Al Qaeda remains entrenched in North Wazristan

This article from AFP provides an excellent look at how al Qaeda operates in Pakistan’s tribal areas of North Waziristan. As we’ve noted here at LWJ numerous times, the terror group and its allies are entrenched in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency, and they have integrated operations with the Taliban.

A few quick points:

First, the article puts the number of al Qaeda and allied foreign fighters based in North Waziristan in the hundreds, but the number is actually larger. Credible reports put it at more than 1,000.

Also, I strongly disagree with Zahid Hussain’s assertion that al Qaeda has been driven out of Afghanistan, as al Qaeda fighters are indeed still operating there. Al Qaeda is known to operate camps in Kunar and Nuristan; US forces even kill them there and elsewhere occasionally.

Finally, while the article does a great job of laying out how al Qaeda operates in North Waziristan, keep in mind that the tribal agency is merely one node, albeit an important one, in the terror group’s network in Pakistan. [See this Threat Matrix post from November 2010 for more detail.]

Read the entire AFP report; there is even an LWJ mention in there. Here is an excerpt:

North Waziristan has an estimated several hundred foreign Al-Qaeda fighters, mostly from Arab countries and Uzbekistan, with a smattering of Africans, Chechens and Westerners, the latter mostly dual nationals.

Most arrive overland through central Asia and Afghanistan. A minority, often the most inexperienced, fly in, running greater risks of being arrested as with two French jihadists picked up this year in Lahore.

Abu Salman criss-crosses between Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and the tribal belt.

“We avoid the telephone and the Internet to avoid being detected and being killed by a drone,” he said.

Responsible for providing food and medication, he shops for energy drinks such as Red Bull, which he claims are “very popular” among fighters.

But if most are foreign, Abu Salman claims that “more and more Pakistanis want to join up”.

“Al-Qaeda rents homes for its fighters as well as local Taliban who are less well off, basically getting funds from kidnapping for ransom,” says one regular visitor to the main market in the North Waziristan capital of Miramshah, who gives the name of Ahmad Jan.

Wearing traditional Pakistani clothes, long hair and beards, turbans and a Kalashnikov slung over their shoulder, the foreigners are almost indistinguishable from the tribesmen whose daughters they marry.

Only the locals can tell the difference.

“Their skin is often lighter, thinner and taller if they’re Arabs and they walk differently” says Jan.

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

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