al Qaeda regroups in Pakistan

The American intelligence community finally recognizes al Qaeda command has regrouped in Pakistan

NWFP/FATA. Click map to view.

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.



  • Bill
    You are a voice in the wilderness. You are documenting very serious problems but the response will be to ignore what you have to say or doubt your soureces/cconclusions. Similar to the involvement of Iran in the Iraq insurgency, acceptance of these particular facts forces contemplation of unpleasant policy options.
    Screaming at Musharaff to do something about Waziristan seems like the gut reaction but we have to be very careful here: Musharaff is not even the worst of all possible worlds. We could push Musharaff to move to fast in the wrong direction and he could be assasinated or overthrown or both. His replacement could easily be much, much worse for our interests.
    But we have a lot of smart guys who can figure out that problem. Step one is accepting the facts: Pakistan is a large and growing problem for our national security interests.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Thank you. I agree – the situation must be dealt with by Pakistan and there is real danger in forcing Musharraf’s hand. How Pakistan will handle this is a difficult problem to which I do not have the answer. But I do hope the policy makers a) recognize the scope and severity of the problem, b) are working to find solutions to the problem.

  • BobK says:

    I agree on the smart guy working on problem thesis. On the face of it this looks bad for sure. Might the fact of having most/all of these like minded folks in one area to be monitored and or dealt with be good in its own way? One nice “neighborhood” vs spread out and about! After all, finding the bad guys is usually the HARD part.

  • ECH says:

    The world isn’t going to do a thing about it until the next 911 origionates from Pakistan.

  • jim p says:

    What I don’t get: You knew that AQAM was recovering/consolidating in Pakistan, I knew it from reading widely (with you providing the most succinct and cogent accounts and analysis), and I’m just a guy with a computer and some knowledge of history–there were thousands if not tens of thousands like me who got the general drift of what was going on, and this is a revelation to our leadership!?!!?
    Don’t we need to identify precisely why that is? What do you think accounts for this?
    About your report itself, I can’t imagine a scenario that gets us to a US-friendly result. This is hugely disheartening to me. Any opinions or insights on this? Can’t help but feel we’ve been busy playing checkers, while the rest of the world is playing chess.

  • Drazen Gemic says:

    The question is what is the position of Pak armed forces and intelligence services. Not just the top brass of the military, but lower ranks, like colonels, too. Will they support Musharaf ? What about alleged ISI – Taliban cooperation. Are they acting on their own ?
    I think that Pakistan is a democracy only on paper, so public opinion might not be that important.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Sooner or later the U.S. will face up to the fact that we will need to fight the Islamofascists with the same ruthlessness that we fought the 20th Century fascists, Hitler and Tojo.
    It will get alot worse before it gets any better. For all the moping and whining from politicians about “the future of our children,” these politicians are ensuring that our children and possibly grandchildren will face a life and death struggle to defeat Islamofascism (“IF”) across the globe.
    Let’s look at the likely scenario unfolding: Afghanistan is increasingly a side-show for the IF. Sure, the IF will fight us in A-Stan because they will never tolerate ‘infidels’ and apostates in control of any Mid East state. But the IF seems to realize that they are well on their way to creating the perfect safe-haven for themselves in Pakistan: a nuclear-armed country which will be infinitely more difficult than A-Stan to defeat. What will the U.S. do as it becomes increasingly clear that Musharraf is unable to keep the lid on the IF? If we have any brains at all, we are negotiating a deal with a likely successor to Musharraf who will agree to allow U.S. forces into Pakistan to wipe out the IF and prop up his hold on power until the Pakistani security services and army can be fully purged of IF sympathizers. But does anyone really think that the U.S. is going to follow through with that when Iran, an openly hostile state at war with the U.S. for the last 28 years, gets away with murder and nuclear research with impunity?
    So, we will likely be looking at IF in control of Pakistan in 2008 or 2009, a nuclear-armed Iran in 2008 barring some miracle and America waiting behind its barricades for the next 9-11 type attack.
    I am not a complete pessimist, however. I do believe that America will (finally) respond with the necessary force, but only after we have been attacked here in such a horrific fashion that no calls for “sensitivity” or “restraint” will be heard. Until then we can hope that the Admin finds the nerve to do what needs to be done now. Just don’t hold your breath.

  • Angel says:

    Bill, I was not surprised to hear about the NY Times report on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan since I’ve been reading your blogs about this for the last several months. I immediately thought the Times reporter used some your info for his report.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 02/20/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  • RT says:

    Kudos to Bill for his work. I was harsh in an earlier posting but that was my bad.
    As for the US policy makers, its a case of “Fool me once…” What is happening in Pakistan is not hard to comprehend, as Bill noted in his mostly open source based analysis. However, there seems to be an institutionalized paralysis in the US when it comes to bad faith “allies” such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. And it is not entirely based on facts but false assumptions.
    Musharraf is NOT as powerless as many would believe. He has successfully exterminated dozens of plotters within the Pakistani Army. He has placed his men in the Corps Commanders position for years. The ISI is not as independent as we would want to believe. The continued Pakistani tolerance of terrorism is in fact more related to a Pakistani belief that the US can be suckered forever. The only time Musharraf acts is when he knows an active plot against the WEst is underway because he knows that it crosses American red lines. However, he has successfully nibbled at the edges of US tolerance to such an extent that the US worries more about keeping access lines in Pakistan than it cares to use the access to safeguard the American homeland.
    I’m afraid the only way this ends is if another 9/11 happens (Heaven Forbid) and it gets traced back to Pakistan. The right question to ask now is – What would you do with Pakistan if another 9/11 happens and why would you not do the same now? In other words, how many American lives does it take for the US admn to snap out of its trance with Pakistan?

  • Skippy505 says:

    Is Waziristan the new ‘Kessel” or pocket (ref.Stalingrad). Taliban/AQ feel safe and relatively untouchable, however the moment Musharraf is truly threatened he’ll say “boys you can go in” and we eliminate this threat savagely and properly. How many escape routes can there be??? And shouldn’t we be getting better at this type of fight.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The facts don’t support the ‘let them gather and we’ll take them out’ theory.
    Jim P.,
    The intelligence community as a whole, in my amateur estimation, is broken. The two main problems I believe exist are: It is too politicized (note the partial, harmful leaks like the Devlin report, etc.). It fails to challenge their assumptions (AQ / insurgency not in Iraq in 2003). There are more problems.

  • RT says:

    Is it just the intelligence community or the entire national security apparatus that is broken? If I was someone in the Intel community, I know that coming up with assessments that force the State Department or DoD to take actions that they do not want to take could cost me my job. There is no Goldwater-Nichols equivalent for the intel community is there?
    The fact is that the National Security apparatus from the White House, NSA, State, DoD on down has made a political determination that Musharraf is not to be distrubed. Bush had a chance to hear out Hamid Karzai but refused to berate Musharraf. So, if I am an intel analyst, I would be scared to tell my political bosses that the Pakistani emperor has no clothes.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I can’t argue with that. I agree. In addition, the desire for ‘consensus’ to create an NIE dilutes the product. The creation of the DNI has made this problem worse, IMO.
    There are very good people in teh busines, but the system is broke.

  • I think that the CIA spooks are very well aware of what’s happening in the Waziristans and FATA. So too with Musharraf, who cannot be such a dupe as he appears. Either he’s trying to join up with Iran against the U.S. or he is setting up Talibanistan to get so terrible and so obvious that he is forced to invite the U.S. in to take care of the problem. Or maybe he’s keeping his options open both ways and planning to sell out to the highest bidder.

  • RT says:

    What some CIA spooks are aware of makes no difference if policymakers refuse to accept the conclusions that directly arise out of that awareness. Your statements on Iran or Musharraf letting the US inavde belie reality. My grandpa used to tell me – if it looks like and smells like turd – it probably is turd. That principle has been invaluable to me when it comes to women, stocks or geopolitics alike.
    What we are seeing here folks is a case of – “We cannot think of ways to handle a misbehaving Pakistan so we will pretend that Pakistan is behaving until we are forced not to”


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