Cross-border strike targets one of the Taliban's 157 training camps in Pakistan's northwest


Hangu is the latest district to fall under Taliban control. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts; purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.

Ten Taliban fighters, including a commander, were killed in a strike on a training camp and headquarters in South Waziristan. The compound was one of 157 Taliban and al Qaeda camps established in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.

Taliban commander Abdul Rehman, along with Islam Wazir, three Turkmen, and "several Arab fighters" were reported to be among those killed in today's strike. Some reports indicate up to 25 terrorists were killed in the attack.

The compound is thought to have been run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, a radical faction with close links to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. A Taliban training camp and a headquarters building were hit in the strike.

The attack on the Taliban camp in South Waziristan comes one day after a senior US intelligence analyst said al Qaeda has metastasized in Pakistan's tribal regions, and is poised to strike at the US and the West.

"[Pakistan's tribal areas] is a stronger, more comfortable safe haven than it was for them a year ago," said Ted Gistaro, a senior intelligence analyst at the National Intelligence Council said in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Taliban and al Qaeda have expanded their network of training camps and support networks throughout northwestern Pakistan, beyond the lawless tribal agencies, senior intelligence officials tell The Long War Journal on the condition they remain anonymous.

There are currently 157 training camps and "more than 400 support locations" spread throughout the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, senior intelligence officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Long War Journal. This number does not include Taliban camps and support locations in Baluchistan province.

Other officials refused to give an exact number, only saying there are "well over 100 camps in northwestern Pakistan." Earlier this year, US intelligence sources told The Long War Journal that there were more than 100 camps inside northwestern Pakistan.

The camps vary in size and specialty, and some are temporary. An estimated 25 to 50 camps are considered "permanent," meaning they are at a fixed location, with buildings, and sometimes a barracks and a headquarters.

Some camps are devoted to training the Taliban's military arm, some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups, some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West, and one serves as a training ground the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

Most of the camps are temporary in nature. The trainers may establish a camp in a home for a short period of time, or gather a group of fighters and take them to a location for weapons training and ideological indoctrination. One such camp in Khyber was recently described by The Wall Street Journal.

The support locations provide the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied Islamist groups with the logistical support to carry out operations. Support facilities tend to be fixed, and include safe houses, weapons storage facilities, motor pools, and prepositioned weapons caches along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas

Today's strike in South Waziristan is the latest in a series of cross-border attacks into Pakistan by the US military. There have been six confirmed cross-border attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda safe houses inside Pakistan this year. Three senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in the strikes, while several camps run by the dangerous Haqqani Network were hit as well.

The US military killed Khabab during a targeted strike on an al Qaeda safe house in a village in South Waziristan on July 28. Three members of Khabab's staff were also killed in the attack.

On May 14, Abu Sulayman Jazairi, a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda's central organization who directed the groups external operations, was killed in an airstrike against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal agency along with 13 associates. Jazairi is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.

Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US strike inside the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan in late January. Al Libi was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a chief spokesman for al Qaeda. Laith also commanded al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.

The US has also struck at Taliban and al Qaeda safe house inside Pakistan at least two other times this year. On March 16, US forces struck at the fortified compound owned by Noorullah Wazir, a Pakistani tribal elder who lived in the village of Dhook Pir Bagh some five kilometers from Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan. Another nearby house, where Uzbek and Arab fighters had recently stayed, was also destroyed in a separate round of missile fire.

On March 12, the US military fired guided missiles from Afghanistan into a compound run by Siraj Haqqani, the wanted Taliban leader behind numerous attacks in Afghanistan. The attack is believed to have killed three senior Haqqani network commanders and "many" Chechen fighters.

Last year, the US struck at an al Qaeda safe house inside Pakistan on Dec. 28, the day after Benazir Bhutto's assassination. The US military targeted the home of Sheikh Essa, an Egyptian cleric responsible for pushing the Taliban to overthrow the Pakistani government. Essa was said to have been wounded in the attack.

In August 2007, Pakistani forces hit two Taliban and al Qaeda bases in the village of Daygan, North Waziristan. Camps and bases in Damadola, Danda Saidgai, Chingai, Zamazola, again in Danda Saidgai, and Mami Rogha were hit over the course of 2006 and 2007.

These strikes have done little to disrupt the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda are consolidating their control over the tribal areas and several settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government has signed multiple peace agreements with the Taliban in an effort to stem the violence, but this has only facilitated the rise of the extremists in northwestern Pakistan.



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READER COMMENTS: "Cross-border strike targets one of the Taliban's 157 training camps in Pakistan's northwest"

Posted by JusCruzn at August 13, 2008 11:32 AM ET:

Since they know there are 157 they must also know where they are. Isn't it time to put the JDAM's on these targets?

Posted by marcus at August 13, 2008 11:42 AM ET:


That's a lot of camps. And it takes a lot of money to keep those camps going.

Someday we'll produce energy that will reduce the demand for oil. At that time the Saudi money will stop flowing and the Wahhabist swamps will begin to dry up.

Posted by C. Jordan at August 13, 2008 11:51 AM ET:

"...The Saudi money will stop flowing..."

How are these camps funded?

Posted by Neo at August 13, 2008 12:10 PM ET:

I agree, these raids are too infrequent to have much immediate impact. We must clearly establish though, that we will hit Al Qaeda targets within Pakistan. The Pakistani government will never agree to these cross boarder raids, but than again they may not react to them either. Since the Pakistani government is very much a target of Al Qaeda and the Taliban such attacks probably evoke a mixed reaction. The Pakistani's are deeply bothered by the encroachment on their sovereignty but may be increasingly resigned to the fact that they cannot address the problem themselves.

As for the Pakistani Pashtoons they have already cast their lot with the enemy. Until that changes, we don't particularly care how the Pashtoon tribes across the boarder feel about the matter.

Posted by MattR at August 13, 2008 1:42 PM ET:

We can bomb the camps until they put them into the middle of cities. Then we're stuck and we have to wait until the taliban makes everyone's life in those cities miserable because of the violence from power lust that will eventually flow. Until they want our help we can't do much. It was the Iraqi tribes that eventually decided to take our help and end AQI.

Posted by Oded at August 13, 2008 2:17 PM ET:

Im a little perplexed by the worry over these camps generating attacks against the west. They cant really believe that if they attack us here, their camps will continue to exist. A single terrorist event here of any magnitude will likely result in a scorched earth policy for Waziristan, regardless of Pakistani complaints or civilian deaths.

Posted by KnightHawk at August 13, 2008 2:34 PM ET:

Why wait for magnitude attacks against the west to happen first, let alone the daily attacks over there. Hit them now, hit them repeatedly. Gone from 27 camps last summer to 150+ this summer and 400 support locations.

Posted by Red Howard at August 13, 2008 4:23 PM ET:

Neo; I generally agree with everything you say, but not sure I understand:

"As for the Pakistani Pashtoons they have already cast their lot with the enemy. Until that changes, we don't particularly care how the Pashtoon tribes across the boarder feel about the matter"

Are you kidding me? Where do you think we are getting our targeting information from? I think you would be surprised to find out exactly who is on whose side over there.

Right now, there is sort of a Kabuki dance underway in the FATA, certain parties have a strong interest in creating a stalemate - i.e. there is a major set back, and gee whiz, two days later an HVT gets taken out...how'd that happen??

The good guys have no on the ground capability in the FATA - none whatsoever, so you (we) better figure out a way to work with the Pakhtun tribesman or else it will be more of the same.

Keep up the good work, Neo. You're good people and you write excellent analysis.

"Fortune favours the Bold"

Posted by Joakim Ekström at August 13, 2008 7:42 PM ET:

I don't think that with an adaptive thinking enemy, that JDAMs can strategically defeat al Qaida.

But I am convinced that an awakening can.

Posted by Thanos at August 13, 2008 8:02 PM ET:

There was some other good news as well, apparently Tribesmen in Buner repelled Taliban exiting SWAT with small arms.

Namdar was assassinated in Peshawar, I'm not sure but it's likely the Namdar who opposed the Khyber push.

Posted by meleager at August 13, 2008 8:14 PM ET:

Question

did we or did we not ever have Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in custody?

Posted by Neo at August 13, 2008 11:04 PM ET:

"did we or did we not ever have Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in custody"

No I don't believe we ever had him in custody, but the CIA had him on the payroll for a much of the 80's. He was truly a menace to the Soviets and at the time one of the primary leaders of the Mojahadeen. Mr. Hekmatyar than went on to become a menace to just about everyone at one time or another. More than anyone else, he is probably more responsible for flattening of Kabul and general mayhem fallowing the fall of the Soviet backed regime.

If someone wanted to complain about negative repercussions stemming from our dealings with the Afghan Mojahadeen in the 80's, Mr. Hekmatyar would be "Exibit A".

Given the opportunity, I'm sure the CIA could arrange for a suitable severance package should Mr. Hekmatyar have an immediate interest in retirement.

Posted by Neo at August 14, 2008 1:00 AM ET:

Red Howard,

I was thinking more along the lines of the public outcry we will get among the Pashtoon populous that oppose any incursion onto their sacred territory. There are plenty of Pashtoons who don't approve of how the Taliban is spilling Pakistani blood and bringing the country to the brink of civil war, but much of the Pashtoon population either directly or indirectly supports the aims of the Pashtoon uprising. There is little general appreciation for the fact that the Taliban is harboring the worlds most dangerous terrorist group. There is still little acknowledgement that is Al Qaeda's actions that have brought about the American invasion of Afghanistan.

Even the pacifist parties acknowledge most of the Taliban's grievances as legitimate and save most of their real criticism for the Pakistani government. Don't expect to draw much open support from factions within the Pakistani Pashtoon's anytime soon. They might chastise the Teliban for it's crude and violence methods, but in the end they aren't actively going to do anything about it. I'm afraid cracking this nut is going to be much tougher than the Anbar resistance in Iraq. In Anbar much of the leadership came from the outside. The Pashtoon's have been there with Al Qaeda from the beginning and the Taliban movement is very much in line with their stubborn resistance to the outside world.

It's going to be a long, ugly, ride.

Posted by Alex at August 14, 2008 3:03 AM ET:

A two-day long aerial stomping of these camps will not take al-Qaeda entirely out of the fight, but it would do wonders against their command & control and logistics.

Politically, we could even let Pakistan take credit for the air strikes. Or, if they still really don't want to play ball, remember what Iraq's response was when the Turkish military hit PKK sites in Iraq: basically nothing. Granted, the stakes are higher in Pakistan, but we're really doing them a favor.

Posted by David M at August 14, 2008 9:13 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/14/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Joakim Ekström at August 14, 2008 10:07 AM ET:

It's definitely going to be a long, long, ugly ride.

As we find a Pashtoon tribe ready to awake and we start deploying all elements of national power, we know that the enemy is going to throw everything they have against it. SVBIEDs, assasinations, indiscriminate killings - everything. But then, since we know this we might as well use it to our advantage and prepare for their arrival. Lure the enemy out into the open and then really introduce them to the strongest tribe. And then, as we've seen in Iraq, an awakening can spread rather quickly.

Posted by Neo at August 14, 2008 10:57 AM ET:

I guess I should clarify something. I was referring to the Taliban uprising of the last four years when I say that much of the Pashtoon population still generally sympathize with the grievances and action against outsiders. It is the unprecedented level of violence and crude methods of the Taliban that put-off a large segment of the population.

Some here talk of an "Awakening" against the Taliban as if it were something inevitable. Please remember though that the conditions in Anbar (Iraq) during the "Awakening" were far removed from what is currently happening on the Pakistani boarder. The Anbar Awakening was hardly spontaneous but was nurtured and protected at every step by the United States Marine Corps. That isn't a realistic proposition for the Pakistani boarder anytime soon.

If there is going to be any sort of awakening in the short term it will be among the bulk of the Pakistani population down in the flat lands. There is an increasing realization that this war is over something more than an encroachment by the United States on Pashtoon lands in Afghanistan. The Taliban is taking direct aim at the Pakistani government, military, and culture in general with the intent of forcing compliance with their agenda, if not to rule Pakistan directly.

Posted by Joakim Ekström at August 14, 2008 12:15 PM ET:

Neo, I think you're absolutely right. The Pakistani border is very different from Anbar in almost every thinkable way. And an awakening doesn't come by itself, nor easily. And I don't think that it's realistic to believe that a pashtoon awakening will come anytime soon. But I think that until then the Taleban and al Qaida will have a safe haven. I really can't see any other way that their safe haven will be lost.

Can you? Maybe I'm missing something.

Posted by Red Howard at August 16, 2008 12:52 PM ET:

Neo - you got it - thanks for the clarification - good stuff.