Al Qaeda remains entrenched in Pakistan’s tribal areas

The news that al Qaeda has helped to create a Taliban alliance, called the Shura-e-Murakeba, along the Afghan-Pakistani border is sure to be spun as a final, last-gasp attempt by a group whose leadership is shattered and on the run and is in need of the Taliban to fight its battles. But that read of the situation is wrong. As we have shown, al Qaeda’s desire to unite the disparate Taliban groups in Pakistan and focus their efforts has been a goal of the terror group for years. Al Qaeda’s promptings of the formation of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the United Mujahideen Council, the Shura al Mujahideen, and now the Shura-e-Murakeba, have all been part of this effort.

In fact, what this story shows is that despite three-and-a-half years of intense Predator and Reaper airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas (with about 96 percent of the strikes taking place in North and South Waziristan), al Qaeda remains entrenched there. Although drone strikes have killed key operatives such as Mustafa Abu Yazid and Atiyah Abd al Rahman, both of whom were highly capable senior leaders who commanded the respect of different Taliban factions and could pull them together, al Qaeda has been able to replace them.

The story of the formation of the Shura-e-Murakeba shows that the death of Atiyah Abd al Rahman hasn’t created the leadership void that many US officials would like for you to think exists. In fact, Abu Yahya al Libi has stepped into Atiyah’s role as chief of staff for al Qaeda. And Abdur Rehman al Saudi, the other al Qaeda leader who was also involved in the recent negotiations to create the Shura-e-Murakeba, has taken on Abu Yahya’s previous role in al Qaeda (besides being an influential member of al Qaeda’s executive shura, Abu Yahya essentially served as Atiyah’s deputy).

In addition, while US officials would like you to believe that there are only two senior al Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan who are truly high-value targets capable of posing a threat to the US, the emergence of Abdur Rehman al Saudi, who was an unknown until yesterday, puts a serious dent in that theory. Like many al Qaeda leaders who have stepped up to fill leadership positions for those killed or captured, his name wasn’t known to many before it was published in the press. You can add him to the list of senior al Qaeda leaders who are known to operate in Pakistan.

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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  • Devin Leonard says:

    Well, we still have work to do. But this is hardly Obama’s fault. I doubt that a guy like Romney is going to be any touhger (probably less so) then Obama has been against Al Qaida and the Taliban. The problem is the Pakis. We need to show them that we will cut off ALL aid if they don’t do somethig about the Al Qaida in thier country and that without US aid they will shrivel up and die as a military and as a country!

  • Observer says:

    I doubt the US could have sufficient influence over Pakistan to achieve the destruction of al-Qaeda.
    Perhaps, China could do what the Western powers fell short of? Allegedly, Chinese are thinking very seriously about establishing bases either in Waziristan or in Pakistani Kashmir. Their purpose – stop the influx of islamists into China’s Xinjiang province. Time has shown that Pakistanis are much more willing to appease Chinese than anybody else.
    Besides, there was a first joint Pakistani-Chinese military exercise near Indian border in 2011.

  • jayc says:

    @Observer – The Pak military/political structure operates on a mendicant strategy; they will beg, tell lies, says what you want to hear while you are feeding them. When the ear becomes deaf, they move on to the next “sucker.” However, the Chinese are not as fooled, or are not as patient, as the Americans.
    Remember the Pak statement where “our good friends the Chinese” were supposed to build/expand port facilities? The Chinese told them no.

  • Roscoe Halsted says:

    I realize this comment comes late, having just discovered this site.
    I disagree with D. Leonard in thee particulars:
    1) Can’t blame Obama: he is the third Dem president who has attempted to get by on air power rather than an integrated political and military strategy.
    2) The surmise about Romney is only that- actually an assumption based on no evidence of any kind. This seems to be in defense of Obama, given its context.
    3) The Pakis are far less dependent on US aid than imagined. US aid amounts to a slush fund for rampant Paki corruption. @ $ 5 billion US.
    Their relationship with the Chinese has far more strategic importance and both countries are cultivating the connection. Witness signing of their recent pact. For instance, the Chi are going to build a seaport on the Paki coast. Many yuan are flowing to the Pakis and that relationship is safer and more trustworthy for them vis a vis India,initialh whom we have a vital relationship- to offset the Chinese….


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