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THE STANS
Top US official in Pakistan after hints at tougher stance
by Staff Writers
Islamabad (AFP) April 17, 2017


Female Pakistani suicide bomber planned thwarted Easter attack: army
Islamabad (AFP) April 17, 2017 - A female would-be suicide bomber who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group had planned to carry out an attack on a church in Lahore on Easter Sunday, a Pakistan military spokesman said Monday.

Noreen Leghari, a second year medical student, is in army custody after being captured during a raid overnight Friday that left four soldiers wounded and her male accomplice dead, army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters.

A filmed confession was later shown to reporters in which Leghari, dressed in a veil, said: "We were provided equipment on April 1, including two suicide vests, four hand grenades and bullets.

"We were told to use these jackets to attack a church on Easter and I was supposed to be used as a suicide bomber."

Lahore suffered one of Pakistan's deadliest attacks on Easter Sunday 2016 -- a suicide bomb in a park that killed more than 70 people, including many children, and was claimed by the Jamaat ul Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militant attacks this year that have dented optimism after the country appeared to be making strong gains in its decade-and-a-half long war on militancy.

But Ghafoor said that since launching a new nationwide military operation in February, the army had killed some 108 militants while 558 had been captured or surrendered -- including Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesman of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.

"The former spokesman of Jamaat ul Ahrar and the Pakistani Taliban Ehsanullah Ehsan has surrendered himself to security forces. He's not the only one. We will share further details in the coming days," he said. He did not indicate when Ehsan had handed himself in or give any further details.

US National Security Advisor Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster arrived in Pakistan on Monday on an unannounced visit, a day after he hinted that Washington could take a tougher stance with Islamabad.

It was the first visit by a top member of President Donald Trump's administration to the militancy-hit country.

At his previous stop in neighbouring Afghanistan he suggested Washington may take a stronger line with Islamabad, for years seen as an unreliable US ally.

A statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said McMaster had "assured the Prime Minister that the new administration was committed to strengthening bilateral relations and working with Pakistan, to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the wider South Asian region."

McMaster's visits are being closely watched for clues to the Trump administration's future course of action in the region.

US-led NATO troops have been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, after the ousting of the Taliban regime for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

The US has around 8,400 troops in the country with about another 5,000 from NATO allies, as efforts to negotiate a lasting peace settlement between Kabul and the Taliban have repeatedly fallen through.

Afghanistan routinely accuses Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban.

"As all of us have hoped for many, many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy, not through the use of proxies that engage in violence," McMaster said in an interview with Afghanistan's Tolo News Sunday.

The Pakistani statement added that McMaster's delegation included Lisa Curtis, whom US media have previously reported as his pick as senior director for South and Central Asia.

Curtis recently co-authored a paper calling on the US to stop treating Pakistan as an ally and instead "focus on diplomatically isolating" it if it continues supporting groups linked to international terror.

The US embassy said McMaster also met Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other officials and described the meetings with Pakistani leaders as productive.

"General McMaster expressed appreciation for Pakistan's democratic and economic development, and stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms," it said in a statement.

Last Thursday the US military in Afghanistan dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb in combat for the first time anywhere. The target was a Islamic State group hideout and officials said up to 95 militants were killed.

THE STANS
IS death toll hits 90 from huge US bomb in Afghanistan
Jalalabad, Afghanistan (AFP) April 15, 2017
Afghan authorities Saturday reported a jump in fatalities from the American military's largest non-nuclear bomb, declaring some 90 Islamic State fighters dead, as US-led ground forces sought to advance on their mountain hideouts. Dubbed the "Mother Of All Bombs", the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast was unleashed in combat for the first time Thursday, hitting IS positions in a remote area ... read more

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