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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Al Qaeda / Taliban using sophisticated Web sites and sleeper cells. Some presence noticed on Pakistan related web site and blogs...

Al Qaeda was using sophisticated Web sites and sleeper cells across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia to enlist young fighters who are less patient or inclined to plan and carry out far-reaching global attacks and who have instead redirected their energies on more immediate targets and on fomenting insurgency in Pakistan, the officials said.


Attacks on Al Qaeda concentrate its threat to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: American missile strikes and Pakistani military raids have reduced Al Qaeda's global reach but heightened the threat to Pakistan as the group disperses it cells here and fights to maintain its sanctuaries, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The officials acknowledge that the strikes and raids are proving effective, killing as many as 80 Qaeda fighters in the past year. But they express growing alarm that the drone strikes in particular are having an increasingly destabilizing effect on their country.

They also voiced fears that the expected arrival of 17,000 American troops in Afghanistan this spring and summer will add to the stresses by pushing more Taliban fighters into Pakistan.

The assessment was provided during a two-hour briefing by senior analysts and officials of Pakistan's main spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency's policy.

The analysis reflected the increasing public pressure on the Pakistani government to oppose the drone attacks, which are deeply unpopular here for the civilian casualties they have inflicted.

But it also underscored ominous signs of Al Qaeda's resilience and pointed to new and unintended dangers for American policy in the region — a rapidly destabilized, nuclear-armed Pakistan, a state with a weak civilian government and a military struggling to fight an expanding insurgency.

The sobering Pakistani assessment was in contrast to the optimism voiced earlier this month by the new American director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair.

While the Pakistani analysis agreed with Blair's conclusion that Al Qaeda's ability to conduct large-scale attacks against the United States was likely degraded, it also signaled no cessation to the attacks by Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban aimed at undermining Pakistan's government.

The Pakistani officials suggested that Al Qaeda was replenishing killed fighters and midlevel leaders with less experienced but more hard-core militants, who are considered more dangerous because they have fewer allegiances to local Pakistani tribes.

Al Qaeda was using sophisticated Web sites and sleeper cells across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia to enlist young fighters who are less patient or inclined to plan and carry out far-reaching global attacks and who have instead redirected their energies on more immediate targets and on fomenting insurgency in Pakistan, the officials said.

Qaeda leaders have also increased their financing and logistical support for the Taliban and other militant groups, having come to see the survival of Qaeda sanctuaries as dependent on the ability of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold territory.

"It's morphing into a monster and growing uglier," said one senior Pakistani intelligence official.

The chief of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has indicated that the impact on Pakistan of more American troops in Afghanistan will be among the most important topics at his meetings in Washington this week, Pakistani officials say.

Pakistani intelligence and military officials say there is no argument that Qaeda fighters must be hunted down; they provide targeting information to the CIA, which remotely pilots the drones. But they complain that the missile strikes cause too many civilian casualties and that they hand the militants a propaganda windfall.

Pakistan says it has captured some 630 Qaeda fighters and senior leaders since 2001. But the assessment underscored the difficulties still faced by the Pakistan's security forces; in that time, more than 1,500 of its troops were killed and more than 3,700 were wounded.

The Pakistani intelligence assessment found that Al Qaeda had adapted to the blows to its command structure by shifting "to conduct decentralized operations under small but well organized regional groups" within Pakistan and Afghanistan.

American counterterrorism officials have long complained that Pakistan protects some militant groups like the Taliban as a proxy force, a charge that Pakistani officials say is no longer true.

American officials say the longstanding ties are coming back to haunt Pakistan.

"In Pakistan, the jihadist Frankenstein monster that was created by the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani intelligence service is now increasingly turning on its creators," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst said in an interview on the Council on Foreign Relations' Web site on Jan. 28, two weeks before he was named a chairman of President Barack Obama's strategic review of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are other signs that Al Qaeda is under stress but adapting. Al Qaeda has given up training sites and shifted to mobile training teams, which Pakistani intelligence officials say are still effective.

They often consist of just a few bombmaking or tactical experts schooling a handful of fighters in a private house, according to a mid-level ISI agent who works in the tribal belt.

The flow of new recruits comes largely from countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and Uzbekistan, Pakistani intelligence officials said. They often travel through Iran, enter Pakistan through Baluchistan Province and then move onto Waziristan for training, the agent said.

The impact of the new Qaeda emphasis on operations inside Pakistan was on full view in Swat, an area about 100 miles north of the capital, Islamabad, where the Pakistani Army agreed to a truce last week with the Pakistani Taliban, who control 70 percent of the territory, the agent said.

Uzbeks affiliated with Al Qaeda carried out the brunt of the militants' operations against civilians and the army in Swat, the agent and Pakistani military analysts said. The Uzbeks, who were driven across the border from Afghanistan with the Taliban and Qaeda after 2001, have been particularly ruthless as they helped their allies secure sanctuary in the tribal areas.

They have now been unleashed on Pakistani soldiers in Swat, the agent said.

In addition, Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, was backed by about a half dozen Arab fighters from Al Qaeda who served as the "main motivators," the agent said.

The Arabs who traveled from the Qaeda bases in Waziristan across the tribal belt to Swat are held in high esteem by Pakistani Taliban fighters, the agent said. "The Arabs motivate the local guys who see them as people who have forsaken all their money for jihad," the agent said.

The missile attacks by the American drones that have killed senior Qaeda figures had disrupted the lives of militants in North and South Waziristan, according to a fighter who goes by the name of Abdullah and who was interviewed in Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province.

"We now often sleep in the river beds or under the eucalyptus trees," he said, adding that people were constantly on alert for the sound of the aircraft.

There was little doubt that the killing of Usama al-Kini, a Qaeda operative who was the senior commander for operations inside Pakistan, represented a setback to morale and operations, the fighter said. "He was very popular and very sociable with the ordinary people," the fighter said.

Al-Kini, a Kenyan, was killed in January near Wana, the capital of South Waziristan. He was described by Pakistani law enforcement officials as the mastermind of the terror attack against the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last year.

But the Arab leaders of Al Qaeda were intent on promoting their fighters up through the ranks to overcome the loss of leaders like Al-Kini, the fighter said.

"The Arabs have a strategy to elevate people to a higher position," he said. "If someone is killed there is always a replacement. The training goes on."

Source: http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/02/25/asia/25drones.php?page=2

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