Commander killed in drone strike 'funneled Pakistani jihadists' to al Qaeda
A senior Taliban and Qaeda commander said to have been killed in the latest US drone strike in North Waziristan played a key role in funneling fighters from a radical Pakistani jihadist group to al Qaeda camps.
Pakistani and US intelligence officials believe that Badr Mansoor was among four terrorists killed in last night's Predator airstrike in Miramshah, the main town in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. Four "militants" were reported killed in the strike. Mansoor's death has not been confirmed.
Mansoor is known to run terrorist camps in North Waziristan that are used to train fighters to wage jihad in Afghanistan. He is also said to be the mastermind of the May 2010 suicide assault on an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore that killed scores of Pakistanis, as well as several attacks in Karachi.
Mansoor was the "de facto leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan," a Pakistani intelligence official told AFP. A US intelligence official described Mansoor as "al Qaeda's go-between with Pakistan's umbrella Taliban movement and a member of al Qaeda's leadership shura [council] in Pakistan."
"Badar Mansoor had moved between the militant groups of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda where he became a key figure," according to a report in the BBC.
The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) is a Pakistani terror group with thousands of members that operates primarily in the Indian state of Kashmir. It is closely allied with al Qaeda, and is known to have sent its fighters to other theaters of jihad, such as Chechnya, Bosnia, and Somalia. Fazl-ur-Rahman Khalil, the leader of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, was an original signatory to Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa that declared war on the West. He also was close to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. Khalil lives openly in Islamabad and enjoys the support of the Pakistani military.
Two US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal confirmed that Mansoor uses his ties to both the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to recruit from their ranks, train them, and place them into al Qaeda.
"Mansoor funneled Pakistani jihadists from HuM and TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] into the ranks of al Qaeda," one official said. "He didn't just recruit low level-jihadists, but also convinced more experienced commanders to fill positions in al Qaeda."
Another US intelligence official said that Mansoor is part of the "deep bench" of commanders who are culled from the plethora of Pakistani and Central Asian jihadist groups operating in Pakistan to fill vacant leadership positions in al Qaeda.
"Al Qaeda is taking advantage of decades of networking in Pakistan, not just in the tribal areas, but in Pakistan proper, to develop a deep bench of leaders and foot soldiers who can be brought into the organization when there are vacancies," the second official told The Long War Journal. "Badr Mansoor and Aslam Awan are perfect examples of how al Qaeda takes advantage of this relationship."
Before he was killed in the Jan. 11 drone strike in Miramshah, North Waziristan, Awan was a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda's external operations network. Awan was a Pakistani citizen from Abbottabad, the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in a cross-border raid in May 2011.
The second US intelligence official said that the US's strategy to defeat al Qaeda with limited drone strikes is flawed as the program only focuses on "a narrow slice of al Qaeda's network in Pakistan."
"The targeted strikes in North and South Waziristan only hit al Qaeda's vanguard, the ones who are at the front lines, in select camps in a small area of Pakistan" the official told The Long War Journal. "But al Qaeda has camps elsewhere in Pakistan, and also relies on the camps operated by allied jihadi groups. Its [al Qaeda's] network in Pakistan is expansive, and it leverages the deep ties with the Pakistani jihadist groups that have been built over years. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is but one such group. And Pakistan has no interest in dismantling this terrorist infrastructure."
For more information on al Qaeda's network in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the limits of drone strikes, see LWJ reports, Analysis: Al Qaeda is the tip of the jihadist spear, US airstrikes alone cannot defeat al Qaeda, and Analysis: Al Qaeda martyrdom tape shows nature and extent of terror group's reach in Afghanistan.