Defense intelligence officials recently outlined the often confusing picture of the nature of insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They revealed that one of the most dangerous aspects is a network of tacit alliances among terrorists who are currently engaged in a major suicide-bombing campaign in Pakistan.
“In terms of the suicide campaign inside Pakistan, what we’re seeing is a convergence of FATAbased militants led by Baitullah Mehsud and his group, supplemented, financed, probably trained, inculcated, by al Qaeda elements as well, and then helped substantially by such traditionally Punjab-based Pakistani terrorist groups as Lashkar-eJhangvi or Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami — HUJI,” said one defense official who recently briefed reporters on condition he not be identified by name. FATA refers to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan.
The official said the convergence of terrorists has made it difficult to determine whether a particular terrorist attack was the work of a single group. Instead, suicide attacks are part of “a system,” the official said.
“It’s the relationship between the three elements that is producing effective suicide bombers and sustaining a suicide-bomb campaign inside Pakistan,” the official said.
The other two factions are headed by Afghan-based Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Siraj Haqqani. Haqqani is part of a younger generation of more violent Taliban militia, and he operates in eastern Afghanistan. He is the son of the former Taliban defense minister Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Regarding al Qaeda operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan, a second defense official said the terrorist group behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks continues to operate a “network that moves propaganda messages from senior al Qaeda leaders to media outlets.”
“And that’s a network that [. . . ] obviously, al Qaeda wants us to see,” the official said. “We’re concerned about the networks that al Qaeda doesn’t want us to see that are continuing to operate in the FATA. Based on the fact that we see a propaganda network operating gives us reason to assume that their training, facilitation and other operational networks are working as well.”
This official said there are “great concerns” that al Qaeda is moving operatives to Europe and, in particular, Britain.
The first official noted that some of the Punjabi-based terror groups have “taken on over the last decade a more international flavor, where it was tending to be more local, either Afghan or Kashmir-focused.”
“They’ve adopted a lot of rhetoric and thought process related to international jihad,” the official said. “If you tap into foreign fighters from outside Pakistan coming and going, it’s one thing. But when you have Pakistani-based groups and they may be able to pull in individuals who have dual-citizenship, that’s where our level of concern goes up. It makes it easier for them to move.”
In southern Afghanistan, Mullah Omar has control of insurgent forces and “can give directives to shift forces from one place to another, and the commanders are going to respond to those things.”
“You don’t see that as well in the East and the Northeast because what you get with all the insurgent efforts is everybody is a tribal person first, and then they support some other larger effort as part of an insurgent coalition or a syndicate.
“For example, if one regional insurgent leader asks Haqqani to send fighters to Helmand, it’s probably not going to happen because Haqqani is going to make sure he takes care of Haqqani first and then supports the greater insurgency,” a third defense official said.
The Haqqani forces dominate the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, and “one of the evolutions we’ve seen to a degree is the Haqqani network has probably become more aggressive in the sense that the father figure has stepped back and the younger generation is taking over,” this official said.
Insurgent lines get crossed in the northeast, where there are Taliban forces, some Haqqani forces and some insurgents from the group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, along with “elements that bleed across the border on both sides of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the official said.
The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the material.
Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at email@example.com.