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Matthew Rosenberg (The New York Times) — In the winter of 2014, an Afghan with links to top Taliban leaders approached Afghanistan’s intelligence service with a startling tip: Mullah Muhammad Omar, the secretive leader of the Taliban, had died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.
The tip left the intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, with a mystery that would take 18 months to begin unraveling. But even with the Taliban confirming on Thursday that the man they called Emir al-Momineen, or Commander of the Faithful, was dead, American and Afghan officials said they were just starting to piece together the story of Mullah Omar’s final years and of his demise.
In interviews, Afghan, American and European officials offered insight into why it took so long to determine that Mullah Omar was dead: He may have been one of the world’s most wanted men — he carried a $10 million American bounty on his head — but by 2014 few people outside Afghanistan seemed to want him enough to put much effort into finding out whether he was dead or alive.
Mujib Mashal (The New York Times) — A senior Pakistani militant leading the Afghanistan and Pakistan chapter of the Islamic State was killed in an airstrike by United States forces in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, Afghan officials said on Saturday.
The death of the senior militant, Hafiz Saeed Khan, who defected from the Pakistani Taliban last year and was introduced as the head of the Islamic State in the region in January, could not be confirmed independently. Twitter accounts associated with the Islamic State rejected the news, suggesting that it was a false rumor similar to reports of his killing that circulated in April.
Twenty-nine other militants were killed in Friday’s airstrike, in the Achin District of eastern Nangarhar Province, officials said. It was the second time in a week that United States forces, working on intelligence provided by the Afghan government, targeted Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.
Asad Ali (Jane's Intelligence Review) — Pakistan's counter-insurgency Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in North Waziristan in June 2014, has led to a reduction in militant attacks in the country.
There has been a shift in Pakistani counter-terrorism policy more generally, with the military and intelligence services seemingly renouncing some of their former support for Islamist militant groups.
Longer-term security challenges include maintaining the consensus for sustained pressure on militancy, tackling systematic Islamist radicalism, and managing the return of nearly two million refugees.
Saud Mehsud (Reuters) — Taliban ambushes and bombings killed at least seven Pakistani soldiers in the northwest as the military made a new push into the militants' last major stronghold near the border with Afghanistan, intelligence officers said Sunday.
Pakistan began a major offensive in North Waziristan last summer to drive out Pakistani Taliban and other extremist Islamist militants who launch attacks on government and civilian targets. The army is meeting fierce resistance as it moves further into the lower-lying areas of the Shawal Valley, the Taliban's last stronghold, military officials said.
Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited troops on Friday and said the initial phase around the surrounding peaks of the Shawal Valley was successful and it was now time to begin a final push into the lower areas.
George Gavrilis (Foreign Affairs) — On a tour of the Afghan-Pakistan border a couple years after the collapse of the Taliban government, Afghanistan’s minister of the interior was in for a rude awakening. A number of guards at one Afghan-controlled crossing, he learned, went home at the end of each workday to Pakistan.
The minister shouldn’t have been surprised to have Pakistani citizens on his payroll for such a sensitive task. After all, the country never had a truly functioning national border police, and so the job of managing the frontier fell largely to local strongmen and warlords, who were not above hiring foreigners so long as they were local.
Today, Afghanistan has a hefty national border police funded by the international community. But despite their crisp uniforms and neat organizational charts, the Afghan Border Police are nowhere near ready to protect the country’s borders. And that may be a good thing.