Top link between al Qaeda and Taliban thought killed in US Predator strike in Khyber
A Taliban commander who serves as a key link to al Qaeda and who carried out the assassination of a former Pakistani prime minister is said to have been killed in a US predator strike in Khyber in mid-May.
The commander, Ebad-ul-Rehman, is thought to have been killed in a May 15 airstrike in the Tirah Valley in the Khyber tribal agency along with his brother Yousaf, eight Uzbek fighters, and three Taliban fighters, The News reported. Two civilians, a woman and a child, were also said to have been killed in an attack that targeted a Taliban compound and training camp. The strike was the first by the US in Khyber.
Pakistani intelligence officials said they are certain Rehman is dead, but do not have positive confirmation, The News reported. "The rest 5 per cent confirmation can only be obtained through DNA testing and we do not have access to the body," an official told the Pakistani news agency. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not confirm Rehman's death.
Rehman, who is also known as Farooq Chatan, exemplifies the new breed of jihadist that is being cultivated in Pakistan's northwest, US military intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Rehman, who rose in the Taliban ranks in the northwestern district of Malakand, serves as a key link between the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.
Although he was a Taliban commander, Rehman also was a key adviser to Abu Ubaidah al Masri, al Qaeda's former external operations chief. Ubaidah fell ill from complications of hepatitis and died in early 2008.
Rehman is said to have served on the shura, or main council, for Ubaidah's external operations, along with other Taliban fighters. Ubaidah was ordered by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's top council, the Shura Majlis, to assassinate former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto after her return to Pakistan in October 2007.
Ubaidah is said to have tasked Rehman with organizing the cells and coordinating Bhutto's murder. Rehman received operatives and logistical support from Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and the so-called Punjabi Taliban. Bhutto was eventually killed in a shooting and suicide attack on Dec. 27, 2007.
Bhutto's assassination highlights the integration of the Pakistani Taliban with al Qaeda
The assassination of Bhutto was part of al Qaeda's plan to draw the various Taliban and allied jihadist groups into open war against the Pakistani state, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.
Al Qaeda openly declared war against the Pakistani state immediately after the Pakistani Army launched an assault against the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad in July 2007. The Red Mosque was run by two radical clerics who attempted to impose sharia, or Islamic law, by force in the capital. More than 100 people were killed in the assault, including one of the two senior clerics, which inflamed the jihadist groups.
Al Qaeda immediately capitalized on this anger and led the charge in declaring war against the Pakistani state. The first declaration of war was made on Aug. 1, 2007, by Abu Yahya al Libi, a top ideologue and propagandist for the group.
"Go to battle together in order to be rid of this infidel tyrant [then President General Pervez Musharraf] and remove his heretic secular rule," al Libi told the Pakistani people. "May you pound away at his fragile army, at his swarms of intelligence miscreants and the fortresses of his unbelieving control. Take example from your neighbors, the brave people of Afghanistan."
Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, repeated several times al Libi's call for the Pakistani people to overthrow the state. In February 2009, Zawahiri compared the Pakistani Taliban's battle against the government to the Afghan Taliban's fight against Coalition and Afghan forces, and said the groups were fighting for the same causes.
"Your brothers in the Taliban are not fighting to liberate Afghanistan only, but also the Taliban in Pakistan are carrying out jihad to purge Pakistan from the United States and its agents in the Pakistani Government and army," Zawahiri said.
Al Qaeda's overarching strategy to consolidate the disparate Pakistani jihadist groups under a single banner has largely proven successful, intelligence officials said. The formation of the Punjabi Taliban is pointed to as a major victory for al Qaeda.
The Punjabi Taliban includes members and factions of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI). Some top leaders and operatives of the Punjabi Taliban are: Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of HUJI; Ilyas Kashmiri, the operational commander of HUJI; Rashid Rauf, a senior leader in JeM; Matiur Rehman, a top leader in LeJ; and Qari Zafar, the slain former military leader of LeJ. Many of these leaders and operatives are also senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Kashmiri is the chief of al Qaeda's military wing, the Lashkar al Zil; Rauf is a top operational leader in al Qaeda's external operations network; and Matiur Rehman is a top operational leader who is said to manage al Qaeda's 'Rolodex' of fighters who have passed through training camps and safe houses.
The Punjabi Taliban have pooled their resources and contacts to execute brazen, deadly attacks inside Pakistan against military, intelligence, police, government, and civilian targets in Pakistan's major cities. One attack even took place against Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
The Punjabi Taliban, like the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, is seen as being closely allied to al Qaeda. Both Taliban groups have embraced al Qaeda's tactics, including suicide attacks and armed terror assaults.