Late last week, it was reported that a small cadre of expert trainers from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan under the command of Mohammad Amin set up a base in Syria to support jihadist activities against the Syrian government. In the last 24 hours, both the Associated Press and Reuters reported that hundreds of Pakistani jihadists, including some from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, are fighting in Syria.
Reuters reported that “hundreds” of Pakistani fighters are currently in Syria:
On Sunday, Taliban commanders in Pakistan said they had also decided to join the cause, saying hundreds of fighters had gone to Syria to fight alongside their “Mujahedeen friends.”
“When our brothers needed our help, we sent hundreds of fighters along with our Arab friends,” one senior commander told Reuters, adding that the group would soon issue videos of what he described as their victories in Syria.
AP notes that there are two different types of fighters from Pakistan in Syria- – those who belong to al Qaeda and various Central Asian groups, and members of the Pakistani Taliban and other Pakistani jihadist groups, specifically the virulently anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi:
The fighters fall mainly into two categories. One includes foreign combatants from places like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and likely the Middle East who came to Pakistan’s tribal region to fight U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan and are now heading to Syria because they view it as the most pressing battle, said the Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
This group includes members of al-Qaida who trained the Pakistani Taliban in areas such as bomb-making and are now moving on to the battlefield in Syria, said Pakistani Taliban fighters, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by the government.
“Our aim and purpose is to fight against Shiites and eliminate them,” said Suleman, who is in his mid-30s and has a closely trimmed black beard. “It is more rewarding if you first fight against the evil here and then you travel for this noble purpose too. The more you travel, the higher the reward from God.”
Suleman is one of about 70 militants who have been sent to Syria in the last two months by a network jointly run by the Pakistani Taliban and Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, Hamza said. The militants came from various parts of Pakistan, including the provinces of Baluchistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the southern city of Karachi, Hamza said.
Another group of 40, including Hamza, is expected to leave in the coming weeks, he said. These militants are not going to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, the most powerful Islamic militant group in Syria, Hamza said. But he did not know which group they would join.
The head of the network sending these militants is a former Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader named Usman Ghani, Hamza said. Another key member is a Pakistani Taliban fighter named Alimullah Umry, who is sending fighters to Ghani from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Hamza said.
The militants are traveling to Syria by various routes, and some are taking their families. The most closely watched are secretly taking speed boats from Baluchistan’s coast to the Omani capital of Muscat and then traveling onward to Syria, Hamza said.
Others are flying from Pakistan to various countries, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan, and then making their way to Syria. The financing is coming from sources in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Hamza said.
On that last note, it is great to see that 12 years after 9/11, the Golden Chain continues to fund jihadi operations.
None of this should come as any surprise to readers of The Long War Journal. We have been warning for years that groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan are increasingly taking a more international role, and are not confined to merely fighting in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. This should have been painfully obvious when the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan sent Faisal Shahzad to the US to detonate a bomb in Times Square, and then boasted about it.
Counterterrorism analysts often downplay, minimize, or outright ignore the role that groups like the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban play in supporting and participating in the global jihad. These groups, most analysts will say, are merely focused on their local insurgencies and have little interest in following al Qaeda’s lead outside of their own borders. But when hundreds of fighters from groups like the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi show up on the battlefield of Syria, these groups’ support for the global jihad can no longer be easily brushed aside.