In a report at the Christian Science Monitor that attempts to explain why the US has ramped up Predator/Reaper attacks in North Waziristan, there is a great description of the strength of al Qaeda and allied groups in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency:
According to US estimates, there are about 2,000 Al Qaeda militants in the region. Their main hideouts, the prime target of US drones in the spring, are located in the mountains between Miramshah and the Afghan border. Additionally, there are Uzbeks, Chinese Uighurs, Chechens, and Tajik militants collaborating in North Waziristan.
It is estimated that around 3,000 Uzbeks (not to mention a number of militants belonging to other Central Asian states) have taken shelter in the region.
Since last year’s killing of Tahir Yledeshev, chief of the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement, there have been splinters, but Uzbeks mainly fight alongside TTP leaders.
There is also a group of hundreds of militants belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist extremist movement of Uighurs fighting against China for the independence of Xingjian Province. The commander, known as Abdul Shakoor, succeeded Abdul Haq al-Turkestani after he was killed in a drone attack early this year.
So, as you can see, North Waziristan is what is called a target-rich environment.
The report also goes on to note that many Arabs and North Africans, as well as the “Punjabi Taliban” (the mish-mash of members of Pakistani terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, etc.) are sheltering in the region. And they are doing so with the direct support of Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqanis, which the Pakistani establishment (read: the military and ISI) refuses to deal with as these groups are so-called “good Taliban.”
The sheltering and supporting of jihadists in North Waziristan by Bahadar and the Haqqanis is something we’ve hammered away at for years here at LWJ. If you look at the 5th and 6th charts at LWJ‘s Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010 page, you’ll see that strikes in territory controlled by Bahadar and the Haqqanis make up the majority of this year’s strikes; in fact, 51 of 67, or 76 percent, hit targets in turf run by the Haqqanis and Bahadar.
Keep in mind that there are three primary targets of these strikes:
1) top al Qaeda and allied movement commanders;
2) al Qaeda’s external operations network; and
3) al Qaeda/Taliban/allied groups who carry out attacks Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Often there is an intersection of these three groups (a senior al Qaeda leader can facilitate attacks by the external operations branch as well as direct attacks in Afghanistan – see Mustafa Abu Yazid, for instance). As there is usually little information in the public domain about the exact targets of the airstrikes, we are left guessing as to the motivations for a spike in strikes. The US may be upping the ante against the Haqqani Network and the Taliban who carry out operations in Afghanistan, and this can have the added effect of disrupting al Qaeda’s external operations network at the same time, or vice versa, given how these terror networks are often interlinked.
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