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Former Taliban leader dies in prison
by Staff Writers
Islamabad, Pakistan (UPI) Feb 14, 2012

Pakistan admits NATO supplies allowed by air
Islamabad (AFP) Feb 14, 2012 - Islamabad publicly admitted Tuesday that it had allowed NATO to use Pakistani airspace to fly supplies into Afghanistan, despite a more than two-month blockade on the border crossings.

"The permission has been given for food items," a defence ministry official quoted Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar as saying at a function in Islamabad.

"Since the food items were perishable, we have allowed them to transport them by air to Afghanistan.

"We have told them to take the supplies out by air and don't bring more for the time being," the official quoted him as saying.

US ambassador to Islamabad, Cameron Munter, last week confirmed that NATO had continued to fly supplies into Afghanistan despite Pakistan's closure of the border to NATO trucks and oil tankers on November 26.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States sunk to an all-time low after air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border in an incident that the United States blamed on mistakes made by both sides.

A former senior Afghan Taliban leader, once considered a possible peace negotiator, died in a Pakistani prison, the Taliban said on their Web site.

The notice said Pakistani authorities recently notified the family of Mullah Obaidullah Akhund that he died in a Karachi prison of a heart-related illness, a report by the BBC said.

Obaidullah -- age unknown -- was defense minister in Afghan's Taliban government from the mid 1990s until the Taliban were overthrown by U.S. forces and their allies in 2001. He was ranked as one of three senior deputy leaders to Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban movement.

He later became a military commander within Taliban forces.

The Web site statement by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Obaidullah relatives in Afghanistan's Kandahar province aren't sure that the Pakistani story is true or that there was some kind of torture that led to his death.

Taliban leaders are asking for more information from Pakistani authorities, the statement said.

The BBC said the Taliban leadership had at one time wanted Obaidullah released from prison before it entered into peace talks with the Afghan government.

He was arrested first in Quetta in 2006 but released nine months later, in 2007, a report by the Pakistani Daily News newspaper said in early 2008.

After his release he fled to Afghanistan but returned to Pakistan in the first week of January 2008. He contacted several influential people with links to banned militant organizations and convinced them to donate money to the Taliban, the Daily News report said.

Obaidullah was rearrested in early February 2008 and over the next several years Pakistani police made few public statements about where he was being held.

The importance of his final arrest was underlined in a report by The Long War Journal, based in Washington, in March 2007. The report said "he was grabbed after flurry of diplomatic pressure" between Pakistan and the U.S. government.

The Long War Journal report said Obaidullah "can provide significant intelligence" to NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan. "A man of his stature may know the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior Taliban and al Qaida leaders."

His final arrest came during a period in which the United States was questioning Pakistan's determination to fight the War on Terror.

The arrest of Obaidullah occurred as the United States and Britain were pressuring Pakistan to take meaningful action against the Taliban and al Qaida camps, leaders and operatives inside its borders. But the issue is whether Pakistan would give access to NATO and Afghan intelligence and act on intelligence once they had it, the Long War Journal said.

"Pakistan has a history of making arrests and conducting strikes on Taliban and al-Qaida camps when the political situation suits it," the report said.

The announcement of Obaidullah's death comes as 19 Taliban fighters in Herat province, around 400 miles from Kabul, surrendered to the Afghan government, China's Xinhua news agency said.

"Today, 19 armed Taliban rebels, including their commander namely Syed Zia, laid down their arms in Chishti Sharif district and surrendered to the government," the Xinhua report said.

"We appreciate their decision and hope other oppositions to follow the step," Gov. Daud Sabah told Xinhua.

He said the former commander of insurgents Syed Zia was serving as Taliban rebel governor in Chishti Sharif district before joining the peace process.

Taliban militants fighting the government have yet to make a comment, Xinhua said.

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US, Afghans near deal on post-2014 mission: Panetta
Washington (AFP) Feb 14, 2012 - US and Afghan officials are weeks away from clinching a security pact allowing an American military mission to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday.

The two sides still had to resolve disagreements over controversial night raids by US troops, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials say have claimed too many civilian lives, and the transfer of US-run prisons in the country, the Pentagon chief said.

"As you know, there are two areas that we still have difficulties with, one of which involves the transfer of detention facilities, the other involves night-time raids," Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"And we continue to try to see if we can work out some kind of compromise on those issues," he said.

But he said most of the elements of a security pact were in place.

"So I'm confident that hopefully, within the next few weeks, we'll be able to reach some kind of agreement."

Top Afghan officials and American commanders have suggested the United States will likely retain a military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when Afghan army and police are due to take over security for the whole country. But the precise size and role of a post-2014 mission have remained unclear.

Panetta told senators a post-2014 mission would likely include counter-terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and other militants along with providing US air power, intelligence and logistical support for Afghan forces.

At the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham called for a US force of about 15,000-20,000 troops after 2014.

Afghanistan last month forged strategic agreements with Britain, France and Italy to govern security ties after NATO combat troops exit by the end of 2014.

Nearly 90,000 US troops are now deployed in Afghanistan amid plans for the force to decline to 68,000 by the end of September.

President Barack Obama, who sent a "surge" of reinforcements after entering office in 2009, is pursuing a gradual troop drawdown in Afghanistan, with the bulk of the American force expected to withdraw after Afghan army and police take the lead by the end of 2014.

But analysts have urged the administration to publicly commit to a long-term military presence to prevent the Taliban from seizing back power and to head off a possible civil war with proxies backed by neighboring countries.


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Iraqi Kurdistan says citizen seized by PKK dead
Arbil, Iraq (AFP) Feb 13, 2012
The interior ministry of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region said on Monday that Kurdistan Workers' Party rebels had kidnapped three Iraqi citizens, one of whom was later found dead. It is the first time that the region's government, which tolerates the PKK's presence in Kurdistan despite the resulting Turkish bombardments and ground incursions, has made such an announcement. The interior ... read more

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