By Jibran Ahmad and James Mackenzie PESHAWAR, Pakistan/KABUL (Reuters) - If the first public comments from the Afghan Taliban's newly appointed leader are anything to go by, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour recognizes how fractured the militant movement has become and that humility and consensus may be his best way forward. Mansour, who was deputy to the late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, is widely seen as close to neighboring Pakistan's powerful military intelligence, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s and has maintained links ever since. That would suggest he was in favor of nascent peace talks with the Afghan government that Pakistan has strongly backed, and Mansour has endorsed negotiations previously. Yet his first speech since being named leader last week was an appeal to Taliban commanders opposed to negotiating with President Ashraf Ghani's government in Kabul, which they see as a vassal of the West that must be overthrown. "This is propaganda of the enemy," he said. "Jihad will continue till an Islamic Sharia system is enforced in the country." Experts believe it would be premature to read too much into those comments. "If he's playing to his own audience and trying to consolidate his position, it wouldn't make much sense to make announcements about seeking peace at the moment, as the peace talks issue is a make-or-break point within the Taliban," said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. With a touch of diplomacy, Mansour added: "We have to be patient and tolerant and bow our heads before other colleagues and then we will succeed. We should not impose our wishes on others." DRUG TRAFFICKER, RECRUITER, PRISONER, WARRIOR Born around 50 years ago in the southern Afghan region of Kandahar, Mansour studied in religious schools there and in northwestern Pakistan, interrupting his studies to fight after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Taliban sources said. He became close to Omar, the movement's late founder, being appointed aviation minister after the Taliban wrested control of Afghanistan from feuding warlords in 1996 and eventually rising to become his deputy. Mansour's ties with Pakistan mean its intelligence service, the ISI, almost endorsed his recent appointment to succeed Omar, according to analysts. "He would not have become the new head of the Taliban unless the ISI wanted him to be the head of the Taliban," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior official at the CIA and currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. That relationship with Pakistan has seen Mansour branded as a tool of the ISI by adversaries chafing at Islamabad's longstanding influence over the Taliban leadership. Little is known of him personally. Mansour has never given an interview to the press, and in 2010 media reported that negotiators in Kabul who had thought they were meeting him in secret peace talks had, in fact, been talking to a grocer impersonating the Taliban No. 2. After being captured and imprisoned in Pakistan when the Taliban government was toppled in 2001, Mansour was repatriated and resumed his career in 2006, rising steadily through the group's ranks as other commanders were eliminated. According to the United Nations Security Council, which put him on a list of Taliban officials targeted with sanctions, he mixed drug trafficking with other operations in the eastern provinces and was a top recruiter of anti-government fighters. By 2010, he had joined the main leadership council and is widely considered to have been the effective head of the movement since Omar's death, which Afghanistan's intelligence agency says happened more than two years ago. SOCIAL NETWORKING Ruttig, who met Mansour in 2000 when he was serving as aviation minister in the Taliban government, said he had the impression of an intelligent man with a sharp mind who was ready to talk at much more length than some of his colleagues. He helped oversee the opening of a Taliban office in the Qatari capital of Doha in 2013, underscoring perceptions that he was a pragmatist generally in favor of at least limited contact with the outside world. The fact that he released his first public comments via Facebook also suggests a leader more comfortable with modern methods of communication than the famously secretive Omar. Confirmation of Omar's death last week cleared up some confusion over his fate, but also brought deep divisions within the Taliban out into the open. On Tuesday, Taliban official Syed Mohammad Tayab Agha announced he was resigning as director of the Political Office in Doha, set up to enable the Taliban to negotiate peace, because he disagreed with the way the succession was handled. As well as disharmony over the peace process, tensions also center on rivalries between the Pashtuns of Mansour's southern region of Kandahar and those in eastern Afghanistan. Small but increasing numbers of fighters are exchanging the white flag of the Taliban for the black insignia of the more brutal Islamic State, and the two groups have clashed. That adds a new and unpredictable element to Afghanistan's insurgency, which, for all the infighting within the Taliban, has intensified since NATO troops withdrew at the end of last year. (Additional reporting by Jessica Donati in Kabul and Idrees Ali and Warren Strobel in Washington; Writing by Kay Johnson and James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
- Yahoo News
Black National Guardsman describes being deployed to protect Biden’s inauguration: 'I just felt this huge sense of pride'
As most of the 25,000 National Guardsmen who were called upon to protect Washington, D.C., during the presidential inauguration began heading home this week, one Black service member agreed to speak to Yahoo News about the experience of protecting the nation’s capital in the wake of a pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill.
Word has it the former Second Family is staying at the Indiana governor’s cabin or crashing with kinfolk back in their home state. Former Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, are reportedly looking for a new home after their free, taxpayer-funded housing officially ended just over a week ago. The story was originally shared by Business Insider but reposted to other outlets: Pence is reportedly staying at a cabin that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb uses as a retreat, while two other Indiana Republican insiders say that the former second-in-command and ex-Second Lady are staying with family.
- The Telegraph
Russian authorities target Navalny's associates and wife in series of police raids ahead of protests
Russian authorities raided the homes of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his associates on Wednesday, piling pressure on opposition figures ahead of a major rally planned for this weekend. Masked police on Wednesday afternoon broke down the door of Mr Navalny’s rented flat despite the pleas from his wife who was inside, asking for her lawyer, Veronika Polyakova. Ms Polyakova arrived at her house but was not allowed in to witness the search, a clear violation of the Russian law,she told the Dozhd TV channel. In the biggest wave of police action against the opposition in months, law enforcement agents raided at least seven homes on Wednesday, including a Moscow property owned by Mr Navalny but where he has not lived for years, and the office of his associates who run his YouTube channel. A video posted online by Lyubov Sobol, a close ally of Mr Navalny, showed black-clad masked men break down the door and walk into the office.
Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters. In the Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling. Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters Tuesday, denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others.
- Yahoo News Video
The Justice Department on Tuesday rescinded a Trump-era memo that established a “zero tolerance” enforcement policy for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, which resulted in thousands of family separations.
- NBC News
Analysis: Biden had nothing to gain and everything to lose from fighting a quixotic war over the filibuster just days into his presidency.
- The Telegraph
Hong Kong has begun using "ambush lockdowns" to suddenly close off and test everyone inside neighbourhoods where coronavirus cases have spiked, as a spate of recent outbreaks lay bare the rampant inequality in the wealthy Chinese finance hub. Police cordoned off a row of densely packed tenement buildings in the Yau Ma Tei area overnight on Tuesday through to Wednesday morning to conduct mandatory tests. The new tactic involves authorities giving no warning of an impending lockdown. City leader Carrie Lam said such "ambush style" lockdowns were needed to ensure people did not flee before testers move in. "I thank residents in the restricted area for their cooperation," she wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday as the lockdown was lifted. A similar two-day lockdown in a neighbourhood over the weekend was leaked to the media a day before police moved in. Tuesday night's operation was small. Some 330 tests were conducted in 20 buildings, with one coronavirus case found. But authorities say further ambush lockdowns may be necessary in the days ahead. Hong Kong was one of the first places to be struck by the coronavirus after it spilled out of central China. It has recorded just over 10,000 infections with some 170 deaths by imposing effective but economically ruinous social distancing measures for much of the last year. In recent weeks stubborn clusters have emerged in low-income neighbourhoods notorious for some of the world's most cramped housing. On paper Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world. But it suffers from pervasive inequality, an acute housing shortage and eye-watering rents that successive administrations have failed to solve. The average flat in Hong Kong is about 500 square feet (46 square metres) and sells for around HK$7 million (£650,000). Rents are punishing. Many therefore squeeze themselves into even smaller subdivided flats known as "cage homes" – cubicles that can be as tiny as 50 square feet or even less, with shared bathrooms and showers inside ageing walk-up buildings. It is in these kinds of building where many clusters have been located in recent weeks.
- The Independent
‘There appeared to be no remorse,’ says Calcasieu Parish sheriff Tony Mancus
The United States on Monday approved all transactions involving Yemen's Houthi movement for the next month as Washington reviews a Trump administration designation of the Iran-aligned group as a foreign terrorist organization. The move appeared designed to allay fears of companies and banks involved in commercial trade to Yemen, which relies almost solely on imports. The Treasury Department in a Frequently Asked Question specifically stated that foreign banks will not be exposed to sanctions "if they knowingly conduct or facilitate a transaction" for the Houthis.
- The Week
President Biden has held his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Biden spoke with Putin for the first time since his swearing-in last week and raised several "matters of concern," including the SolarWinds hack, Russia allegedly placing bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, election interference, and opposition leader Alexei Navalny's poisoning. "President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies," the White House said. Nationwide protests have erupted in Russia calling for Navalny's release after the Putin critic was detained earlier this month, and CNN reports that during their conversation, Biden called on Putin to release him. The president also "broke sharply with Trump by declaring that he knew that Russia attempted to interfere with both the 2016 and 2020 elections," The Associated Press reports. However, AP also notes that Biden has looked to "preserve room for diplomacy," and the White House said Biden and Putin talked about "both countries' willingness to extend" the New START arms control treaty and agreed to "maintain transparent and consistent communication." CNN also noted that the extensive agenda for the call alone pointed to the "troubled state of affairs between Washington and Moscow that he inherited from the previous administration." More stories from theweek.comSarah Huckabee Sanders' shameless campaign for governorTrump's impeachment lawyer said he thinks 'the facts and the law will speak for themselves'Mitch McConnell is the GOAT
- Associated Press
Iran has sentenced the brother of the country’s senior vice president to two years in prison on corruption charges, the website of the Iranian judiciary reported Tuesday. According to the judiciary's spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, the verdict for Mahdi Jahangiri, the brother of Eshaq Jahangiri, is final and cannot be appealed.
- Architectural Digest
Let’s get loudOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- The Independent
Melissa Carone was widely mocked following her court appearance in December 2020
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected on Friday to issue executive orders on asylum resettlement and reunification of migrant families, among other issues, according to a Biden transition team memo shared with lawmakers and interviews with two people familiar with the plans. Biden, a Democrat, has vowed to reverse many policies put in place by former Republican President Donald Trump, a process that could take months or years. Biden plans to rescind some Trump policies that made it harder to obtain asylum in the United States, according to the memo.
- The Week
Steven Brandenburg, the Wisconsin pharmacist accused of intentionally sabotaging hundreds of doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, will plead guilty to two counts of "attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death and bodily injury," the Justice Department announced Tuesday. Each count carries up to 10 years in prison. After his arrest, police called Brandenburg, 46, an "admitted conspiracy theorist," and his federal plea agreement bolsters that label. Brandenburg had told his coworkers about his beliefs in "conspiracy theories" and "alternative history" for at least two years, his plea deal says, and he had let it be known he was a skeptic of the Moderna vaccine specifically, and vaccines in general. On the nights of Dec. 24 and 25, he left two batches of the vaccine out of refrigeration for several hours, and the spoiled vaccine was then injected into the arms of 57 people, the Justice Department said. The sabotaged vaccines are not believed to be dangerous, but researchers are checking to see if the lack of refrigeration sapped their efficacy. More stories from theweek.comSarah Huckabee Sanders' shameless campaign for governorTrump's impeachment lawyer said he thinks 'the facts and the law will speak for themselves'Mitch McConnell is the GOAT
- The Telegraph
Germany has denied media reports that it has data suggesting the Oxford vaccine is drastically less effective in older people, blaming an apparent mix-up in the figures. The German health ministry issued a swift denial after two German newspapers claimed Angela Merkel’s government has data that suggests the vaccine is largely ineffective in people aged over 75. Handelsblatt newspaper claimed the vaccine’s effectiveness could be as low as 8 per cent, while Bild reported it was “under 10 per cent”. The German health ministry said it has no such data and the reports appear to be based on a misunderstanding, adding the figure of 8 per cent in fact refers to the proportion of participants in clinical trials aged between 56 and 69. AstraZeneca, the company that manufactures the Oxford vaccine, also used a denial. Both newspapers claimed their reports were based on leaked information from within Mrs Merkel’s coalition government. That will raise questions over what was behind the leaks, which came amid a major row between AstraZeneca and the European Union.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that Democrats may try to pass much of President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief bill using a process that would bypass a Republican filibuster and could pass with a majority vote. Biden wants Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal, but many Republicans have balked at the price tag. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.
- Associated Press
A Texas man accused of taking part in the attack on the U.S. Capitol earlier this month while wearing a shirt with a message that stood for “murder the media” was arrested Tuesday, the FBI said. Nicholas DeCarlo, 30, was charged with obstructing an official proceeding, entering a restricted building and parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint. Investigators say DeCarlo, of Burleson, Texas, was seen in photos smoking a cigarette inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
About 3,400 troops from Norway, the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany were scheduled to participate.
- Architectural Digest
Everything they need to put the horrors of moving behind themOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest