Al Qaeda continues to grow its network and expand its capabilities in northwestern Pakistan, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. The peace agreements have given the Taliban and al Qaeda time and space to re-establish their networks, which pose a threat not only to Pakistan, but the West as well.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terrorists groups, collectively called al Qaeda and allied movements, or AQAM, by some in US military and intelligence circles, has set up a series of camps throughout the tribal areas and in the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. “More than 100” terror camps of varying sizes and types are currently in operation in the region, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. As of the summer of 2007, 29 terror camps were known to be operating in North and South Waziristan alone.
Some camps are devoted to training the Taliban’s military arm, some train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some focus on training the various Kashmiri terror groups, some train al Qaeda operatives for attacks in the West, and one serves as a training ground the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. A US Special Forces raid against the Black Guard camp in Danda Saidgai in North Waziristan, Pakistan in March 2006 resulted in the death of Imam Asad and several dozen members of the Black Guard. Asad was the camp commander, a senior Chechen al Qaeda commander, and associate of Shamil Basayev, the Chechen al Qaeda leader killed by Russian security forces in July 2006.
The growth in the number of camps US intelligence officials said Pakistan is outpacing Iraq as the destination for recruits, The New York Times reported earlier this week. Iraq is now seen as a lost cause by jihadists while Pakistan is now seen as al Qaeda’s main effort. Recruits from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East are heading to Pakistan.
Al Qaeda has also reformed Brigade 055, the infamous military arm of the terror group made up of Arab recruits. The unit is thought to be commanded by Shaikh Khalid Habib al Shami. Brigade 055 fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was decimated during the US invasion of Afghanistan. Several other Arab brigades have been formed, some consisting of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards, an intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
A strike in South Waziristan
The deteriorating situation in Pakistan’s tribal agencies is highlighted by the increased incidences of cross-border attacks over the past several months. Today, 11 Pakistanis, including nine soldiers, were wounded in an attack launched from Afghanistan into the lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan.
Conflicting reports exist on the nature of the attack, and there is no confirmation on who carried it out. An unnamed Pakistani official told Reuters that “about 60 rounds fell in Angoor Adda,” a town near Wana in South Waziristan. BBC reported more than 10 “shells” landed near a military outpost just hundreds of yards from the Afghan border. Xinhua and The News reported that the attack was conducted by US aircraft. The US military has not confirmed conducting an attack, but it rarely confirms such incidents.
The attack inside Pakistan appears to be a response to a Taliban attack on a base in Barmal in Paktika province in Afghanistan, according to several of the reports. In the past, the US military has conducted hot pursuit of Taliban forces as they flee across the border to Pakistan.
Afghan and Coalition forces have fought a series battles with the Taliban along the ill-defined border as Taliban have been attempting to overrun military bases and district centers in the region. US and Afghan forces have killed more than 200 Taliban fighters in the lopsided battles. Many of the Taliban attacks have been launched from inside North and South Waziristan in Pakistan.
The most controversial counterattack into Pakistan occurred as US forces engaged a Taliban force as it retreated from Afghanistan’s Kunar province across the border into Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal agency on June 10. The engagement sparked an international incident. The US confirmed it killed eight Taliban fighters, while the Pakistani government said 11 Pakistani paramilitary troops were killed. The Pakistani government expressed outrage over the strike. But the incident sparked suspicions that the Pakistani paramilitary Frontier Corps either aided the Taliban or were part of the attack force.
The security situation in Pakistan’s tribal agencies has spiraled downward since the government negotiated peace agreements with the Taliban in North and South Waziristan in 2006 and throughout early 2007. The agreements gave the Taliban and al Qaeda time and space to consolidate their hold in the tribal areas and in some settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban renewed their efforts to destabilize the Afghan government and boldly conducted a series of military attacks in northwestern Pakistan and a bloody suicide campaign in the major cities.
The new Pakistani government has reinitiated peace negotiations with the Taliban in the northwest. Peace agreements have been signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, Mohmand, and Khyber. Negotiations are under way in South Waziristan, Kohat, and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been signed.