The American intelligence community finally recognizes al Qaeda command has regrouped in Pakistan
Throughout th course of 2006 and through 2007, I documented the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the Northwest Frontier Province, and in Baluchistan. In The Fall if Waziristan, I compiled each article pertaining to the rise of the Taliban, the Pakistani government’s ineffectual attempts to placate the ‘militants’ and ‘miscreants,’ as the Pakistani government prefers to call them, the eventuality the Pakistani government would cut deals with them, al Qaeda’s establishment of training camps along the borders, the failure of the Waziristan Accord, and how the Taliban and al Qaeda use the region to springboard attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Western world. Today, the New York Times notes that many in the American intelligence community have finally realized the Pakistani border has become an al Qaeda safe haven, and al Qaeda high command is operating in the region.
Unfortunately the article myopically focuses on al Qaeda’s establishment of camps in North Waziristan, and only looks at the establishment of small, specialized al Qaeda training camps used to attack the West primarily, and Afghanistan secondarily. The camps in North Waziristan do not include the 22 al Qaeda and Taliban camps used to train the ‘conventional forces’ of the organizations which operate extensively inside Pakistan.
The article also notes “the [North Waziristan] compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda,” but fails to explore the connections, which are anything but loose. This organization is what we have referred to as AQAM – or al Qaeda and Allied Movements.
As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross noted, the fact that “al Qaeda’s senior leadership was regrouping and gathering force during this period, and much of Western intelligence wasn’t aware of it” was a major failure of the intelligence community. The intel community view absence of action as evidence of defeat. But, we suspect, the most of American community also failed to recognize that al Qaeda has deep ties to groups like the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and a potpouri of Pakistani terrorist groups.
To the dominant voices in the intelligence community, the regrouping of the Taliban in the NWFP and FATA was viewed as a local problem, a problem not related to al Qaeda. This desire to dissociate al Qaeda from ‘domestic terrorist groups’ has fed the shoddy analysis that led to a failure in recognizing al Qaeda’s reestablishment in western Pakistan. And as Mr. Gartenstein-Ross also noted, this led to the inability to connect the London bombings and plots back to western Pakistan. Instead, we were repeatedly told these terrorists had no connections to al Qaeda, they were merely ‘copycats’ angry over the war in Iraq who learned their craft over the Internet.
Also, al Qaeda’s influence is not limited to only to North Waziristan. The fact is al Qaeda and the Taliban have expanded well beyond North Waziristan, into the FATA, NWFP and Quetta. The FATA agencies of South Waziristan, Khyber and Bajaur are heavily under the influence of AQAM, and there is strong evidence that NWFP districts of Tank, Dera Ishmail Khan and even Peshawar, the home of the provincial capital, have fallen under the Taliban’s sphere of influence. The Taliban and al Qaeda maintain large training camps in South Waziristan. Quetta is the hub for the Taliban leadership operating in southern Afghanistan.
While many in the intelligence community [and almost all of the Western media as well] refused to recognize al Qaeda’s rise in western Pakistan, the Pakistani media provided all of the clues needed to determine what exactly was happening in the region. I would estimate well over 99% of the information I used to perform the analysis on the situation was obtained from open sources, largely the Pakistani press. Via open source, I accurately predicted the Pakistani government would cut a deal with the Taliban [and by default al Qaeda] in South Waziristan two months before it happened, the government would also cut a deal in North Waziristan two months before it happened, the Waziristan Accord was actually terms of surrender the day it was signed, and that the Taliban would violate the Waziristan Accord almost immediately.
Today, Pakistan is under a concerted attack as the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups conduct suicide attacks, roadside bombings and other attacks on government and civilian institutions. The Taliban maintains an army estimated to have 200,000 trained foot soldiers loyal to their Taliban commanders, and is threatening to split NATO in Afghanistan. Pakistan is fighting a civil war, yet continues to try to negotiate further ‘peace deals’ like the Waziristan Accord. We hope the dominant voices in the American intelligence community recognize the problems with al Qaeda in North Waziristan are but the tip of the iceberg.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.