Pakistan Steps Up Ops
In a likely effort to dampen criticism that it has lost control of Waziristan, the Pakistani military has mounted a major operation against an al-Qaeda training camp in Saidgai, claiming to have killed 40 mainly foreign terrorists and wounded an additional 20 in an effort to kill a Chechen al-Qaeda leader referred to only as “Imam.” One should note that the discovery of a major al-Qaeda training facility, particularly one housing eight residential quarters, contradicts long-standing Pakistani claims that its northern territories are not a haven for al-Qaeda and its allies. Nor is the first post-9/11 training camp that has been discovered in northern Pakistan – as Newsweek noted in the summer of 2005:
But Kohlmann said the existence of such training camps in Waziristan (where some intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden has been hiding) has actually been known to the U.S. counterterrorism community for some time. Islamic militant groups have actually distributed videos and CD-ROMs showing militants training at one or more of such facilities. The videos of such training have also recently appeared on Internet Web sites, he said.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information under discussion, told NEWSWEEK that U.S. intelligence agencies had assembled information indicating that after 9/11, Al Qaeda forces driven out of Afghanistan had established “sanctuaries” in the remote Shkai area of South Waziristan. These sanctuaries were sufficiently hospitable to Al Qaeda that the terrorist movement could have been free to establish training facilities in the area, the official said, though such camps never existed on the same scale as the Al Qaeda camps that operated in Afghanistan before 9/11.
One might well note that the conclusions of the Newsweek article is somewhat naïve. As Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid noted recently in the Washington Post, al-Qaeda is far from defeated in northern Pakistan:
Bin Laden’s new friendship zone stretches nearly 2,000 miles along Pakistan’s Pashtun belt — from Chitral in the Northern Areas near the Chinese border, south through the troubled tribal agencies including Waziristan, down to Zhob on the Balochistan border, then to the provincial capital Quetta and southwest to the Iranian border. The region includes every landscape from desert to snow-capped mountains. Sparsely populated, it provides bin Laden an ideal sanctuary.
… Since then [early 2002], with no consistent political strategy to woo the Pashtun population away from bin Laden, the army has steadily lost ground. The political agents, who ran the tribal agencies with a mixture of bribery and pressure, have been replaced by arrogant generals ignorant of local conditions. Today the extremists rule over North and South Waziristan and other tribal agencies, while the 70,000 Pakistani troops stationed there are boxed up in outposts, too frightened to patrol the mountains. More than 100 pro-government tribal elders have been assassinated by extremists for divulging information to the U.S. or Pakistani secret services.
Meanwhile down south, the Balochistan provincial government is controlled by a coalition of pro-Taliban fundamentalist parties, which came to power in elections in 2002. Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islami, the party that controls the key ministries, openly supports the Taliban.This has created a new stronghold from which the Taliban can launch attacks back in Afghanistan. The 99 U.S. soldiers killed last year in Afghanistan were mostly targeted by the Taliban based in Balochistan. While Washington’s principal aim has been to capture bin Laden and decapitate al Qaeda, whose members are believed to be in Waziristan, the United States has failed to pressure Pakistan to deal with the Taliban, despite protestations from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. On a visit to Islamabad this month, Karzai handed Musharraf intelligence dossiers detailing how suicide bombers are being trained in Pakistan. In the past few months, at least 30 attacks have killed nearly 100 people in Afghanistan, including NATO peacekeepers and a Canadian diplomat.
The dossiers listed the names and addresses of Pakistani recruiters and people who equip suicide bombers with explosives before sending them to Afghanistan. Much of the recruitment takes place at a radical Islamic bookshop, several mosques and some madrassas in the port city of Karachi, while the training is done at safe houses in Quetta and Chaman, in Balochistan province.
As to the identity of “Imam,” it is almost certainly Daniar, a Chechen rebel leader allied with al-Qaeda who commanded the group’s forces in their largely successful battle against the Pakistani military in 2004 alongside Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Tahir Yuldashev, Quaran Atta, the local tribal chiefs Nek Mohammed, Sharif Khan, and Nur Islam, and the maulavis Abbas and Aziz. As the Asia Times recently noted, it was these attacks that led to al-Qaeda establishing itself in de facto control of Waziristan outside the regional headquarters Wana and Miranshah.