Pakistan: Concern over nukes as al Qaeda camps empty

Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat.

US intelligence investigates Pakistan’s nuclear security and the military’s loyalty to Musharraf as the Northwest Frontier Province spins further out of control

As the security situation in the Northwest Frontier Province continues to deteriorate and President Pervez Musharraf’s political stock continues to drop, the US military intelligence community is “urgently assessing how secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be in the event President Gen. Pervez Musharraf were replaced.” Meanwhile, the Taliban and al Qaeda have dispersed operatives from the training camps in the Northwest Frontier Province and are preparing to fight on their own terms.

With the Pakistani government facing a robust Taliban insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province, a significant al Qaeda presence inside the country and a violent cadre of homegrown Islamist extremists, the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has taken on an elevated importance. The US intelligence community believes it has a handle on the location of Pakistan’s nuclear warhead, but there are questions over who controls the launch codes in the event of Musharraf’s passing.

The US is also looking past the issue of the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The loyalty of the conventional Pakistani military to President Musharraf is in question, according to CNN. “Musharraf controls the loyalty of the commanders and senior officials in charge of the nuclear program, but those loyalties could shift at any point,” CNN reported on August 10. “There is also a growing understanding according to the U.S. analysis that Musharraf’s control over the military remains limited to certain top commanders and units, raising worries about whether he can maintain control over the long term.”

On the same day of the release of news on concerns over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the loyalty of the Pakistani military, the Asia Times’ Syed Saleem Shahzad reported al Qaeda and Taliban camps in North and South Waziristan have emptied, the Taliban and al Qaeda are expanding into the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, and are reorganizing in both Afghanistan and Pakistan for a major fight.

The Long War Journal interviewed a senior US military intelligence official and a US military officer, both of whom are familiar with the situation in the Northwest Frontier Province and wish to remain anonymous. The sources confirmed Mr. Shahzad’s information concerning the al Qaeda and Taliban camps in North Waziristan and the Taliban’s reorganization is accurate. Both sources are particularly concerned about the implications of the emptying of the camps.

Mr. Shahzad reported there were 29 al Qaeda and Taliban camps in North and South Waziristan, and all but one “have been dismantled, apart from one run by hardline Islamist Mullah Abdul Khaliq.” [Note: on October 4, 2006, The Long War Journal reported “there are over 20 al Qaeda and Taliban run training camps currently in operation in North and South Waziristan.”] While The Long War Journal sources verify the camps’ existence, they noted the camps have not been dismantled and the infrastructure is still in place. “The physical infrastructure (camps and the like) still exist, they haven’t been dismantled. They’ve just been abandoned or are being operated by skeleton crews,” the senior military intelligence source said, while noting “the Khaliq camp is only churning out Taliban, not al Qaeda.”

The al Qaeda and Taliban personnel abandoned the 28 camps after “the US had presented Islamabad with a dossier detailing the location of the bases as advance information on likely US targets,” Mr. Shahzad reported. “All other leading Taliban commanders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, Gul Bahadur, Baitullah Mehsud and Haji Omar, have disappeared,” said Mr. Shahzad.

“Similarly, the top echelons of the Arab community that was holed up in North Waziristan has also gone,” reported Mr. Shahzad. Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are believed to have leaked information to the Taliban and al Qaeda in the past, and appears to have done so again.

The emptying of the camps is a cause for great concern in the military and intelligence communities. “We don’t know where they went to or who was in the camps,” the military officer told The Long War Journal. “They are well trained, these aren’t your entry level jihadis. They are dangerous.”

“This is one of the reasons that we are worried about a major CONUS [Continental United States] attack,” the senior military intelligence source told The Long War Journal, noting the recent influx of news of terror cells attempting to penetrate the US. “If they evacuated their bases, they almost certainly did so out of fear of more than just the Pakistani army.”

Mr. Shahzad also reported Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, along with the Shura Majlis, is currently based out of the village of Jani Khel village in the settled district of Bannu. Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Taliban Shura are operating in the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost and Gardez.

A spillover of al-Qaeda’s presence in Jani Khel is likely to spread to Karak, Kohat, Tank, Laki Marwat and Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan. Kohat in NWFP is tipped to become a central city in the upcoming battle, as the office of the Pakistani Garrison commanding officer is there and all operations will be directed through this area. In addition, Kohat is directly linked with a US airfield in Khost for supplies and logistics.

A second war corridor is expected to be in the Waziristans, the Khyber Agency, the Kurram Agency, Bajaur Agency, Dir, Mohmand Agency and Chitral in Pakistan and Nanagarhar, Kunar and Nooristan in Afghanistan.

The Long War Journal has repeatedly identified Bannu, Kohat, Tank, Laki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber, Kurram, Dir and Mohmand as Taliban controlled or influenced territory over the course of the past two years.

Quetta. Satellite Town is in the southwest corner.

According to Mr. Shahzad, the Afghan Taliban has reorganized its leadership and devolved its command structure away from senior, regional leaders to local leaders after the death of senior Taliban commanders Mullah Akhtar Usmani and Mullah Dadullah Akhund. The Taliban leadership has been decimated by NATO and Afghan strikes in southern Afghanistan over the past year, and have regrouped in Satellite Town in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. Quetta has long been identified as a Taliban command hub. Pakistani security forces captured Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a former Defense Minister and member of the Shura Majlis, in a hotel in Quetta.

According to the senior US military intelligence source, senior Taliban leaders are hesitant to enter southern Afghanistan due to NATO successes against the Taliban command structure, and have devolved control to the regional commanders out of necessity.

Mr. Shahzad postulates the Pakistani military will move in force into the Northwest Frontier Province after the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal jirga concludes. But the existing evidence does not support this theory at this time. While the Pakistani government claims it has moved additional forces into the tribal areas, these troops have been subjected to brutal suicide attacks, roadside bombs, ambushes, and mortar and rocket attacks. Over 200 military personnel have been killed since mid-July, while the Pakistani military’s previous foray into North and South Waziristan from 2004 to 2006 resulted in upward of 3,000 soldiers killed. The Pakistani military has done little other than press for more negotiations with the Taliban while conducting retaliatory strikes, largely using artillery and air power.

On August 10, 16 Pakistani troops were kidnapped in South Waziristan. Yet Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad confirmed the military is still in a defensive posture, reacting to attacks. “There is no planned operation going on in North Waziristan but we are responding with greater force against militant attacks on security forces now,” said Arshad.

Also, the end of the summer is approaching and the Pakistani military has yet to launch the purported campaign. Winter is fast approaching in some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet, where al Qaeda and the Taliban are dug in and have deep ties with the local residents. The ideal time for the military to launch operations would have been the spring, leaving the summer open to conduct a campaign that will be difficult and bloody enough without battling the terrain and elements.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Is the disappearance of Dawood ibrahim, a drug lord connected to this?

  • anand says:

    What is the latest on Dawood Ibrahim?
    As a background, Dawood Ibrahim is a very rich organized crime boss, business man, and IIF ally of Osama Bin Laden. Among many other atrocities, he is accused of organizing a bombing of several skyscrapers in Bombay in 1993 that killed hundreds of people. This attack coincided with the first attack on the WTC. He is wanted by the US government as an important ally of Osama, and by the Indian government for the 1993 Bombay bombings. He is thought to have many powerful allies in the Pakistani, Saudi and UAE establishments.
    On an unrelated note “Dawood Ibrahim”

  • templar knight says:

    I don’t know why anyone should be surprised at these developments. The Taliban/AQ leadership was very much aware of the upcoming jirga, and the implications of it. That they used common sense and dispursed their fighters was exactly what one would have expected them to do.
    The situation in Iraq unfolded along the same lines. We gave the enemy every chance in the World to prepare for our attack. One of the reasons for the casualties we continue to take in Iraq is the long lead time prior to the invasion that allowed Saddam to cache weapons and ammo. The exact same thing is going on in the NWFP. It would be much better to make a decision to hit the Taliban, and then just do it.
    Incidentally, is it now the concensus that Musharraf is finished for the long term? And the nuclear weapons? Very, very worrisome!

  • crosspatch says:

    “the end of the summer is approaching and the Pakistani military has yet to launch the purported campaign. Winter is fast approaching in some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet”
    This has been a concern of mine as well. I am not expecting any great thrust at this point in time because it wouldn’t be sustainable through the winter. If I were planning an operation in that region, I would probably spend the winter months constructing “traffic management” measures in the accessible areas surrounding the area while engaging in strikes of opportunity over the winter, probably with US support or even covering for US action. I wouldn’t expect to see any major action with large numbers of regular troops in the region until Spring.

  • Richard Romano says:

    I’m just wondering if they’re only avoiding any potential army assaults/raids? It could also be another propaganda ploy, much like the video the Taliban released that showed suicide bombers for NATO ally.

  • Steve39 says:

    Unfortunately, it looks like another opportunity missed. We could have had a massive simultaneous attack on all of the camps and solved a lot of problems in a couple hours.
    We should be prepared to do whatever is necessary to secure those nukes in the event of a worst case scenario radical takeover including a preemptive nuclear strike followed by a rapid insertion into the hot area(s) to bring out the weapons while the locals are still in shock.

  • Rod36 says:

    “The al Qaeda and Taliban personnel abandoned the 28 camps after “the US had presented Islamabad with a dossier detailing the location of the bases as advance information on likely US targets,” Mr. Shahzad reported. “All other leading Taliban commanders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, Gul Bahadur, Baitullah Mehsud and Haji Omar, have disappeared,”

  • Sarge6 says:

    I wouldn’t begin to downplay the seriousness of Pakistan’s nukes going loose. But it’s not all about us as they say. Seems to me India has an historic concern and is a lot closer as a first responder if the shyte hits the fan.

  • John Batchelder says:

    In September General Petraeus will be responding to a hostile congress and his credibility will be on the line. Perhaps those training camps are empty now so as to give the newly trained terrorists ample time to create a major surge in Iraq. A horrendous terrorist surge in the face of General Petraeus’s report will give the democrats political cover when they pull the fiscal plug on Iraq. I pray that we kill these terrorists now rather than when my 9 year old son joins the army (in 2016).

  • I hope our special forces can catch them in one place and neutralize them.
    As for sovereignity, Mushie essentially told Waziristan that he would keep hands off. So, it isn’t really under Paki jurisdiction at all, is it? So why don’t we just treat it like the lawless badlands that it in reality is? No more “base” over the border for terrorists.

  • Steve-o says:

    US intelligence knew the information on terror hideouts would get passed to the enemy. The infiltration by AQ and Taliban of the Paki military has been obvious for a long time. We must have wanted them to move, perhaps if only because the enemy is more exposed and less able to plan in peace when it has to move. Perhaps this will become clear, soon I hope.

  • Jesse says:

    yo steve-o, my dad always said things happen by accident – or they were planned that way
    might be interesting to watch the outcome of those camp-bots moving
    ‘course we might never know what the outcome is, and that fine as long as it’s a bad one for the blow-bots

  • Thanos says:

    Just a quick update note, it looks like Baitullah’s forces have the sixteen missing Pakistani soldiers SWFP, and two Afghans have been killed as “accused spys” near Miranshah NWFP

  • Jason says:

    I think the lawless border area should be bombed with strategic cruise missile attacks, and if necessary, tactical nuclear weapons. God help us if these maniacs get a hold of the loose nukes in Pakistan. If we do not act boldly now, thousands if not millions of innocent lives are going to be lost. I can just see one day, loosing an entire American city to some slip in intelligence and finding out that Al Qaida terrorists managed to obtain a nuke and use it. And they WOULD use it if they had it. These bastards have contempt for all civilized human life. Not just Americans. If we want peace for our childrens’ future, we need to be bold and defend ourselves against this very dangerous threat!!

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 08/12/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.

  • KnightHawk says:

    Very concerning to say the least, thanks for the update Bill. I’m curious what India thinks of all this.
    As for the sharing all the intelligence on the camps I have to think the U.S. knew that in a matter of hours it would be leaked to those operating those camps. If not then it would seem to me it was a blunder of epic proportion. It’s not immediately clear to me why we’d want that leaked, other then (as jesse and steve-o already mentioned) to gauge the reaction, infiltration level, and perhaps track where some of these scum ferret off too. Personally I would have preferred the US and NATO lit up the “badlands” camps all at once months ago and taken the political risks then.
    I tend to doubt most those emptying out of the camps will show up in Iraq for the likely September Tet because they can cause more trouble in the area they’re already in vs making the journey to Iraq where for the most part they are not welcome and more often then not end up having their butts handed to them.

  • ElamBend says:

    Several Frontal attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan, as well as direct attacks on forces. Prep for a bigger fight:
    All those guys in Pakistan that are now gone could have been headed to Afghanistan. In early Sept. 2001, the start of the festivities started with the assasination of Masoud. A try for something similar could be in the offing.

  • Sheldon says:

    The information coming out of Pakistan is alarming. It must be recalled that only a few weeks before 9/11, Al-Qaeda leaders met with two senior scientists involved with the Pakistani nuclear weapons program.

  • Mike says:

    The potential of loose nuke is scary to all Americans as we know that where AQ’s grand slam will be. This week end here in NYC we got to witness what could happen if they get loose. NYC/Port Authority/State police were at every bridge and tunnel with the Rad gear due to some chatter on intel and reports in Isaeli news. Dosen’t give you the warm fuzzy’s driving over the Willy-B looking at the auto carrying officers in black fatique’s and a couple of spooky black vans. God help us all and those who will be on the recieving end should something happen. Was it Yamamoto who said in ’41 about waking the sleeping giant?

  • Doug says:

    Sorry, the plan is to pay them, not bomb them!

    Pakistan President Seeks Mainstream Taliban
    What’s next? Calls for a politically mainstreamed Al-Qaeda?
    This illustrates how imperative it is for America to remember why they are at war and with whom. What is the next step after America’s tolerance of the
    September 5, 2006 Waziristan Accord, and yesterday’s calls by President Musharraf for a
    mainstreamed Taliban?
    American acceptance of the Taliban as a political ideology?
    Or is the Taliban the enemy, based on the Taliban’s role in the 9/11 attacks and enemy status of such groups as defined by the AUMF ?
    Much of the challenge comes back to war strategy and definition of the enemy. Who is America fighting and why?
    On July 15, 2007, the New York Times reported that “United States plans to pour $750 million in aid into Pakistan’s tribal areas over the next five years as part of a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win over the lawless region from Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.” What hearts and minds, specifically?
    Because, as President Musharraf claims, that the “Taliban are a part of Afghan society”?
    But even before the plan has been fully carried out, documents and officials involved in the planning are warning of the dangers of distributing so much money in an area so hostile that oversight is impossible, even by Pakistan’s own government, which faces rising threats from Islamic militants.
    The question of who will be given the aid has quickly become one of the most contentious issues between local officials and American planners concerned that millions might fall into the wrong hands. The local political agents and tribal chiefs in this hinterland on the Afghan border have for years accommodated the very groups the American and Pakistani governments seek to drive out.

  • Manny says:

    Do you have an update on any of this? Particularly with regards to the emptying camps?


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