Monday, February 19, 2007

Al Qaeda Rebuilding Global Terror Network from Pakistan

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Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde in today's New York Times:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

Obviously, this did not happen overnight, but the Bush administration, as per its usual practice, relied on faulty intelligence about Al Qaeda's capabilities. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Counterrorism Blog quotes a "senior military intelligence official":

The senior officer ... noted that the Times article portrays al-Qaeda as having fragmented in 2005, when "American intelligence assessments described senior leaders of Al Qaeda as cut off from their foot soldiers and able only to provide inspiration for future attacks." In his estimation, such assessments were essentially intelligence failures: al-Qaeda's senior leadership was regrouping and gathering force during this period, and Western intelligence wasn't aware of it. The reason we realize it now, he says, is because the strength of al-Qaeda's central leadership has become blatantly obvious.

The right side of the blogosphere is caught between a rock and a hard place: How to parse a looming national security threat that has been facilitated by policies they supported, and continue to support?

Allahpundit tries to defend by begging the question:

The stupider, more reactionary types among the nutroots will try to blame this on Chimpy’s Iraq gambit, but one has nothing to do with the other. The issue here is Pakistani sovereignty, not troop levels, and in any case there aren’t enough men and women in the U.S. military to occupy a country of 160+ million people with nuclear weapons and a jihadist power base that’s the envy of the Wahhabist world. We might have enough troops to invade and occupy the tribal areas if Musharraf was willing to cut a deal on that, but (a) what could we possibly offer him to get him to effectively cede territory, (b) how could he hope to survive the irredentist backlash among Pakistanis, and (c) if you think 3,000 dead in Iraq is bad, what would the numbers look like with U.S. troops fighting Iwo-style cave-clearing warfare in the mountains of Waziristan with jihadis from every shinolahole in the Middle East streaming in as reinforcements?

Shorter Allah: We couldn't go up against Pakistan, man! They could really have hurt us, man! I mean, those guys have The Bomb and terrorist connections FOR REAL!

Dan Riehl is tired of trying to understand why everything couldn't just work out the way Daddy promised us it would; he just wants to tear up the book and throw it away:

It's hard to imagine what creates sub-human scum like we face in Iraq, so comitted to killing innocent people. And reading about their daily crimes takes a toll. We just have to remember that the surge has just begun and this is a fight we need to stay with until the end.
As for the situation in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, it looks to me like a wonderful place for a tactical nuclear weapons test. We should bury the whole lot of them under the mountains in which we hide.

I think he means "under the mountains in which they hide." It's an interesting mistake, though, don't you think? Some might even call it Freudian. After all, "we" are not committed to killing innocent people, so there's no reason Dan Riehl might be unconsciously visualizing himself and his fellow Americans getting buried under the mountains in which "we" hide.

Ed Morrissey does an admirable job of describing the current problem:

Western intelligence and military agencies are unsure how to proceed. American military strikes on these bases will violate Pakistani sovereignty, but Musharraf has not been willing to take on the task himself. The West cannot allow AQ to operate so easily, and the Bush doctrine certainly would apply here. However, if people thought Iraq was such a "meatgrinder", as one CQ commenter recently put it (and later retracted), it would be a walk in the park compared to an invasion of Waziristan and an occupation of that region. It would almost certainly pull down the Musharraf government in Islamabad, and its replacement would almost certainly be Islamist. Its army and intelligence services would immediately begin to attack American positions in the mountainous country, and we would then be at open war with a nuclear power. Plus, the lines of communication would make it difficult to resupply our troops even if that war went reasonably well; we could not hope to hold Waziristan for a significant period of time.

Besides, given the nature of AQ, even targeted American strikes could not guarantee that they could be "surgical", ie, not create collateral damage to civilian populations. We also could not be sure that we had destroyed the core AQ targets, although the camps would be enough for now. Escalation of the war in Afghanistan would have to get NATO's buy-in, and it would open up the White House to more attacks from Congress, including another defunding threat.

We face a daunting task and an irrevocable threat in Pakistan now, and the situation has to change in one direction or the other. Afghanistan, by comparison, was easy. The Taliban government had been nothing more than a paper front for terrorist groups, not a large military threat. Now that the Taliban and AQ have taken refuge in Pakistan -- and that Musharraf seems unwilling to do what it takes to eject them -- we have a much bigger problem on our hands. If we go to war with Pakistan over AQ, we could pull in India and Iran and perhaps the entire region in a nuclear standoff that has few positive outcomes possible. ...

But Ed cannot bring himself to acknowledge what has brought us to this sorry pass. While Pres. Bush pulled U.S. forces out of Afghanistan to invade a country that did not have nuclear weapons, that did not have any meaningful connections to Al Qaeda, and that did not in any way threaten U.S. national security, Pakistan -- which IS a nuclear power and has been for years, and which DOES have scads of links to Al Qaeda and IS a haven for terrorists -- was allowed to go its merry way, pretending to be America's ally in the war on terror while Musharraf turned a blind eye to Al Qaeda's resurgence in his country. And that larger regional conflagration Ed is concerned about is precisely what countless experts and other public figures warned would result from invading and occupying Iraq while real dangers were ignored.

1 comment:

Joan said...

Hey kathy!

I am surprised Afghanistan is in the news again, it is not considered a dirty war the way Iraq is, but it was a mistake to go in there as well. I remember a commentator, Kamal Hyder, warned that if you take the Taliban out of there, the country would fall apart. His words have proved true. Afghanistan has sunk back into a civil war. Unfortunately, Canadian soldiers are now in Afghanistan as well. I'm not really sure what we are doing there besides getting our soldiers killed.

I am surprised that some commentators think it is possible to "win" Afghanistan. It's as big a quagmire as Iraq is. I think eventually everyone is going to give up in Afghanistan, it is not as stratigically important as Iraq. But it is sad we to dystroyed such a fragile country first.
Take Care