Al Qaeda In Pakistan : Pharaoh's Children
Hearing Rory Stewart speak at Harvard's Eliot House library of his tribulations as British administrator of the Iraq marshlands near Basra , and his earlier travels in Afghanistan reminds me that President Pervez Musharraf's policy approach towards tackling the growing Afghan insurgent sanctuary in Pakistan's remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is faltering. Rory wrote presciently of this in The Places In Between, his account of a walk across Afghanistan in 2002 accompanied only by his rather formidable dog.
The current Afghan border strategy oscillates between launching military operations and trying to engage pro-Taliban militants in the Tribal Areas. Stewart observes that this seems to have needlessly amplified the tribes' mistrust of the central government's motives and increased their sense of alienation from Kabul. Jane's April 2nd Foreign Report - http://frp.janes.com seems to confirm his judgement.
One reason is that “Jihadis returning from Iraq are far more capable than the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets ever were,” says Robert Richer, CIA associate director of operations from 2004 to 2005 . “They have been fighting the best military in the world, with the best technology and tactics.”
Al Qaeda's new international stars include an Egyptian known as Abu Jihad al-Masri , Libyan explosives expert Atiyah Abd al-Rahman , Moroccan Khalid Habib, and Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, a Kurd who served in Saddam Hussein’s
tarmy before going to Afghanistan to fight Soviet forces in the 1980's. Officials believe that he was sent back to Iraq by bin Laden to liase with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, when his terrorist group took the name Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia . An American bomb took out Zarqawi last June. The same officials say they believe al- Iraqi is now back operating in Pakistan,but say hey know little about how he communicates with his allies in the area. The New York Times notes :
Particularly important have been interrogations of suspects and material evidence connected to a plot British and American investigators said they averted last summer to destroy multiple commercial airlines after takeoff from London.The investigation into the airline plot has led officials to conclude that an Egyptian paramilitary commander called Abu Ubaidah al-Masri was the Qaeda operative in Pakistan orchestrating the attack,. Masri, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan, is believed to travel frequently over the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was long thought to be in charge of militia operations in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, but he emerged as one of Al Qaeda’s senior operatives after the death of Abu Hamza Rabia, another Egyptian who was killed by a missile strike in Pakistan in 2005.
That reassessment has brought new urgency to joint Pakistani and American intelligence operations in Pakistan and strengthened officials’ belief that dismantling Al Qaeda’s infrastructure there could disrupt nascent large-scale terrorist plots Officials who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because the Qaeda assessments are classified... say they believe that, in contrast with the somewhat hierarchical structure of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, the group’s leadership is now more diffuse, with several planning hubs working autonomously about the backgrounds of the new Qaeda leaders... they tend to be in their mid-30s and have years of battlefield experience fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya. They are more diverse than the earlier group of leaders, which was made up largely of battle-hardened Egyptian operatives. American officials said the new cadre includes several Pakistani and North African operatives.
Experts say they still see Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as largely independent of Al Qaeda’s hub in Pakistan but that they believe the fighting in Iraq will produce future Qaeda leaders... they did not believe that any one figure had taken over the role once held by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the operations chief who was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 ...American officials said the seeming elevation of a California-born operative named Adam Gadahn to a more prominent role might be an effort to replicate Mr. Mohammed’s experience.. But American officials are divided about how important a role he plays, or whether top Qaeda leaders are merely using him for propaganda.
Officials are also divided and somewhat puzzled about Iran’s role in pursuing Qaeda figures.Intelligence officials believe that the Iranian government has in some cases been quite active in the hunt and has put under house arrest a number of top operatives who fled from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, including the Egyptian operations chief Saif al-Adel and Saad bin Laden, one of the Qaeda leader’s sons. But officials believe that several other important Qaeda figures may be operating in Iran, including an Egyptian known as Abu Jihad al-Masri and a Libyan explosives expert named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who is thought to travel between Iran and Pakistan’s tribal areas.“To say that Al Qaeda was out of business simply because they have not attacked in the U.S. is whistling past the graveyard,” said Michael Scheuer, a former head of the bin Laden tracking unit at the C.I.A. “Al Qaeda is still humming along, and with a new generation of leaders.”