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.