The jihadist website Ansar al-Mujahideen posted a statement from al-Qaeda's "general command" this morning confirming that Osama bin Laden's longtime deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri had been named the group's new leader (CNN, BBC, Tel, Reuters, AFP, AP). The statement also reaffirmed the group's fight against the "crusader America and its servant Israel, and whoever supports them" (Tel).
Journal reports that CIA chief Leon Panetta is working to gain the
release from Pakistani custody of a Pakistani army doctor said to have
been detained for helping the United States track bin Laden down (WSJ). The
doctor, identified by some news sources as Major Amir Aziz, owns a
house close to the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was killed, and
may have rented the house to CIA agents observing bin Laden (McClatchy, BBC, Independent, CNN). Pakistan's military has publicly denied the arrest of any military officer (ET, AP, ET).
This newest spat between Pakistan and the United States comes as Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is reportedly under intense pressure from within the country's armed forces over his perceived closeness with the U.S. military (NYT). The Post reports that Kayani is "fighting to survive," as the security relationship between the two countries has reached its lowest level since 2001, though U.S. officials asserted Wednesday that the U.S.-Pakistan bond was still "strong" (Post, AFP).
Austrian authorities this morning arrested three men who allegedly sought to travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan for militant training, as well as a fourth man in Vienna who police said acted as a recruiter (AP, AFP). The men are reportedly linked to the "German Taliban Mujahideen."
Three separate drone strikes reportedly killed up to 18 people in Pakistan's tribal areas Wednesday, as missiles struck a compound and vehicle near Wana, South Waziristan, believed to be linked to Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir, while another missile hit a compound near Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan (Dawn, Reuters, CNN, AP, BBC, Reuters, AFP). Elsewhere in the tribal region, up to six people have been killed and 20 kidnapped after between 200 and 300 militants crossing over from Afghanistan raided a "pro-government" village in Bajaur agency, sparking an intense firefight with Pakistani forces (Reuters, AFP, Dawn, BBC, AP).
Violence continues to sweep through Karachi, where at least 36 people have been killed in the last four days (Dawn). Also in Karachi, a prosecutor said Wednesday that he will seek murder charges against six paramilitary Rangers and one civilian accused of involvement in the killing of an unarmed man in the city last week (AFP, ET). The Pakistani government this morning announced the creation of a five-person commission, to be headed by a Supreme Court justice, to investigate the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, after other journalists staged a sit-in outside Pakistan's parliament (ET, Dawn). And a Pakistani journalist was killed in the city of Multan during a riot by students protesting against the government (AFP).
Reuters looked Wednesday at radicalization taking place in Pakistan's all-female madrassahs (Reuters). And Kathy Gannon reports that a terrorist leader and former close confidant of bin Laden, Fazl-ur-Rahman Khalil, is living openly just outside of Islamabad (AP).
Out the door
Testifying Wednesday before a Senate panel in what is likely his last Congressional appearance as defense secretary, Robert Gates pushed back against growing calls for substantial troop reductions in Afghanistan, telling the panel that Afghanistan is not a "war without end" (AP, Reuters, AFP). Gates also said that Afghan president Hamid Karzai had privately intimated that he intends to step down when his term ends in 2014 (Reuters).
The Telegraph has a must-read about former Taliban commander Maulavi Azizullah Agha, who defected to the Afghan government but now says that because the government has not fulfilled the promises it made him, he may soon return to the insurgency (Tel). And the Post reports on the impending transition to Afghan control of security in some parts of the country (Post).
A suicide bomber struck a district headquarters Wednesday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktia, killing three, including a 13-year-old boy (AP, Pajhwok). In Kandahar province, four people were killed when a tractor struck a roadside bomb (AP). And insurgent commander Sirajuddin Haqqani on Wednesday said that he would attack judges across Afghanistan if the judiciary carries out a death sentence on a man convicted of attacking the Jalalabad branch of the Kabul Bank (Pajhwok).
A different royal tour
Britain's Prince Harry will likely be deployed to Afghanistan next year as an Apache attack helicopter pilot, after he finishes his current round of training (Guardian, Tel). Prince Harry served secretly in Afghanistan for 10 weeks in 2008 before news reports of his deployment forced the army to send him back to England.