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September 25, 2007


Understanding Al-Qaeda's Pakistan PSYOP and Insurgency

The Troubling Effectiveness of al-Qaeda's PSYOP On The Pakistani Army

By Steve Schippert | September 25, 2007

Going forward in the global conflict before us, it is important to acknowledge and understand that al-Qaeda is currently engaged in an Information Operation (IO) campaign inside Pakistan. This is in addition to its efforts to gain influence outside of Pakistan, particularly with Muslims in Europe, the Middle East and in the US. The primary target of the Pakistan campaign is the Pakistani military and it is driven by al-Qaeda's accelerating insurgency inside Pakistan. Understanding how and why al-Qaeda has undertaken this effort allows decision makers greater understanding of al-Qaeda's aims and equips them with a 'lay of the land' required to counter al-Qaeda's message and objectives.

Usama bin Laden's latest recorded message is the third in just two weeks following three years of virtual silence from the al-Qaeda leader. In it, bin Laden calls on Pakistani Muslims to acknowledge that Musharraf's actions are examples of his loyalty to the United States and representative of his unbelief. For bin Laden and his compatriots, such unbelief marks Musharraf as 'kufr' and places the requirement on believers to make "armed rebellion against him." The misguided understanding that bin Laden and al-Qaeda have of Islam makes it obligatory to fight against those who rule outside of their interpretation of Islam, and its overly broad application of tawhid. Yet bin Laden crafts a different message for the Pakistani Army, whom he advises to “resign” from their jobs, “disassociate yourself from Pervez and his Shirk (polytheism)” and “enter anew into Islam.” There is a reason for this, which will be discussed below.

Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest video message and bin Laden's audio message, released on the same day, mark as-Sahab's 77th and 78th propaganda productions this year alone. There is a clear shifting of gears in the al-Qaeda Information Operations, most notably within Pakistan as well as their international efforts surrounding the 6th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

Before looking further into the al-Qaeda Pakistani IO campaign, we must address the al-Qaeda-Taliban insurgency actively ongoing in Pakistan.

al-Qaeda in Pakistan - From Terrorism to Insurgency

There is, of course, no single agreed upon definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the US Code of Federal Regulations as “...the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85) For instance, terrorism is – among other things - a tactic employed to increase support for a group through inspiration while also decreasing effective resistance to the group through intimidation. An example of this type of terrorism would be the beheading of those deemed to be 'spies' for the Americans in South Waziristan, the multiple car bomb and rocket attacks, or the anti-aircraft assassination attempts on Musharraf. Additionally, the bombings that took place after the Pakistani government raid on Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque) are an example of the use of terror to gain influence. No matter the definition of terrorism being applied, al-Qaeda has clearly been a terrorist organization in Pakistan.

Beyond Pakistan, Al-Qaeda seeks to – in part - influence American foreign policy through terrorist means. But within Pakistan, al-Qaeda has clearly and by specific design transformed from being simply a dangerous international terrorist group within Pakistan to a full-fledged internal insurgency against it. This transformation is represented through the efforts of al-Qaeda to acquire the armored assets of a state Army and its nuclear weapons, as well as the pursuit of land holdings to be integrated into the larger objective of creating an Islamic state to be ruled by a successor to the Prophet, a Khalifa or Caliph, nearly 1350 years after the last of the 'rightly guided' rulers.

An insurgency is a movement with specific governmental designs on the host country. In Countering Evolved Insurgent Networks, Col. Thomas X. Hammes (USMC, Ret.) quotes Bard O'Neill to define an insurgency. O'Neill wrote, “Insurgency may be defined as a struggle between a nonruling group and the ruling authorities in which the nonruling group consciously uses political resources (e.g., organizational expertise, propaganda, and demonstrations) and violence to destroy, reformulate, or sustain the basis of one or more aspects of politics.”

In more accessible terms, Terrorism-Research.com offers that the ultimate goal of an insurgency "is to challenge the existing government for control of all or a portion of its territory, or force political concessions in sharing political power."

Both aptly describe al-Qaeda's actions, operations and aims within Pakistan, a ready-made nuclear power which the terrorist group seeks to wrest complete control.

Perhaps the best way to describe al-Qaeda's Pakistan insurgency is to call it a “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” They have openly sought not only the assassination of Pervez Musharraf, but also the demise – or reconfiguration – of the Pakistani national government. In a strategy that has been executed with remarkable patience, al-Qaeda has gained acknowledged control of several sizable territories in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

After defeating Pakistani forces on the battlefield, the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance have secured various 'peace accords' replete with concessions from the Musharraf government. Effective control of North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Bajour and Swat have been ceded to them and Pakistani forces were – upon agreement – effectively withdrawn from the areas handed the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance through the accords. The accords, no matter how presented by the Musharraf government, represented abject defeat.

Al-Qaeda Insurgency: Destination - Islamabad

Domination in these territories has allowed al-Qaeda the haven necessary to rebuild its training and planning infrastructure as well as replenish its human resources. After a few short weeks of basic military training, Taliban conscripts are sent in waves across the border to battle US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

However, al-Qaeda has no designs on investing in regaining that territory. There are no resources for them there – and a more formidable, if reduced, military force to be reckoned with. One whose defeat of the terrorist group drove them into Pakistan's border regions to begin with. Al-Qaeda's designs are not back towards the west, but rather onward deeper into the heart of Pakistan.

While al-Qaeda's Pakistan insurgency has been largely waged in the FATA region, it's territorial aims are by no means limited to it. Rather, al-Qaeda seeks control of all of Pakistan, including its military, weapons and economic capabilities. Al-Qaeda has been executing this strategy one territory, one victory at a time. And it now closes in on Islamabad.

Indeed, an analysis by the Pakistani Interior Ministry warned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf of precisely this. The New York Times reported that the 15-page internal Pakistani document warned Musharraf that "the influence of the extremists is swiftly bleeding east and deeper into his own country, threatening areas like Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat, which were considered to be safeguarded by Pakistani government forces." The Interior Ministry document said that Peshewar endures the “highest number of terrorist incidents, including attacks on local police,” and that in Bannu and Tank regions, police are “patronizing the local Taliban and have abdicated the role of law and order.”

It is important to note that Peshewar is the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Much of the Pakistani government, non-Islamist educators, officials and police forces live inside heavily armed and walled communities in the NWFP, where they are more safe from al-Qaeda attack. The NWFP borders the Federally Administered Tribal Areas under direct Taliban-al-Qaeda control on one side and the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on the other. The rising violence is a clear indicator of the expansion of al-Qaeda's insurgency as it marches patiently but steadily toward Islamabad. As evidenced by bin Laden's latest message, that patience may be nearing an end.

Usama bin Laden's latest message implored the Pakistani public to take up arms against Musharraf and warned the army's soldiers to break ranks and fight Musharraf with al-Qaeda rather than serve him. This is a sign that al-Qaeda's patient approach to its Pakistan insurgency has run its course. There could be a maelstrom of events to follow in Pakistan.

AQ Targets Police for Violence and Army Soldiers for Influence

The al-Qaeda Information Operation (IO) is designed to support the insurgency's incremental march on Islamabad. The key to understanding the al-Qaeda IO and its insurgency goals is to understand how al-Qaeda primarily targets Pakistani Interior Ministry forces (police, constabularies and the Frontier Corps) for physical attack while targeting Pakistani regular army forces for influence and subversion.

The persistent mention of Pakistani police forces – rather than Pakistani Army forces – is expected in any Pakistani Interior Ministry report, as the Police forces fall under the Interior. But Pakistani police forces also decidedly bear the brunt of al-Qaeda's lethal attacks and not the Pakistani Army. It's not that al-Qaeda and their indigenous Taliban allies cannot attack the Pakistani Army with expectations of success. They most certainly can and have. With bin Laden's latest audio message delivering a combination invitation and ultimatum to Pakistani Army soldiers, al-Qaeda's designs for the Pakistani Army are more clearly visible. The reason for attacking Pakistani police forces is two-fold and – in this writer's view - also the most elusive and yet perhaps most important indicator of the ongoing al-Qaeda insurgency.

First, the Interior Ministry is widely regarded as the one segment of the Pakistani government with unwavering loyalty to Musharraf, whom al-Qaeda has sought to assassinate several times. Unlike the military and the military's intelligence arm (ISI), the Pakistani police forces, constabularies and Frontier Corps of the Interior Ministry do not have historical ties to Islamist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Interior Ministry loyalty to Musharraf makes their ranks logical targets for the Islamists who seek to kill and replace Musharraf atop an Islamist-run Pakistani government.

Secondly, and most importantly, al-Qaeda at the same time seeks to avoid open bloody conflict with the Army. Not because it fears the deadly consequences of such a confrontation, but rather because al-Qaeda senior leadership wants the Pakistani military intact – for themselves. Ideally, they do not want to ultimately find Musharraf killed or oustered only to have the military splintered internally between pro-government and pro-al-Qaeda commanders. Al-Qaeda is executing an insurgency to gain control, not to touch off a civil war.

In the end, al-Qaeda's design is also to co-opt an intact military in order to gain command of a military force with the assets of a state (aircraft, armor, etc.) and direct control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Recent reports of defections of Pakistani military elements since bin Laden's latest message to them indicates a level of success in the al-Qaeda IO campaign targeting them.

Measuring al-Qaeda's PSYOP Success

Three weeks ago, well over 200 Pakistani Army soldiers surrendered to a much smaller number of fighters from the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance without a shot fired. But the al-Qaeda IO campaign primarily targeting the Pakistani regular army forces has a spillover effect on other forces - and the general populace - as well. It is reported in Pakistan that many soldiers in the Pakistani Army, Frontier Corps paramilitary and police forces are refusing to fight or putting up little fight against their own countrymen inside the Federally Administered Tribal Area.

It is difficult to dispute the success of al-Qaeda's Psychological Warfare efforts inside Pakistan. The message has been consistent for several years and al-Qaeda's patience and restraint in seeing it through are significant qualities of the terrorist organization turned insurgent group. With every message and in all their forms, al-Qaeda has sought to convince the Army soldiers that they are not al-Qaeda's enemy, rather that they are simply being misled by Musharraf. In bin Laden's latest message, he said of the Pakistani Army, “we see the armies becoming tools and weapons in the hands of the Kuffaar [unbeliever, referencing Musharraf and the US] against the Muslims.”

This message resonates, as many Pakistanis are reluctant to take up arms against other Pakistanis, whether those they would confront are Taliban or al-Qaeda or not. It must also be considered that upwards of 30% of the Pakistani Army are, like the Taliban, ethnic Pashtuns. The vast majority of them are enlisted foot soldiers, as very few ethnic Pashtuns hold leadership positions, largely due to internal social and educational dynamics.

Even among the Pakistani police forces in the North West Frontier Province, many are said to have requested leave or simply deserted when faced with the outlook of deadly confrontations with fellow Pakistanis among the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. In other instances, including the Interior Ministry's report that specifically cited the Bannu and Tank regions, police are “patronizing the local Taliban and have abdicated the role of law and order.”

Where True Power Lies...And Grows

This is an indication that fear is also a prime motivator among Pakistanis. In the North West Frontier Province capital of Peshawar, al-Qaeda's black banner of jihad can be seen displayed in the widows of many shops and flying in various places. This does not necessarily mean that there is explicit support in the hearts and minds of all Pakistanis there – even among those flying the al-Qaeda banner.

Though Peshewar and the rest of the NWFP are technically under Pakistani state control, this indicates a reflection among the populace of where the true power lies – outside the walled communities where many government employees and 'moderate' citizens take refuge. In many cases, the al-Qaeda banner may well be flown simply out of self-protection to avoid attack on their particular shops.

The police cannot protect everyone all the time, but al-Qaeda and the Taliban can attack at their choosing. And from a local's perspective, this is where the true power lies. And as more and more Pakistanis in the police forces, the Frontier Corps and the regular army begin to show a reluctance to do battle, the al-Qaeda power in these region grows, both in measurable means on the ground and within the minds of the Pakistani populace.

Such are the tangible gains of effective, persistent and robust al-Qaeda information operations, a classic PSYOP directed at both the Pakistani population writ large and also expressly directed at the Pakistani Army. As a result, Pakistani forces are engaging al-Qaeda and the Taliban less and less. In fact, President Musharraf announced that in 2008, there will be no Pakistani Army activity at all in al-Qaeda-held territory, deferring engagement to the less capable and less effective Frontier Corps and Pakistani police and constabularies.


The growing success of this long running al-Qaeda PSYOP makes it clear that the defeat of al-Qaeda and the elimination of their global headquarters in Pakistan will not come from Pakistani sources or initiative. As with so many other theaters in this global conflict, the initiative must again come directly from the United States. The American public and American political leaders must prepare themselves for the reality that, at this stage, defeating al-Qaeda in Pakistan most likely requires American boots on Pakistani soil.

The continued disengagement from the fight by Pakistani military forces unwilling to combat terrorists and insurgents within their own country is indeed troubling. President Musharraf's recent decision to fully disengage and withdraw his most capable combat forces from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas by January 2008 certainly does not bode well for continued distanced engagement or non-engagement by American forces. In the end, defeating al-Qaeda in Pakistan will require direct American military action on the ground. The alternative is to accept the consequences of a strengthening al-Qaeda insurgency that is gaining momentum.

There can therefore be little debate that al-Qaeda and its global headquarters in Pakistan must be defeated before they consume Pakistan and the assets of a nuclear-armed state with professional military forces. The first step is an effective IO strategy of our own to counter this very powerful aspect of the insurgency. At current, only Pervez Musharraf openly engages the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in the war of words and ideas within Pakistan. Unfortunately, these efforts amount to little given his poor domestic credibility. More Pakistani voices are required, and they must address the Pakistani people, bottom up, in a credible manner.

September 19, 2007

United States of America

Losing Secrets

We Have Serious Strategic Counterintelligence Problems

By Michael Tanji | September 19, 2007

Wars today are primarily intelligence battles. There is no spot on the planet the US military cannot destroy: the trick is figuring out which spot to target. Cruise missile, JDAM or ICBM: someone has to program in the target coordinates, and those coordinates have to come from an intelligence source of one sort or another.

The intelligence wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have shifted from the strategic: trying to find out what was going on prior to the outbreak of hostilities; to primarily tactical: gathering information to feed current operations. Our government’s response to this demand has been fairly well covered, with the creation of new defense human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities to the adoption of HUMINT tradecraft by US special operations forces.

But as recently reported, we still have a very serious strategic intelligence problem to deal with, and the government’s response to the problem does not leave one feeling confident that we are up to the challenge.

From President Putin on down through the government hierarchy, all the key players in Russia are noted for their affiliation with the Russian (or previously Soviet) intelligence services. In fact the country was recently labeled a “neo-KGB state”. DNI McConnell is only the most recent US intelligence official to testify that Russian espionage activity is approaching cold war heights. At their peak, you may recall, the Russians penetrated both the FBI and CIA.

China’s espionage activities against the US are also at an all-time high, though the methodology used by the Chinese differs slightly from their former Soviet cousins. In addition to sending actual intelligence officers to the US under various forms of cover the Chinese may actively or passively use any citizen that visits or works in the US as a potential source. Businessmen, scientists and even our own defense and intelligence officials are obvious sources of immediately valuable information, but a student or tourist who shares seemingly benign information about their travels to an “immigration” official may in reality be providing another puzzle piece to an aggregate picture the PRC may have been assembling for years.

Counterintelligence (CI) – the discipline that focuses on identifying and defeating foreign intelligence threats – has long been a step-child in an intelligence community focused on collecting positive intelligence against foreign targets. The National Counterintelligence Executive was created in 2001 and was supposed to bolster CI activities and provide the discipline with additional clout. That lasted only a few years, with the NCIX now housed under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In a community that values autonomy as much as most of us value our limbs, this effectively means that CI is now back under the watchful eye of those who do not hold it in much esteem.

Technically speaking, success in counterintelligence means having nothing to report (read: no penetrations by hostile forces) but proving a negative also means not having metrics to point to when it is time to justify your agency budget. So success is re-defined by the number of spies that are rooted out and prosecuted. In reality these are merely indications of how weak our defenses against foreign intelligence services truly are, or in Orwellian terms: failure = success.

Being able to identify and neutralize intelligence threats before they compromise our security is paramount in an age when information is more important than any given weapons platform. That the Russian space shuttle looks suspiciously like our own; that Chinese space launch vehicles look suspiciously like our own; are merely the large, overt signs of how much we have ceded key aspects of our national security.

Our political leadership should be encouraging the community to move forthrightly to buttress our counterintelligence capabilities by leveraging the full spectrum of resources at hand. We should be organized in a manner that is representative of the various threats to our national security, resourced to deal with the increased collection efforts , and adopting a dramatically more robust and aggressive posture against adversaries old and new. Defending the United States is seldom a matter of arms, while it is always a matter of preparedness. More pointedly, it is a duty we cannot afford to shirk lest the Americans currently in harm’s way overseas be placed in greater danger due to our inattention to more discrete assaults back home.

September 12, 2007


Defending Israel in an Age of Missile Terror

An Interview with a Member of the Knesset

By C. Hart | September 12, 2007

The latest missile attack on an Israeli military base in the western Negev may force Israel into a ground offensive that overshadows any diplomatic efforts between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli opposition leaders are calling for more than precision strikes on terrorist targets, with some seeking a repeat of the IDF’s 2002 Operation Defense Shield: the largest military operation in the West Bank since the Six Day War.

However, the Israeli government is hesitant to take action before the Jewish holidays and is already dealing with numerous terror plots and warnings in the West Bank, Tel Aviv and other parts of the country. Olmert is also concerned that Israel is on the verge of war with Syria in the north and worried that Iranian proxy Hizballah is likely to join a future confrontation by launching missiles from its posts in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the seventh annual conference on global terrorism is being held in the coastal town of Herzliya. Many of the world’s leading experts on terrorism are gathered together to compare notes and seek more effective ways of fighting terrorism in Israel and internationally.

Likud party MK, Yuval Steinitz, who is a member and former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, gave an assessment at the conference, drawing parallels on successes and failures both locally, and worldwide.

ThreatsWatch was able to interview Steinitz on issues related to both Lebanon’s Second War in the summer of 2006 and the war against terrorism in general.

With regards to Hizballah and their rocket attacks against Israel last year, Steinitz opines,

I think they did try to use their full capacity. You never shoot all your ammunition, but some percent of it always, and this is exactly what they did. I think they tried to use their full capacity with some significant achievements last time.

Steinitz believes that missile warfare will be the future of warfare in the Middle East:

The issue of ground-to-ground missiles; missiles against missiles; and missile defense is becoming very prominent. We have to understand that, if in the past it was essential for Israel to intercept airplanes, and to gain air superiority in order to defend the Israeli state, now you have to add to it missile interception capacity, because this is a main threat. This is a new era.

Asked if Israel can handle two fronts, Hizballah in the north, and Hamas in the south, Steinitz replied,

It’s better to have one front, but if necessary we can handle two fronts. Yet, Hamas is not a real front. A state might produce a more severe military threat than a terrorist organization in case of war. Hamas and Hizballah are half a front.

Asked if Israel has gained the deterrence they lost during the Second Lebanon War, Steinitz explained,

Our deterrence was badly damaged following the last war, vis-a-vis Hizballah, and it will take time before we re-gain it, using different methods of course.

Steinitz also expressed concern that although Israel’s security organizations have had significant successes in taking out key Hizballah and Hamas personalities, they have not been able to stop either organization from building their capacity to wage war, in particular their ability to launch missile attacks.

We have to ask ourselves whether what we do -- even if we can be very proud of tactical success – is it succeeding or failing [strategically]? We are failing because if Hamas force-building is on the rise, this is proof of an Israeli failure. This is good for Hamas and bad for us. So, we have to change and understand that without an overall operation against terrorist infrastructure, against Hamas leadership, against the weapons industry in Gaza, we are losing this war, despite the tactical achievements.

In his assessment at the Herzliya conference, Steinitz also address terrorism writ large. He detailed the importance of examining terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, asking conference attendees to draw conclusions as to whether the terror group is getting stronger or weaker; whether it is increasing in its overall capacity; and whether it is meeting its expectations.

The U.S. succeeded in preventing arms from reaching Al Qaeda. Today, Al Qaeda has less arms and weapons than they used to have before September 11. But, with Hamas it’s exactly the opposite. This is because we failed to do two things which are necessary. One is to conduct a massive general ground operation in Gaza, and in Lebanon (vis-a-vis Hizballah). And, secondly, unlike the U.S. it is more difficult for us to pressure countries like Syria, or Iran, or Egypt to cooperate against terrorism.

Steinitz complained of Israel’s failure in pressuring Egypt to stop the smuggling of arms and explosives into Gaza. Because of this failure, Steinitz thinks that Israel must repeat what its military forces did during Operation Defensive Shield five years ago. He believes the solution is massive ground operations against the terrorist infrastructure that is hurting Israel despite the great collateral damage that might occur during such an operation.

And, what if Syria takes advantage of Israel’s focus on a ground offensive in Gaza?

If Syria attacks us, we can defend ourselves, even if we have some battalions inside Gaza. We have to go in there to clean the area, to destroy the weapons industry, to destroy the Hamas leadership, and pull out after a few weeks.

Steinitz agrees with military analysts who assess that Israel’s failure to conduct an immediate and massive ground operation in south Lebanon during the start of the Second Lebanon War was a mistake,

If we would have gone beyond the Litani (River) as we did in 1982, vis-a-vis the PLO, there would be no Hizballah military presence in Lebanon today.

Despite elements of the Israeli population that are reluctant to go to war, Steinitz says they have little choice,

Otherwise, in one or two year’s time, Ashdod and Beersheva will also come under the range of Hamas rockets.

Steinitz further stresses that global leaders can do much more to put pressure on countries like Iran and Syria to stop the sponsorship of terror, and on Egypt to stop tolerating terrorism. Whether such a diplomatic offensive will be successful is unknown. What is known is that Israel’s defense forces have a rocket-borne terror war to contend with now, and its leaders need proven military capability and strength to stop it.

C. Hart reports for ThreatsWatch from Jerusalem, Israel.

September 11, 2007


A New Course In Iraq...For Iran

Quds Force Training Iraqis In Iran Safer Than Within Petraeus' Reach

By Steve Schippert | September 11, 2007

It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran,
through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into
[a] Hizballah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi
state and coalition forces in Iraq.
-- General David Petraeus, September 10, 2007


Today, General Petraeus said in his statement to Congress that Iran has withdrawn from Iraq its Quds Force as well as its Lebanon-based Hizballah terror trainers and facilitators that were assisting them. Jim Geraghty noted and Hot Air blogger Allah Pundit pondered.

I don’t know why Iran would have suddenly pulled out unless they’re getting nervous about the escalation with the United States. But if that were true, they’d cut the supply of weapons and EFPs too, and that obviously ain’t happening. Just something to think about.

So let's think about it. He's on to something about Iran getting nervous about escalation. Several things on that.
  • Petraeus took command in Baghdad requiring and receiving a mandate to lean forward in Iraq. Not a large man, his lean (and freedom to) is nonetheless heavy. Iran acknowledges its lesser Quds Force roll call since his arrival.
  • Unlike the perception left by previous commanders, Petraeus fears not singling out Iran publicly nor feigns from engaging them in the streets. He appears to fear only the consequences of an unacknowledged and un-confronted enemy that kills his men. This, too, is noted by Iran.
  • High-ranking Iranian Quds Force, IRGC and Hizballah operatives have been persistently under pursuit and killed or captured since Petraeus' arrival. The networks established have come under direct fire and disruption. The heat is clearly on.
Acknowledging all of this and the surprising boldness of the new American commander, Iran looks to have likewise chosen a 'new course in Iraq.' This is not to say they have adopted a kinder, gentler approach at all. Allah Pundit is right to question the seemingly incongruous fact that weapons flows and EFP supplies have not abated even though General Petraeus says that "the [Iranian] Quds Force have been pulled out of the country, as well as Lebanese Hizballah trainers who were used in assistance." Several very recent events seem to indicate this change of course by Iran.
  • Increased reports of Iraqis being sent to Iranian terrorist training camps within Iran's borders.
  • The 'leaks' that the President is considering officially designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and/or Quds Force as a terrorist group(s).
  • The subsequent and sudden firing of the IRGC's long-time commander, General Safavi. Quds Force, however, remains under the capable command of Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani.
  • Muqtada al-Sadr's announcement of the halt of operations by his Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia, or the Mahdi Army.
Why are these things important? It was speculated that Safavi's sudden firing as the commander of the IRGC was the direct result of the IRGC's potential inclusion on the American terrorist group list and the potentially massive economic consequences this would bring to the military branch that enjoys much international investment as the owner of many Iranian companies that enjoy no-bid contract holdings in Iran.

In March, Iranian dissident and MeK supporter Alireza Jafarzadeh, who provided the details that uncovered Iran's covert nuclear program, told UPI that Iran is training Iraqi death squads inside Iran. He was reported as providing details that Quds Force "has allocated several of its bases in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Qom, Isfahan, as well as provinces close to Iraqi borders, such as Kermanshah, Ilam, Kurdistan and Khuzestan," and is using senior Quds Force commanders to train the Iraqis.

While there are murmurs that the President may indeed intend to designate Quds Force under an existing or perhaps entirely new Executive Order, no action has yet officially been taken. The possibility remains that the 'leak' of such intent may have been a strategy coordinated between Baghdad command and the Oval Office in order to pressure Iran to pull back somewhat from the Iraqi theater and to guage their reaction in the field rather than in the rhetoric exchanged in public statements. In this regard, such a strategy - if it was this - netted measurable results. The IRGC commander was fired in short order and General Petraeus now reports that Iranian Quds Force and Hizballah operatives have left the Iraqi theater.

One thing that General Petraeus did not say was that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been pulled out of Iraq. This is the larger elite Iranian military branch of which Quds Force is a part. This is not likely an unintended oversight by an intelligent field commander who possesses a Ph.D. from Princeton. This means that the general is expressly not saying that all Iranian operatives are out of Iraq.

As recently as mid-August, Major General Rick Lynch said that his forces and military intelligence were tracking about 50 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps in his area of operations, which includes the southern edge of Baghdad and some of the provincial areas to its south, including Karbala. Of the IRGC operatives known to be active in his region, Major General Lynch said, "We've got about 50 of those. They go back and forth. There's a porous border."

And just across those porous borders lie myriad Iranian terrorist training camps, teaching, arming and paying Iraqis to fight their proxy war against America and the Iraqi state, seeking instability in Iraq in the immediate and increased Iranian infiltration, influence and control in the longer term. And the better they can achieve this, the fewer of its own valuable and highly trained Quds Force operatives and terror facilitators need be put at physical risk of being killed or captured in Iraq by a new American commander clearly seeks to engage without hesitation those within his Iraqi theater of operations who kill his men, Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. Even the fearsome Iranians who never lack for threat and bluster.

So, while General Petraeus reported that Iran's Quds Force and their Lebanese Hizballah terrorist facilitators have vacated Iraqi territory, he did not say that the Iranian threat has abated as a result nor did he say that all Iranians have left the theater. He, in fact, said just the opposite: The Iranian threat continues to grow.

The Iranian strategic withdrawal of its Quds Force assets from the heat of a Petraeus-led forward-leaning surge - and no doubt at work training more Iraqis from the safe haven of their own Iranian camps - represents an Iranian change in course in Iraq.

It does not represent a change in goals or disposition. Just a change in location, safely beyond Washington's self-imposed military reach - for now.

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