Af­Pak al­liances

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

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 in­sid­e­ther­ing@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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