Sami Yousafzai

Stories by Sami Yousafzai

  • Pakistan Taliban Source: Times Square Bombing Attempt Was 'Revenge Against America'

    A top Afghan Taliban planner and organizer tells NEWSWEEK he wasn't surprised by the attempted car bombing in Times Square. "We were expecting this," says the source, who operates on both sides of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He says the Pakistani Taliban—formally known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban—was hellbent on revenge after the Predator drone attack that killed its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, last August and the more recent strikes that nearly killed Baitullah's successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, this January. "They were desperately looking for revenge against America inside America," says the source, who declined to be identified by name for security reasons. Hakimullah went deep underground immediately after the Hellfire missile attack in January, disappearing so completely that even his fellow militants thought he was dead. According to the senior Afghan source, he vanished not only for his own safety but also because he wanted to come back with a bang: ...
  • Nawa: The Taliban Model for Marja

    American military efforts in the village of Nawa, in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province, are often cited by leaders as a model of what a properly resourced counterinsurgency campaign can achieve. Last July a battalion of Marines swooped in, and although the village had been solidly under Taliban control, U.S. troops transformed the place. Deployed in a one-man-to-50-villagers ratio, they took off their body armor, patrolled on foot, drank endless cups of green tea with elders, and funded small-scale reconstruction projects. By October IED attacks were down 90 percent, and Nawa had become Gen. Stanley McChrystal's "No. 1 petri dish," an aide told the press. In his recent blistering report about the failures of military intelligence in Afghani-stan, Gen. Michael Flynn praised the Marines in Nawa for developing one of the only truly effective information-gathering networks in the country.But the Taliban tell a different story, with implications for the current campaign in Marja. A...
  • Yet Another Taliban Leader Captured

    Yet another leader of the Afghan Taliban has reportedly been captured by authorities in Pakistan. Counterterrorism sources in the U.S. and Pakistan, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, identified the latest Taliban chief to be arrested as Maulvi Abdul Kabir, described as a former regional governor during the days when the Taliban ran Afghanistan's government.
  • Exclusive: Another Taliban Leader Captured in Pakistan

    Another leader of the Afghan Taliban has been captured by authorities in Pakistan working in partnership with U.S. intelligence officials. Taliban sources in the region and a counterterrorism officials in Washington have identified the detained insurgent leader as Mullah Abdul Salam, described as the Taliban movement's "shadow governor" of Afghanistan's Kunduz province....
  • The Taliban's Oral History of the Afghanistan War

    During wars and after them, the real voice of the enemy is rarely heard. Propaganda is plentiful, as are prideful boasts—and the Taliban have certainly been quick studies at the modern art of information warfare. But the fears and ambitions of ordinary fighters are too often buried under statistics and theories propounded from thousands of miles away. That's been even more true in Iraq and Afghanistan, where reporters who might accurately convey the other side's perspective are at risk of being kidnapped or killed for their efforts.After eight long years of war in Afghanistan, however, America and its allies can ill afford not to understand who the enemy is and why they fight. To put together this remarkable oral history, told through the words of the Taliban themselves, NEWSWEEK turned to contributing correspondent Sami Yousafzai, who has been covering the conflict for the magazine since 2001. Over that time he has developed and maintained contact with dozens of Afghan insurgents,...
  • Pakistan's Islamists Take A Step Too Far

    Last week yet another militant victory in Pakistan had many fretting that the country's capital could also soon fall to the Taliban. After Islamists swept into the populous Buner district, just 60 miles northwest of Islamabad, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared it posed a "mortal threat" to the world, and Fazlur Rehman, a Pakistani parliamentarian, predicted that the Taliban would soon be perched on the hills overlooking the capital.But the rumors of Pakistan's demise have been exaggerated. The Islamists are on a roll—this victory was made possible by a peace deal the government signed with them in the nearby Swat valley earlier this year—but they may have now reached their limits. The Taliban are almost exclusively Pashtun, and advancing farther would take them into Pakistan's Punjabi heartland, where they have little support. And while Pakistan's army may be tired of the conflict, it still vastly outmans and outguns the extremists, and would take a stand if they...
  • London's Armchair Taliban

    In the city's Muslim neighborhoods, an Afghan reporter finds a few too many uncomfortable reminders of home.
  • The Taliban Aren't Talking

    Everyone's talking about talking to the Taliban. But before we jaw-jaw, there will be more war-war.
  • Afghanistan: The Taliban Targets Kabul

    The insurgents are closing in on Kabul, not in order to overrun the capital but to terrorize its residents and drive away investors. It's working.
  • Inside the Prison Escape

    This month's spectacular prison escape in Kandahar began with a jailed guerrilla's phone conversation with the No. 2 leader of the Afghan insurgency, according to one of the roughly 350 Taliban fighters who broke out. Speaking to NEWSWEEK by phone from his home in eastern Afghanistan late last week, Taliban subcommander Mullah Khan Muhammad Akhund, 36, said more than 700 of the prison's approximately 1,000 inmates were allowed to have their own mobile phones. It was one of the few comforts at the antiquated and squalid Sarposa Prison, where 15 to 20 men were crammed into each tiny cell, he says. Counting on prisoners' families to pay, prison authorities charged each inmate $100 a month for the privilege of keeping a phone, according to Akhund, who was serving an eight-year sentence in Sarposa before the escape.About two months ago, he says, a Taliban inmate known as Mullah Qasam was on the phone describing the brutality of daily life at Sarposa to Mullah Bradar—"Mullah Brother," as...
  • Opium Brides of Afghanistan

    In the country's poppy-growing provinces, farmers are being forced to sell their daughters to pay loans.
  • An Assault On Supplies

    The Taliban may have discovered a worrisome new target: the main supply conduit for food, fuel and military equipment to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While Pakistan rethinks its support for the war against Al Qaeda's allies in the region, the militants are focusing their raids on the highway that winds through the strategic Khyber Pass—and Taliban sources say they're getting ready to squeeze even harder. The most spectacular strike so far was on the night of March 23, when saboteurs blew up a convoy of some 40 loaded fuel tankers at a Pakistani border post. Then, last week, militants seized a busload of civilians on the way into Afghanistan. Abductions have also become common since January, when Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan vanished without a trace. The Khyber Pass continues to be plagued by "old-fashioned banditry," says a British military source, asking not to be named on intelligence matters. Still, he adds, the fuel-convoy attack may be the start of something new.Taliban...
  • Pakistan: Voting Amid Fear

    After more than five years as a leading member of Pakistan's National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had to run for re-election without daring to leave his house. Despite his dedication to Islamist causes, some militants want the rotund, orange-turbaned Rehman dead. Soon after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, security officials warned the deputy that he too was on the jihadists' hit list. That could scarcely have been news: a rocket attack last year just missed his home, striking his brother's veranda next door. The militants hate him for taking part in the political process.If nothing else, this week's National Assembly elections should dispel any lingering fears that Pakistan might vote its jihadists into power. The worries began after the last National Assembly contest, in 2002, when the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan provoked a massive protest vote. The Islamists, who had never drawn more than 5 percent of the ballots nationwide or 20 percent in North-West Frontier...
  • Afghan Prison Blues

    Why are so few Taliban in jail? Hundreds are buying their way out for cash.
  • Signed and Delivered

    Osama Bin Laden appears to be reasserting his influence among the Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders upon whom he's depending for survival. Since December, the Qaeda chief has personally penned at least five brief letters, written in Arabic on white stationery, to the region's militant commanders. For the Taliban's Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the latest correspondence is the second he's received this year from the "Sheik," as bin Laden is known among jihadis. The first was a letter of condolence after the death of Dadullah's notoriously brutal elder brother, a senior Taliban figure who was killed by Coalition forces in May 2007. An Afghan Taliban official said Mansoor was thrilled to receive the notes. "For the first time the Sheik is … reaching out to individual fighters rather than just broadcasting an audio or videotaped message," says the official, who requested anonymity for security reasons. "It's like a reward for a job well done."According to the Taliban source, bin Laden's...
  • Al Qaeda’s Newest Triggerman

    Baitullah Mehsud is being blamed for most of the suicide bombings in Pakistan, including Benazir Bhutto's assassination. The rise of a militant leader.
  • Alone, Afraid, In the Company of Men Dreaming of Death

    No journalist could turn down the offer: a face-to-face interview with would-be suicide bombers. A chance to learn how the insurgents recruit, train and deploy, to examine why the Taliban relies so heavily on this imprecise, indiscriminate tactic. The only problem was, I was scared that I wouldn't survive the meeting.Suicide bombings became the scourge of Afghanistan in 2007, as the Taliban, outnumbered and outgunned, turned to asymmetrical-warfare tactics to battle the 100,000 Coalition and Afghan security forces in the region. Afghanistan endured more than 140 suicide bombings in 2007, more than in the past five years combined, according to the Jamestown Foundation think tank. Those bombs have killed more than 300 people, many civilians.For my meeting, I traveled 100 miles by car and an hour on foot—through snow-covered paths—to reach a poor village in Ghazni province, south of Kabul, where my Taliban sources instructed me to go. I drank tea with village elders in a humble, mud...
  • Musharraf Frees Taliban Militants

    If you think Musharraf's wrong to free jailed Taliban members while he busts dissidents, wait until you hear who's back on the loose.
  • Al Qaeda: Internal Power Struggle Looms

    Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's moment of triumph was brief. Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque—a complex in the heart of the normally sleepy capital of Islamabad that had been occupied by extremists—the retaliations began. Early last week Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants launched suicide attacks against several Pakistani military convoys. Another bomber walked into a police recruiting center, killing 29 in a single gory blast. The next day militants launched a classic guerrilla ambush using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades that killed 14 Pakistani soldiers traveling in a convoy. The attacks demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed—not to mention strategic cunning. After former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto publicly backed Musharraf's counterterror operation against the Red Mosque, yet another suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a group waiting to attend a rally of her Pakistan Peoples...
  • By The Book: Taliban Fighters Play by Their Own Rules

    In case a Taliban fighter wonders what is expected of him, he can now refer to a nine-page, blue and white, pocket-size pamphlet called the Layeha, which Mullah Mohammed Omar began distributing last month. The book (NEWSWEEK obtained a copy, and has seen Taliban fighters carrying it in several parts of Afghanistan) lays down 29 strictures for conduct on the battlefield and in villages, as well as sanctions faced by those who break the rules: strict Islamic justice. ...
  • The Rise of Jihadistan

    You don't have to drive very far from Kabul these days to find the Taliban. In Ghazni province's Andar district, just over a two-hour trip from the capital on the main southern highway, a thin young man, dressed in brown and wearing a white prayer cap, stands by the roadside waiting for two NEWSWEEK correspondents. It is midday on the central Afghan plains, far from the jihadist-infested mountains to the east and west. Without speaking, the sentinel guides his visitors along a sandy horse trail toward a mud-brick village within sight of the highway. As they get closer a young Taliban fighter carrying a walkie-talkie and an AK-47 rifle pops out from behind a tree. He is manning an improvised explosive device, he explains, in case Afghan or U.S. troops try to enter the village.In a parched clearing a few hundred yards on, more than 100 Taliban fighters ranging in age from teenagers to a grandfatherly 55-year-old have assembled to meet their provincial commander, Muhammad Sabir. An...