September 20th, 2012
04:03 PM ET

Meet the 'foreign fighters' in the Syrian rebel ranks

The presence of foreigners among the ranks of Syria's rebels has been seized on by nearly all sides to suit their purposes.

The Syrian government says they are proof the rebels are extremists and terrorists. The rebels sometimes point to them as a sign that they haven't had the outside help NATO gave their Libyan counterparts and have instead had to rely on foreign militants with genuine experience of battle, and sometimes let in people who they would not normally have asked to fight alongside.

Among the rebel ranks are, according to who you listen to, al Qaeda, foreign jihadis, Salafis seeking a radical Islamist state, and then plain old freedom fighters - Muslims seeking to support their Arab brothers in this brutal battle.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and James Foley talk to one rebel who staunchly rejects claims that foreign fighters are radicals or have links to al Qaeda.

"I'm only a student. I left my money, my student, my family. We are not al Qaeda. We are not coming to break this country, we're coming to help," said Libyan Feras.

Read Nick and James reporting here.

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Filed under: Libya
U.S. officials confirm release of senior Taliban
May 7th, 2012
06:43 AM ET

U.S. officials confirm release of senior Taliban

By Nick Paton Walsh

Up to 20 high-level insurgent prisoners have been released from NATO custody in Afghanistan over the past two years in an effort to boost peace negotiations with the Taliban in various regions of the country, according to U.S. officials.

The insurgents, held at the jointly-run NATO-Afghan detention facility of Parwan, are considered "bad guys," said one U.S. official who did not want to be identified discussing a sensitive issue. Their release was undertaken, the official said, often at the request of the Afghan government. In all cases, they were assessed as unlikely to rejoin the insurgency.

The official added that the Taliban detainees had been in the maximum security Parwan detention center “for a reason” – but that NATO "does not release anyone when there is a high likelihood they will rejoin the insurgency." The official said he was aware of only two releases in the last nine months. FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Diplomacy • ISAF • Military • NATO • Taliban
April 23rd, 2012
11:32 AM ET

EXCLUSIVE: Multiple Pakistan-Afghanistan border skirmishes in last year

U.S. troops have fired into Pakistani territory at least four times in the last 10 months in cross-border skirmishes that they say are in response to shelling from inside Pakistan, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports from Forward Operating Base Tillman in Afghanistan.

The revelation in Nick's exclusive report is likely to stoke already tense relations between Pakistan and the United States, which hit a new low after a NATO airstrike last year killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the volatile border.

Read Nick's story here or watch his report above.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • FIRST ON CNN/EXCLUSIVE • ISAF • Pakistan
No U.S. access to sites of Afghan killings
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged in the deaths of 17 Afghan villagers
March 29th, 2012
09:15 AM ET

No U.S. access to sites of Afghan killings

By Nick Paton Walsh

U.S. military officials have yet to gain access to the sites in which 17 Afghans were killed in Kandahar, an obstacle that could impede efforts to prosecute the American soldier accused of the multiple homicides.

U.S. personnel had not been able to collect DNA from the sites or access the areas, although DNA collected by Afghan investigators may have been received, an official said.

However, DNA has been found in blood on the clothing of the suspect, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

"We do not have access to the crime scene," said the U.S. official, who has knowledge of the investigation but did not want to be identified discussing an ongoing inquiry.

February 25th, 2012
09:52 AM ET

American officers killed in Afghan ministry

By Nick Paton Walsh, with reporting from Barbara Starr and Masoud Popalzai

The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack Saturday inside the Afghan interior ministry that killed at least two American officers.

NATO and Afghan officials reported the deaths of two American officers inside the ministry in Kabul, prompting Gen. John Allen to order all military advisers with the International Security Assistance Force to withdraw from government ministries in the Afghan capital as a safety precaution, according to a U.S. official.

Click here for updates.

February 1st, 2012
08:01 AM ET

Pakistan ties to Taliban raised in report

By Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul, with reporting from Barbara Starr, Richard Allen Greene, Shaan Khan, Pam Benson and Joe Sterling

The Taliban in Afghanistan depend on Pakistan for support, even though they do not necessarily welcome it, a secret NATO report says, according to a journalist who has read it.

"It is a marriage of convenience," Times of London reporter Jerome Starkey said Wednesday, citing the report. The Taliban see Pakistan as manipulative, but they see no alternative to accepting its support, he said.

The Taliban are absolutely confident of victory, he said the report found, based on 27,000 interviews with over 4,000 detainees ranging from senior Taliban commanders to Afghan civilians.

They also include mid- and low-level Taliban, al Qaeda, and foreign fighters, he said. FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • ISAF • Pakistan • Taliban
Officials split on Haqqani connection to deadly weekend attack
Afghan security forces and NATO troops inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on Saturday.
October 31st, 2011
12:55 PM ET

Officials split on Haqqani connection to deadly weekend attack

By CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan

The investigation into the suicide bombing that killed 17 people on Saturday suggests it was the work of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, an Afghan official said Monday.

"We have some contacts and some evidence on the ground and some information about the vehicles used and the people used," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said, stressing that the results of the investigation were preliminary.

"This is another sophisticated attack by the operatives of the Haqqani network, and we are also optimistic to arrest some of their operatives in Kabul in the days ahead," he said.

However, a spokesman for international forces in Afghanistan, which lost nine troops in the attack, said they have no indications yet that the Haqqani network was involved. FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Haqqani • Kabul • Military • NATO • Pakistan
Rabbani's killing raises many uncomfortable questions about the war
September 20th, 2011
04:20 PM ET

Rabbani's killing raises many uncomfortable questions about the war

By CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Islamabad, Pakistan

Whatever peace process there was in Afghanistan, there is probably little left today.

The assassination Tuesday of Professor Burhanudin Rabbani in his home by at least one suicide bomber who hid a device in his turban hasn't just again reminded residents of Kabul that even the safest areas are vulnerable to insurgent attacks. It's surely made insurgents who have even the slightest whimsy to negotiate think again.

The war in Afghanistan is, by NATO's own admission, one of perception. And things aren't being perceived particularly well right now.  Just over a week ago, NATO's headquarters and the U.S. Embassy came under a sustained attack that some residents said seemed to need 20y hours to totally suppress.

And just back in July, the half-brother of President Hamid Karzai - Ahmed Wali Karzai - was killed, also in his home, by another man who was thought to be friend, not foe.  There are fewer reasons every day for Afghans to throw their weight behind the Americans, who are busy throwing their weight behind a timetable for departure.

"I think what you're seeing here is a deliberate attack by elements in the Taliban to make Kabul look unsafe, that the capital of Afghanistan is not a safe place, that no one is secure there, including the head of the peace council and a former president," said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Haqqani • Kabul • Karzai • Pakistan • Taliban • Terrorism