr. Singh is part of a broader pattern of favoritism by Facebook toward Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners."
Read 5 tweets
13 Aug
This is a less crude version of “notification is rejected”:
Fwiw, Rauf Klasra quotes gov’t sources saying the downturn in the Saudi-Pak relationship is not just due to OIC/Kashmir but more due to Pak relations with Iran and Saudi suspicion that some IK cabinet members have been advocating alignment with Iran:
Also says, citing sources close to gen Bajwa, that Saudis contacted him to the loan, who bought time from them to return the money. Of the 2 billion returned, the second billion came from the Chinese.
Read 4 tweets