An al Qaeda command center is uncovered in Bajaur, Zawahiri is believed to be in the region, and Pakistan still wants to cut the Bajaur Accord
Bajaur and neighboring Kunar province in Afghanistan. Red arrows indicate locations of U.S. operations and clashes with the Taliban over the summer of 2006. Click image to view.
As we noted earlier this week, the release of nine al Qaeda suspects in Bajaur is just the precursor to Pakistan surrending the tribal agency to the Taliban and al Qaeda. According to an American intelligence source, the released al Qaeda weren’t just ‘family members of Maulana Faqir Mohamed, they are actually staff members and functionaries of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Sharia), a radical Islamist group with close ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda that sent Pakistanis to fight the Americans during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Bajaur has long been believed to be a command and control hub for al Qaeda and the Taliban entering Afghanistan in the north east into Kunar province.
Alexis Debat reports that Bajaur hosted al Qaeda’s “headquarters” during the winter of 2005-06. The headquartes was located in the town of Shin Kot, which just south of Damadola, where a U.S.predator strike targeted, and missed Ayman al-Zawahiri but killed five senior al Qaeda commanders, including Abu Khabab, al Qaeda’s chief of WMD program.
The Shin Kot compound was under heavy observation, and according to Mr. Debat’s source, “We could see their children playing soccer in the courtyard.” An attack was bypassed because “CIA and the Department of Defense… [feared] civilian casualties and [harming] U.S.-Pakistani relations.” The failure to strike at Shit Kot highlights the difficulty the U.S. and NATO face with the al Qaeda safe havens that exist along the Afghan-Pakistani border. According to Mr. Debat, “the “winter headquarters” compound was later burned to the ground by Pakistani officials,” however an American intelligence source informs us that members of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed burned down the compound to destroy any evidence.
Mr. Debat notes one other important piece of intelligence that calls into question the motivations of the Pakistani government in considering a surrender in Bajaur. Mr. Debat states that “Pakistani intelligence officials believe Zawahiri is hiding somewhere in a 40-square-kilometer area of Bajaur, near the Afghan border.” In an interview with Brian Ross, Pakistani spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan was emphatic that high value targets would be hunted, after stating just days before they could indeed live in ‘peace’ in the region. “If someone is found there, we will see what is to be done… Pakistan is committed to the war on terror, and of course we will go after any terrorist found to be operating here,” said Sultan.
If Pakistani intelligence believes Zawahiri is in a 40 square kilometer region in Bajaur, why negotiate terms that would send troops back to the barracks and allow the Taliban and al Qaeda to openly run the local administration of the region?
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.