Al Qaeda Reborn in Pakistan

After having been relegated to the sidelines for years, Osama bin Laden and especially Ayman al-Zawahri, have regained a central role in directing al Qaeda and have reconstituted a large training operation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, according to Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde of the NYT.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has one “senior military intelligence officer” telling him that Mazzetti and Rohde understate the situation.

He reports that the Times‘s description that camps in Pakistan have “yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule” and its mention of “groups of 10 to 20 men” being trained is only a partial picture of the training camps in Pakistan. The Times article focuses on al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan, camps where militants receive the kind of training that could enable them to carry out terrorist attacks in the West. But there are also larger military training camps — the kind that are used to train Taliban fighters to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan, or to train Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, or other Kashmiri separatist groups. The training required to carry out a terrorist attack in the West is different than what is needed to fight in Afghanistan or Kashmir.

The senior officer also noted that the Times article portrays al-Qaeda as having fragmented in 2005, when “American intelligence assessments described senior leaders of Al Qaeda as cut off from their foot soldiers and able only to provide inspiration for future attacks.” In his estimation, such assessments were essentially intelligence failures: al-Qaeda’s senior leadership was regrouping and gathering force during this period, and Western intelligence wasn’t aware of it. The reason we realize it now, he says, is because the strength of al-Qaeda’s central leadership has become blatantly obvious.

The latter may be a semantic difference. Presumably, the reason regrouping and gathering were necessary is because they were fragmented and isolated. Regardless, GDR thinks things are grave, indeed:

First, the gathering of al-Qaeda forces in Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan makes the terrorist group increasingly look very similar to how it looked prior to 9/11. Much of the progress that the U.S. and other Western countries have made over the past five years will be lost if al-Qaeda is able to regenerate in this manner. Second, a number of British citizens of Pakistani descent have been to training camps in Pakistan. This is of great concern because people traveling with Commonwealth passports come under less suspicion when entering other Commonwealth countries. This includes Canada — which may, in turn, make it easier for graduates of the training camps in Pakistan to attack the U.S. And a third point of concern is that, although analysts now concede that the Waziristan Accord has failed, they aren’t discussing what should be done now. Indeed, I have spoken with nobody in policymaking or intelligence circles with a good answer to that question.

Allowing al Qaeda to reconstitute to pre-9/11 levels five years into a “war on terror” would be a monumental failure. Indeed, I can’t think of a more consequential one in American history. We’ve lost plenty of wars–1812, Korea, and Vietnam most notably–but none that resulted in diminished safety for the American homeland.

So, why aren’t we striking at the camps?

But debates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government.

If avoiding civilian casualties is a major concern, then attack the bases using commandos rather than from the air. And, frankly, it’s far from clear why we should care whether the incompetent thug Musharraf continues to hold the power he took in a coup. The rationale for supporting despots on the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thesis is always thin; doing so when they’re not even the enemy of your enemy is madness.

AllahPundit thinks our options are exceedingly limited:

The issue here is Pakistani sovereignty, not troop levels, and in any case there aren’t enough men and women in the U.S. military to occupy a country of 160+ million people with nuclear weapons and a jihadist power base that’s the envy of the Wahhabist world. We might have enough troops to invade and occupy the tribal areas if Musharraf was willing to cut a deal on that, but (a) what could we possibly offer him to get him to effectively cede territory, (b) how could he hope to survive the irredentist backlash among Pakistanis, and (c) if you think 3,000 dead in Iraq is bad, what would the numbers look like with U.S. troops fighting Iwo-style cave-clearing warfare in the mountains of Waziristan with jihadis from every shinolahole in the Middle East streaming in as reinforcements?

The United States military is quite good at fighting symmetrical battles against military forces. We heard a lot about how difficult it was going to be to take out the Taliban government in Afghanistan and to engage in door-to-door fighting in Baghdad to effect regime change in Iraq. Those things were accomplished with relative ease. It was the follow-through that left much to be desired.

In the case of Waziristan, we don’t need to clear and hold the territory, just destroy the training infrastructure and decimate the force. If that has to be done periodically, so be it. Certainly, that would be better than allowing al Qaeda to openly prepare for the follow-on to the 9/11 attacks. Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here and all that.

A global war on terrorism that won’t cross borders and kill terrorists is neither global nor a war.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    A global war on terrorism that won’t cross borders and kill terrorists is neither global nor a war.

    James, the Global War on Terror was never anything more than a republicas campaign slogan.

    Did you think it was an actual policy?

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Cernig has been complaining about this for some time, frequently complaining that Americans were overly concerned about Iran and insufficiently concerned about Pakistan.

    In my view the question is how would Musharraf respond if the U. S. were to attack the camps in Waziristan with a by-your-leave? If he did nothing I suspect he be under increased pressure even threat from Islamists within his own military. That’s already the case to some extent. If he responds then the U. S. is at war with Pakistan which, as you’ve noted, would not be a good thing.

    I’ve commented from time to time on the reasons that it makes sense to be more concerned about Iran, which is developing nuclear weapons, than Pakistan, which already has them.

    Basically, I’m afraid my position with respect to Pakistan is that we’re going to have to be willing to wait until we’re upset enough to destroy it. With the news of today India may be willing to do that for us. And tighten up on our border control at all points of entry.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    to engage in door-to-door fighting in Baghdad to effect regime change in Iraq.

    Was the door-to-door fighting (which we didn’t do a lot of in 2003) for regime change or to pacify the country? As it turns out it wasn’t required for regime change.

  4. Bithead says:

    A global war on terrorism that won’t cross borders and kill terrorists is neither global nor a war.

    Of course, the problem is the political realities involved… particulaly, the resistance the Democrats would offer to such a move, today.

    And let’s consider that if civilian casualties are the issue, at what point does it cease to be a concern, given that the involvement of civilians is part and parcel of the war AlQuieda is waging against us?

  5. Michael says:

    Of course, the problem is the political realities involved particulaly, the resistance the Democrats would offer to such a move, today.

    Yeah, those Democrats are always trying to stop us from invading our allies in the most important war of our age. Why, if only we could invade Britain, this whole Al Qaeda problem would be solved.

  6. Michael says:

    On a more serious note, the problems we face in this situation are all very serious, and don’t leave many good options.

    1) Musharraf uses the Pakistani military to attack the Taliban, provocking civil backlash in Pakistan, probably ending in a new anti-west government that would give direct support to the Taliban.
    1.1) Anti-west Pakistan turns against US forces, opening a new front on the GWOT. The US would be involved in occupation of a third Muslim nation, without the troops needed to stabilize a country that large.

    2) The US attacks Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside of Pakistan.
    2.1) If Musharraf allowed this to happen, see item 1 above.
    2.2) Musharraf defends the borders of his country by breaking his alliance with the US, and using the Pakistani military to attack US forces, see item 1.1 above.

    3) Both US and Pakistani forces do nothing, US forces wait for Taliban forces to enter Afghanistan before engaging, leaving them a safe fallback in Pakistan for hit and run operations.
    3.1) Taliban troops keep Afghanistan unstable.
    3.2) Al Qaeda troops train in safety, then spread throughout the world to conduct their attacks.
    3.3) Pakistan remains an unreliable partner in the GWOT, giving concessions to terrorists to try and hold of falling to them completely.

  7. Cernig says:

    It amuses me to see Allahpundit trot out the prospect of casualties as a reason not to use military force in Pakistan. But when the casualty count is cited as a reason to withdraw from Iraq, where we are already using military force, the Right insists that the cause of ending world Islamist terror outweighs any casualty count. Double standard or what?

    Still, he’s right – there are few if any military options for the same reasons as there are none with Iran, plus real nukes instead of dreams of one-day nukes. Oh…and Pakistan has a mutual defense pact with China.

    There are at least two major known secular democratic groups in exile which have actual real widespread support in Pakistan and aren’t simply fictions drummed up by the White House and CIA. Having said that, democracy in Pakistan would probably mean a majority with an Islamic bent. Not Islamist, necessarily, but certainly Islamic.

    Peaceful regime change is needed and would help some but won’t be a full cure. At least regime change might generate a climate where there could be real co-operation with the Pakistani government instead of the kabuki dance we have now. The easiest way to affect regime change would be to simply stop propping up Musharaff.

    Regime change would enable action to dismantle the ISI, in particular. They are the progenitors and guidance of AQ, the LeK and the Taliban as well as the force behind the still-surviving Khan network of nuclear proliferation. the ISI are exactly like the Iranian IRGC-QF are supposed to be, only worse.

    Regards, C

  8. Anderson says:

    Of course, the problem is the political realities involved particulaly, the resistance the Democrats would offer to such a move, today.

    Is it true that Bithead has been replaced by a simple computer AI program that responds to everything with a nonsensical “but the Democrats” riposte? Anyone seen B. lately?

  9. Anderson says:

    Re: Michael, you are very likely right on much of your analysis, tho I would add that the U.S. loss of credibility post-Iraq is a big part of the problem.

    Still, I don’t see all-out war with Pakistan, if we’re taking JJ’s advice & making commando raids & the occasional airstrike. P. just isn’t up for that, no matter the gov’t.

    There are precedents I think for this kind of thing, when Power A won’t control its border and allows pirates or bandits to raid into Power B. At some point, Power B is entitled to say, “hey, if you won’t exercise sovereignty, then we’re going to have to nail these guys.”

    Finally, if a pro-Taliban gov’t comes to power in a backlash, so what? We pretty much have that now, for practical purposes. And I don’t think that eastern Pakistan would rest easy under such a regime.

  10. jay k. says:

    someone above called this the most important war of our age. what f’ing hyperbole. if it is so damn important why aren’t we taking our panties off and fighting? look at actions, not words. actions say it’s little more than a third world skirmish. which is it?
    someone else talked about democratic resistance. i’m curious…which democrat has resisted any effort to take the fight to al-queda? i am not a democrat…but to me they seem to be saying the civil war in iraq is the wrong place for us to be. how could they in turn offer any resistence?

  11. Jim Harrison says:

    I guess we could undertake covert attacks inside Pakistan like the terrorism we’re apparently already sponsoring in Iran, but I can’t imagine that Bush would attack Pakistan overtly. For all his bluster, he is pretty careful not to get in a fight with any serious power. I mean he’s stupid enough, but he doesn’t have the balls.

  12. jukeboxgrad says:

    I can’t decide what’s more bizarre: that Bush is planning to provide Musharraf with new F-16s, or that no one is mentioning that fact.

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    Jay K, the answer is: all of them. every time we use something against the terrorists the traitor Donkeyspawn fight tooth and nail to stop us because they are allies. We fight against the new Nazi Order and their allies the terrorist. Support the War effort!

  14. spencer says:

    As someone who has been hassling you guys for a couple of years for supporting the incompetent policies of the man you voted into office I would compliment you on finally doing some good analysis of the situation.

    I know, you now say If I think it is good it cannot be right.

  15. Anderson says:

    G.A. Phillips is obviously on the Qaeda payroll, discrediting Qaeda’s opponents by making them look like John Birch rejects. For shame, sir!

    I can’t decide what’s more bizarre: that Bush is planning to provide Musharraf with new F-16s, or that no one is mentioning that fact.

    I’m guessing we are confident about shooting down F-16s, but it’s rather odd.

  16. Marc says:

    OF COURSE, this wouldn’t be a problem if Bush had taken out Al Qaeda before/instead of attacking Iraq, but I’m so bloody tired of saying “I told you so” about Bush and it doesn’t change the fact the horror of our present situation. The consensus of Democrats and the consensus of Republicans was to fight in Afghanistan — although there were opponents in each party — whether or not Pakistan helped us. While I would pray for a stable and free Iraq and a stable and free Afghanistan and a secure homeland — the moron in the White House simply can not be trusted to wipe his own butt, much less solve these problems. I think the best we can do is fight him, wait him out and pray the country survives until he leaves the White House –preferably in leg irons.

  17. Michael says:

    someone above

    That was me.

    called this the most important war of our age.

    That entire post was satire, or was it too subtle? I thought the whole “invade Britain” part was a giveaway.

    if it is so damn important why arent we taking our panties off and fighting?

    I don’t wear panties, you? And even if I did, I think I’d rather fight dressed than naked. Just personal preferences, yours may vary.

  18. fiskhus jim says:

    Apparently, all Bush wants is sex…

    A few months ago a book called Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait came out. It’s by the late Uri Dan, who was Sharon’s longtime confidant/bootlicker. It sounds like it’s worth skimming, at least for these two parts:

    From a new review in Ha’aretz:

    Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon’s delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: “I will screw him in the ass!”

    You folks better move your Publican White House to New Jersey.

  19. Anderson says:

    And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: “I will screw him in the ass!”

    There are so many things I didn’t need to know …

  20. Bryan says:

    HEY check out this new political website. It has tons of political message boards and soon will have news updates.

    http://www.electorials.com

  21. anjin-san says:

    Bush is not serious about going after Bin Laden, he probably never was. He is too busy chasing windmills in Iraq.

  22. Michael says:

    HEY check out this new political website. It has tons of political message boards and soon will have news updates.

    Wow! Political message boards without any updated news? On the Internet tubes? I didn’t know such a thing was possible, please tell me more about this wonderful invention of yours!

    Jay K.: The above was sarcasm, in case you are unsure.

  23. Michael says:

    Bush is not serious about going after Bin Laden, he probably never was. He is too busy chasing windmills in Iraq.

    WMD = Windmills of Mass Delusion?

  24. Michael says:

    HEY check out this new political website. It has tons of political message boards and soon will have news updates.

    James: Cleanup on isle 2 please, someone seems to have emptied some spam on the floor.

  25. Sirkowski says:

    Do you realize now that the “War on Tarrah” is a joke? Or do we go through another 4 years of Stay the Course?

  26. Um, hate to break it to you, guys — it’s your team that lost interest in hunting down Osama Bin Laden. It’s your President Bush that said a few months after the attack, “I don’t know where he is and I don’t care”. It’s your Republicans who ignored Bin Laden and started a meaningless, destructive and massively expensive war in Iraq. It’s your Bush Administration who keeps claiming that Pakistan is an ally, after their spies stole our nuclear technology, but worse, when it’s clear to all that Bin Laden has spent at least some of his time since 9/11 in that very country.

    And now to claim that the Democrats are impeding the hunt for Bin Laden! The mind boggles.

    Do you really think that the Democrats would attempt to oppose a hunt for Bin Laden? Can you imagine anyone other than George W. Bush being able to get away with saying that he or she is not interested in hunting Bin Laden?

    Tell you what, I’ll make it really easy for you. Just name ONE Democrat, only one! who has come out against hunting for Bin Laden, or who has somehow in any way impeded or attempted to impede the hunt for Bin Laden.

    No?

    I must ask you readers a question: I’m curious. Why do you feel compelled to post things that any child would see are obvious falsehoods?

    For those of you who keep posting that the Democrats are the allies of the terrorists… can you really be so crazy as to believe it? Do you have a little movie in your head of Mr. Obama going home and thinking, “How can I arrange for Americans to be killed?” or Mrs. Clinton thinking, “How can I keep Bin Laden from being captured?”

    If you really believe the literal truth of these things, you should stop and think for a second. Such beliefs are not sane. You might not like the Democrats but it’s absolutely not in their best interests to allow America to be attacked, to set their own house afire.

    It’s hard to think you really believe these things you post. Yet, it’s hard to understand why screaming obvious falsehoods and spewing profanity and madness is going to somehow bolster your arguments either.