Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Osama bin Laden sighting in Pakistan?

Counterterrorism Blog - The provincial border region of Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Helmand remains a hot spot in Southeastern Afghanistan. Fighting between Coalition forces and the Taliban intensified Tuesday in the Tarin Kowt District of Uruzgan. Over 24 Taliban were confirmed killed after a joint Afghan and Coalition patrol engaged Taliban fighters in the region. Coalition air support was called in to strike Taliban positions. The Afghan military claims up to 60 Taliban were killed in Uruzgan, while suffering five killed and six wounded.

The latest fighting in Uruzgan continues a string of engagements over the past week, with an estimated 300 Taliban killed during a series of engagements. The large majority of the recent engagements were initiated by Afghan and Coalition patrols and combat operations. Afghan and Coalition forces are pushing into regions previously untouched, sparking resistance from Taliban, some of whom are filtering in from Pakistan. Another Afghan politician has accused Pakistan of fueling the Taliban, "“Pakistani authorities and agencies are involved in the ongoing war and lawlessness in areas on both sides of the Durand Line.”

ABC News' Alexis Debat reports Osama bin Laden has been sighted in Pakistan's Kumrat Valley. While ABC News reports Kumrat Valley is in the Kohistan district, The Pakistan Guide from Satellite and the NWFP website indicate Kumrat Valley is in the Dir District, which resides on the Afghan border. The Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nurestan, and the Pakistani district of Bajaur border with Dir.

Packistan Officials said the reports were validated by the release of bin Laden's audio tape yesterday, which appears to have been recorded only two weeks earlier.

Such a quick turn-around suggests, say the officials, that bin Laden is much closer to civilization than he had been previously.

Previous audio and video tapes have taken four to six weeks to become public.

Afghan and Coalition forces have gone on the offensive in the Pech River Valley of Kunar starting late April during Operation Mountain Lion. Pakistan's Bajaur district is the location of several Coalition and Pakistani air strikes, including the Predator drone attack on a meeting of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, where Ayman al-Zawahiri was thought to be in attendance. Five senior commanders, including Abu Khabab al-Masri, the head of al-Qaeda WMD committee are believed to have been killed in the strike. Bajaur appears to be a command and control center for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as a staging area into the northeastern provinces of Afghanistan.