Dec 19 2007

Noose Tightening Around Bin Laden and al-Qaeda?

Published by at 12:33 am under All General Discussions,Bin Laden/GWOT,Pakistan

There are indications that al-Qaeda is in retreat from Iraq and heading into Afghanistan and Pakistan. There as been a resurgence of violence in both countries as al-Qaeda is flushed from Iraq. There was the recent effort by militants in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), specifically in the Swat region. Of one looks at a map of Swat, and where it sits near the Afghan Pakistan border, it gives a hint to where the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are massing. The other major area that seems to be brimming with Taliban and al-Qaeda is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (same map, far western area of the blue FATA).

Along the Afghan side of this region US and NATO forces have been massing and closing up the border. On both sides of the border between the two countries there are indications the terrorist groups are banding together:

Militant groups in Pakistan’s wild northwest region have come together in a single organization for the first time, threatening to step up operations against the Pakistan army and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The insurgents have named Baitullah Mehsud, a tribal chief from the Waziristan area, which borders Afghanistan, as their chief, or Emir.

Mr. Mehsud, a charismatic figure in his early 30s with a fearsome reputation, took more than 200 Pakistani soldiers prisoner this year. They were only let go after authorities agreed to release some Taliban prisoners. He is also blamed for organizing a series of suicide-bomb attacks.

The Tehrik Taliban-i-Pakistan was launched after a meeting of 40 Taliban leaders in Waziristan. They came not only from the semi-autonomous tribal belt, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area, which runs along the Afghan border, but from several “settled” areas of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, including Swat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan.

“The sole objective of the meeting was to unite the Taliban against NATO forces in Afghanistan and to wage a defensive jihad against Pakistani forces here,” said Mr. Mehsud’s spokesman, Maulvi Omar.

One must wonder why these aggressive acts are happening now. One explanation may be the elections in Pakistan. But it may be something else. There are reports that the fighters in Waziristan moved to Swat in the recent push that was successfully repelled this month:

Pakistani militant groups are joining forces to fight the government, a fugitive cleric said Tuesday, and offered sanctuary to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Faqir Mohammed, a pro-Taliban cleric in the Bajur region, said militant leaders based near the Afghan border had formed an umbrella organization called Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

However, senior officials have acknowledged that militants from Waziristan and Bajur have moved to Swat, a former tourist destination just 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital, Islamabad, and suggested al-Qaida also has a hand in the fighting.

Mohammed said the group was independent of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan but was in touch with the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Pakistan as more than 80,000 troops now in the regions of FATA and NWFP. It has been looking for months like there was an effort to encircle the terrorist hideouts and start taking them out. And maybe that is what is happening. It is possible the push into Swat was a result of pressure in Waziristan.

Also of note, as I mentioned the efforts north of the border have been heating up during this same time:

A top American general has said Afghanistan’s security is improving, despite a resurgent Taliban and increased violence in the country. The general also cited a drop in cross-border attacks and the capture of more than 50 insurgent leaders as proof of progress. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

Afghanistan in the past two years has seen increasing attacks on Afghan and U.S.-led coalition soldiers and government targets.

An estimated 6,000 people have died in the past year alone, the bloodiest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban from power.

The confrontations are not slowing but increasing, yet the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces keep losing. What is driving them to engage now? And right now US military leaders are visiting the area on a supposed refocusing effort:

The continuing ability of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters to launch attacks and prevent the Afghan government from establishing its authority throughout the country is forcing American officials to take a fresh look at their strategy. While they point to improvements in several parts of the country, U.S. military and civilian officials acknowledge the insurgents are particularly strong in southern Afghanistan, and are able to cause problems in many other areas.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, Admiral William Fallon, came on his monthly visit to Afghanistan Wednesday with a broader mission than usual – to make progress on an assessment he is leading aimed at finding a more effective way to deal with the insurgents.

Well, he could also be bringing some late breaking plans or assessing last minute preparations as well. One thing is for sure the public will never be told if something is up.

Most of this would be mundane except for a recent admission by Pakistan President Musharraf that Bin Laden may be in FATA, and he named a very specific location: Bajaur:

Talking to The Washington Post , President Pervez Musharraf has stated that Osama bin Laden could be in the area “that borders Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency and Afghanistan’s Kunar province”. This statement, still containing elements of uncertainty, brings him pretty close to actually saying that Al Qaeda could be headquartered in Pakistan. It doesn’t take a big leap of the imagination to conclude that Aiman Al Zawahiri, his number two, is also with him.

Why Bajaur? Because, according to President Musharraf, the Kunar province of Afghanistan now has NATO-US forces whereas there were none in the past. Is his view based on solid intelligence? No, he said, but there have been attacks inside Bajaur aimed at hitting the Al Qaeda leadership. Only last year, on January 13, Damadola in Bajaur — then containing an Afghan refugee camp — was attacked from the air, and the president had then claimed that a “close relative of Al Zawahiri was among the 18 killed” in that incident.

Despite the uproar of protest from the opposition in Pakistan, Bajaur was attacked once again, and once again the strike missed the “high-value” target. This proves that there were officials on both sides of the Durand Line who believed that they could take out the Al Qaeda leadership from Bajaur.

One more look at a map and we see Bajaur is centrally located at the top of the FATA region. It is equal distance from Swat and the Waziristan areas. And it is right along the pivotal point along the Afghan border, across from Tora Bora. Why would Musharraf all of a sudden admit Bin Laden may be in his country and where he is? There is more from the editorial:

The news from Waziristan has been quite revealing. The bulk of it actually gives us conclusive evidence of the organisational merger of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The “Pakistani Taliban” who act aggressively to destroy Pakistani culture may be placed at two removes from Al Qaeda but in Waziristan the warlords are all linked to Osama bin Laden and his financial outreach. For instance when the area was the scene of a falling out between the “foreigners” and the locals, the local warlord punishing the “foreigners” announced that he was ready to work for Al Qaeda. It was merely a question of who would lead the local front for Al Qaeda. The British terrorist Rashid Rauf who escaped from police custody in Islamabad on Saturday was clearly an Al Qaeda recruit.

Well there are certainly strong indications al-Qaeda is in the area and being squeezed. And with Both Bush and Musharraf running out of time, and things going reasonably well in Iraq, maybe we will finally see some action and results when it comes to bringing just to Bin Laden.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Noose Tightening Around Bin Laden and al-Qaeda?”

  1. MerlinOS2 says:

    The other part that is strange is the timing. At those altitudes snow is already a nuisance factor , but give it just a little longer and it will be a major issue. It will be harder to blend in coming down the passes and heat signatures will have much more contrast.

    Usually this time of year things almost go dormant and they lick their wounds and heal up for the spring.

    If the tempo holds up that will reveal a lot.

  2. dave m says:

    Nice one AJ.
    I have a request.
    Please do a thread predicting how the Iran crisis will play out next year.
    I thought first the NIE was a rogue cia act, then that it was a signal
    by President Bush that it was up to Israel to lead it’s fight – or not.
    I give up – my head hurts.
    Please make sense of it, if possible.

  3. AJStrata says:

    OK Dave – will work on it. But my head hurts too!

  4. […] could be in Pakistan, and the location he guessed Bin Laden would be hiding was none other than Bajaur Agency: Talking to The Washington Post , President Pervez Musharraf has stated that Osama bin Laden could […]