The effects of Friday the 13th strike in Damadola, Pakistan, which is believed to have killed up to five senior al Qaeda commanders, continues to reverberate in Pakistan and beyond. Terrorism and al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna describes the strike as “a very significant blow to Al Qaeda… These are very experienced leaders and to replace them in the short term will be very difficult,” a point also made at ThreatsWatch several days ago.
Pakistan’s involvement in the operation also becomes clearer as time passes. An unnamed villager in Damadola states Pakistani intelligence was on the scene in Damadola almost immediately, “Soon after the air strike, several Pakistani security agents based in Khar, Bajaur Agency’s regional headquarters, disguised themselves as visitors and visited the site to collect evidence about the presence of No 2 Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zahawri.”
Pakistan is also actively searching for “pro-Taliban clerics” Faqir Mohammed and Liaqat Ali, who hosted the dinner and surviced the attacks. Pakistani troops have also stepped up operations in North Waziristan, demolishing ten homes of “tribesmen suspected of harbouring Taleban and Al Qaeda operatives.” This is likely to prove hard work, as Syed Saleem Shahzad provides further fuel to the theory that al Qaeda is ramping up operations in Afghanistan. Mr. Shahzad reports thousands of Islamists have trained and are now pushing towards the Afghani-Pakistan border regions.
“Hundreds of Pakistani youths, who previously belonged to Islamist groups like the banned Laskhar-i-Toiba, Jaish-i-Mohammed, Harkat-i-Jihadi-i-Islami and Harkatul Mujahadeen, have left these and headed to Waziristan. There they are given a few months of military and ideological drill before being despatched to Afghanistan. Well-informed sources say there are thousands of such youths.”
Perhaps recognizing the trend, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz issues the obligitory diplomatic concerns over the attack while confirming joint operations along the border will continue; “Islamabad would not back out of the joint efforts in the fight against terrorism.” The jihadis flooding Pakistan are not only interested in fighting in Afghanistan; Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and his government are also targets of al Qaeda.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.