Al Qaeda Still Fiddling

An excerpt from a testimony, on May 20, 2014, to the U.S. House Committee of Foreign Affairs

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The Long War Journal

May 20, 2014

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Al Qaeda is still operating in Afghanistan today. Al Qaeda’s leader in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces is Farouq al Qahtani. It is well-known that al Qahtani leads al Qaeda’s forces and works with the group’s allies in these remote areas. But al Qaeda operates outside of Kunar and Nuristan as well. Indeed, one of the documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s compound and released to the public shows that the al Qaeda master ordered some of his subordinates to relocate from northern Pakistan to Ghazni and Zabul, as well as Kunar and Nuristan.

One way al Qaeda operates in Afghanistan today is through the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, which is al Qaeda’s primary paramiliatry force in the region.  As the name implies, al Qaeda is trying to hide the extent of its influence over this group as well as over other allied groups. This makes it difficult to assess the full scope of al Qaeda’s operations inside Afghanistan today. Still, consistent reporting shows that al Qaeda’s commanders and fighters are pooling their resources with other organizations. Al Qaeda also operates an electronics workshop, headquartered in Pakistan (of course), that develops improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other weapons for use in Afghanistan…

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/05/al_qaeda_in_afghanis.php#

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U.S. & Iran Face Same Enemies

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by Thomas Erdbrink

New York Times

January 6, 2014

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TEHRAN — Even as the United States and Iran pursue negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program, they find themselves on the same side of a range of regional issues surrounding an insurgency raging across the Middle East.

While the two governments quietly continue to pursue their often conflicting interests, they are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The United States, reluctant to intervene in bloody, inconclusive conflicts, is seeing its regional influence decline, while Iraq, which cost the Americans $1 trillion and more than 4,000 lives, is growing increasingly unstable.

At the same time, Shiite-dominated Iran, the magnetic pole for the Shiite minority in the region, has its own reasons to be nervous, with the ragtag army of Sunni militants threatening Syria and Iraq, both important allies, and the United States drawing down its troops in Afghanistan.

On Monday, Iran offered to join the United States in sending military aid to the Shiite government in Baghdad, which is embroiled in street-to-street fighting with radical Sunni militants in Anbar Province, a Sunni stronghold. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he could envision an Iranian role in the coming peace conference on Syria, even though the meeting is supposed to plan for a Syria after the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally.

To some, the Iranian moves reflect the clever pragmatism of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, aimed at building their country into a regional power. To others critical of the potential reconciliation, the moves are window dressing aimed at lulling the West into complacency while Tehran pursues nuclear weapons and supports its own jihadists throughout the region.

Yet even Iranians outside the reformist camp see the shared interests as undeniable. “It is clear we are increasingly reaching common ground with the Americans,” said one of them, Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “No country should have an eternal enemy, neither we nor the United States.”

With Iran as an island of stability in a region plagued by violent protests, sectarian clashes and suicide bombers, there are not that many options left for Washington, experts here say.

“We face the same enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent Iranian reformist journalist who closely follows the Arab world. He recalled how Iranian intelligence operatives gave reliable information to American Special Forces troops battling Iran’s enemy, the Afghan Taliban, in 2001.

While the Obama administration acknowledges that Iran has the potential to be an influential player on regional issues from Afghanistan to Syria, senior officials have said they are keeping their focus tightly on the nuclear negotiations. Cooperation on any other issues, they said, hinges largely on coming to terms on Iran’s nuclear program.

The administration has concluded that Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif have been empowered to negotiate on the nuclear program, but officials said it remained unclear whether their policy-making authority extended to regional issues like Syria. There, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps holds vast influence through its Quds Force, and it is supplying weapons to Hezbollah in an effort to prop up President Assad’s government.

The thaw in relations extends back almost a year, with the two countries making overtures long thought impossible, deeply angering Washington’s closest regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

As early as last spring, a series of secret talks in Oman and Geneva laid the groundwork for re-establishing relations, cut over three decades ago after Iranian students took American diplomats hostage in revolutionary Tehran.

In September came the agreement — credited to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia but fully backed and partly engineered by Iran — to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. Not long afterward, President Obama and Mr. Rouhani held a historic phone conversation, and in late November the United States and other world powers struck a temporary nuclear agreement with Iran, the first in 10 years.

Iran has been presenting itself as the voice of reason, pointing at the extremely graphic videos of beheadings and other executions produced by some of the insurgent groups in Syria, while Mr. Rouhani wished a happy new year to all Christians on his Twitter account.

“Now extremists are once again threatening our security, and as in 2001, both countries will cooperate with each other in Iraq, and potentially elsewhere, too,” Mr. Shamsolvaezin said. “This is the beginning of regional cooperation.”

The thaw presents dangers to Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani, who will remain vulnerable to criticism from conservatives in both countries. Mr. Kerry’s invitation on Sunday for Iran to join “on the sidelines” of the Geneva conference was angrily rejected by Iranian hard-liners.

“The Americans are confessing Iran stands for peace and stability in this region,” said Hamid Reza Tarraghi, a hard-line political analyst, with views close to those of Iran’s leaders. “But when they invite us for a conference on Syria we are ‘allowed’ to be present on the ‘sidelines.’ This is insulting.”

Even Mr. Zarif rebuffed Mr. Kerry, saying that “everybody must be unified in order to fight the terrorists,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

But Tehran’s full participation in the conference would seem to present even deeper problems, in that the talks are aimed at planning for a Syria after Iran’s longtime ally, Mr. Assad, has stepped down.

Critics of United States policy say that the Obama administration is strengthening Iran at the expense of traditional allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel. They say that Iran has not cut back on its support of its regional allies, like Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group in Lebanon, and Mr. Assad, and is deeply involved with Iraq’s Shiite government.

Moreover, they say, a final nuclear agreement with Iran, should it be reached, would relieve Iran of crippling economic sanctions, reviving its economy and giving it more resources to spread its influence in the region, while depriving the West of diplomatic leverage to restrain Iran.

Analysts of Iran say that Tehran is pursuing a clever strategy, using the United States to undermine its greatest regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

“Cooperating skillfully with Russia, Iran has managed to change the game both in Iraq and in Syria,” said Hooshang Tale, a Tehran-based nationalist activist and a member of Parliament before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “If we play our cards well, we will end up outsmarting both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

He and others note that Iran has managed to keep Mr. Assad in power and wields considerable influence over its neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan. Rightly or wrongly, they view their regional enemy Saudi Arabia as being on the verge of collapse, saying in Friday Prayer speeches and in televised debates that the kingdom is ruled by old men who have lost their way.

“We are worried for Saudi Arabia, which seems weak and potentially unstable,” said Mr. Shahmohammadi, the former adviser, who heads an institute that promotes dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites. “Even we, as their competitor, see all the horrible consequences if things go wrong there.”

On Tehran’s streets, where people tend to see much of the region as distant lands filled with mayhem and unrest, many Iranians welcome every step that brings Iran and the United States closer together.

“The U.S. stands for progress, for work, a future, new cars and a better life,” said Mohammad Reza Barfi, an auto mechanic. “I’d rather have peace with the U.S. than with any regional country. What do they have to offer?”

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US Drones Kill 4 In Pakistan

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Written by Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal

December 26, 2013

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The US killed four “militants” in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan late last night. The strike is the first in Pakistan in a month.

The remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Qutab Khel near Miramshah in North Waziristan just after midnight, according to Dawn.  Several of the unmanned strike aircraft were seen hovering over the compound before and after the strike.

The target of the latest strike in Pakistan was not revealed, and no senior Taliban, al Qaeda, or allied jihadist commanders have been reported killed at this time. Pakistani officials told Dawn that Afghans were thought to be among those killed.

The attack took place in an area under the control of the Haqqani Network, a powerful Taliban faction that operates in eastern, central, and northern Afghanistan, and is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The US has stepped up its targeting of the Haqqani Network this year. Since the beginning of September, two top Haqqani Network leaders, Mullah Sangeen Zadran and Maulvi Ahmed Jan, have been killed in strikes in North Waziristan.

The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, and is supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network and leads the Miramshah Shura, one of four major Taliban regional councils. Siraj is also a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on the Haqqani Network or allied Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The Haqqanis and Bahadar’s fighters are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.

Today’s strike is the first recorded in Pakistan this month. Last month, the US conducted three airstrikes in North Waziristan, and killed two top jihadist leaders. On Nov. 1, the US killed Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in an attack in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan. The next strike, on Nov. 21, killed Maulvi Amed Jan, a top leader in the Haqqani Network, and two other Haqqani Network senior commanders. And the last strike, on Nov. 28, is said to have killed a Pakistani from Punjab province who was involved in terror attacks inside Pakistan.

The last four strikes have taken place in areas administered by the Haqqani Network.

The strike near Miramshah today took place days after the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Ansar al Mujahideen clashed with Pakistani troops in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The jihadist groups have targeted Pakistani security forces in suicide and IED attacks. The groups have claimed that the attacks were carried out to punish the troops for cooperating with the US in drone strikes that have killed top Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders…

Background on US strikes in Pakistan

The vast majority of the US drone strikes have taken place in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan. Of the 354 strikes since 2004, 253 have hit targets in North Waziristan, and 83 have hit targets in South Waziristan. In the other tribal areas, there have been three strikes in Bajaur, two in Arakzai, four in Kurram, and five in Khyber. Four more strikes have taken place outside of the tribal areas; three were in Bannu and one more was in Hangu.

The drone strikes are controversial; in October, groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International formally accused the US of indiscriminately killing civilians in strikes in both Pakistan and Yemen. But at the end of October, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence released a report stating that 67 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the beginning of 2009, and claimed that no civilians have been killed since the beginning of 2012.

The Long War Journal has recorded, based on Pakistani press reports, that at least 2,088 jihadists from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of terror groups operating in North and South Waziristan have been killed in strikes since the beginning of 2009, including some of al Qaeda’s top leaders.  There have also been 105 reported civilian deaths in drone strikes in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with 18 civilians killed since the beginning of 2012. Civilian casualties are difficult to assess as the strikes take place in areas under Taliban control; the figure may be higher than 105.

The US has launched 28 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal,  The number of strikes in Pakistan has decreased each year since the program’s peak in 2010, when 117 such attacks were recorded. In 2011, 64 strikes were launched in Pakistan, and in 2012 there were 46 strikes.

The US has targeted al Qaeda’s top leaders and its external operations network, as well as the assortment of Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups operating in the region. The strikes have been confined mostly to North and South Waziristan, but al Qaeda and allied groups are known to have an extensive network throughout all of Pakistan.

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The Killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani

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Written by Bill Roggio

November 12, 2013

The Long War Journal

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The Afghan Taliban condemned the killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani, a top official in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network who was gunned down yesterday in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The statement announcing the “martyrdom” of Nasiruddin was released November 12th on the Afghan Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad. It was signed by “The Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the official name of the Afghan Taliban.

Nasiruddin served as a key financier and facilitator for the group. He also served as an “emissary” to al Qaeda, and often traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2004-2009 to carry out fundraising for the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

“It is with great regret that we have learned about the martyrdom of Nasiruddin Haqqani (may Allah accept him), the elder son of the famous Jihadi and scholarly personality and member of Leadership Council of Islamic the respected Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani,” the Afghan Taliban said.

While the Taliban did not describe how Nariruddin was killed, they said he died “in a cowardly terrorist attack of the enemy ….” Nasiruddin was gunned down outside a bakery run by Afghans in the Bhara Kahu area of Islamabad. The unidentified shooters were riding motorcycles when they attacked him.

No group has claimed credit for killing Nasiruddin. The Afghan Taliban’s statement did not define the “enemy.” The Pakistani Taliban accused the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s military intelligence service, which backs the Haqqani Network, of executing the attack. But given the Haqqani Network’s relationship with the ISID, Nasiruddin is more likely to have been killed in an Afghan or US intelligence operation, by rival jihadist groups (the Haqqani Network is rarely involved in jihadist infighting), or by criminals.

The killing of Nasiruddin in Islamabad puts a dent in the narrative of the Taliban as well as the Pakistani government, that the Haqqani Network is based in eastern Afghanistan and does not operate in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban maintain this position in order to portray their jihad in Afghanistan as a nationalist fight and to protect their Pakistani backers. The Pakistani government and military maintain that the Haqqanis operate only in Afghanistan, in order to rebuff US and Western pressure to act against the group. The Haqqani Network is closely tied to al Qaeda and is one of the most effective jihadist groups operating in Afghanistan.

Haqqani Network is part of the Taliban

The Taliban’s statement is further confirmation that the Haqqani Network is a key part of the Afghan Taliban. In the past, Western officials have attempted to delink the Afghan Taliban from the Haqqani Network, as part of an effort to weaken the Taliban movement and divide the groups in order to negotiate a peace deal. While the Haqqani Network operates with a degree of autonomy in eastern Afghanistan, the group still falls under the command of the Afghan Taliban.

But the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network have publicly denied that the Haqqanis operate outside the aegis of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In a statement released on Voice of Jihad in September 2012, the Afghan Taliban addressed this issue head on.

The Taliban claimed in that statement that there is “no separate entity or network in Afghanistan by the name of Haqqani,” and that their overall leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is a member of the Quetta Shura, the group’s top leadership council.

“The honorable Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani is a member of the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate and is a close, loyal and trusted associate of the esteemed Amir-ul-Mumineen [leader of the faithful, Mullah Omar] and those Mujahideen entrusted under the command of his sons are in fact the heroic Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate who like other Mujahideen strictly obey the esteemed Amir-ul-Mumineen and wage Jihad against the invaders throughout the country,” the Taliban statement said.

The Taliban also claimed that the Haqqani Network was created by the US as part of “its satanic plot” to divide the group.

“By employing its satanic plot, America is trying to create and black list a separate entity in the organized and unified rank of Islamic Emirate …,” the statement continued.

Haqqani Network leaders have also rebuffed claims that the two groups operate independently.  In a 2008 interview with Al Somood, the Taliban’s official magazine, Jalaluddin outlined his role in the Taliban and said he was a member of the Quetta Shura. He also denied that his followers constituted a separate entity from the Taliban.

The Haqqani Network frequently releases its propaganda tapes and statements through Voice of Jihad and its leaders are often interviewed in Al Somood. The Afghan Taliban also issue martyrdom statements for slain top Haqqani Network leaders, such as Nasiruddin or Badruddin Haqqani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2012.

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The Long War Journal

http://www.longwarjournal.org

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Al Qaeda’s Presence

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by Bill Roggio

November 10, 2013

The Long War Journal

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Earlier November, the US military claimed that al Qaeda has a “limited presence” in Afghanistan and is confined to “the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan.” Although Obama administration and military officials have stated for the past four years that al Qaeda has a minimal presence in Afghanistan, the group and its allies continue to sustain operations in the country.

The claim was made in the newly released, Report On Progress Toward Security and Stablity in Afghanistan, a semiannual update prepared by the Department of Defense.

“AQ [Al Qaeda] maintains a limited presence in the remote areas of eastern Afghanistan such as Kunar and Nuristan, and maintains a seasonal presence in other provinces,” the report states.

“During the reporting period [from April 1 to Sept. 30] , sustained counterterrorism (CT) operations exerted pressure on AQ personnel and networks, and eliminated dozens of al Qaeda (AQ) operatives and facilitators, restricting AQ movements to isolated areas within northeastern Afghanistan,” the report continues.

“ISAF [the International Security Assistance Force] estimates that the number of AQ fighters in Afghanistan remains very low, but the AQ relationship with local Afghan Taliban formations remains intact.”

While claiming that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is minimal, the report does not mention al Qaeda-allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other organizations that fight in Afghanistan and also are part of the global jihad. A plot by the IMU to conduct attacks in Europe was broken up after an IMU operative was captured in Afghanistan in 2010.

US Officials Downplay Al Qaeda’s Importance In Afghanistan

US military officials continue to downplay al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, despite ample evidence that the group is active in the country as well as in Pakistan.

In an interview on July 28, General Joseph Dunford Jr., the Coalition commander in Afghanistan, said al Qaeda was merely a “shell” of its former self, with only about 75 members in Afghanistan, who were mostly too busy trying to stay alive to plan attacks against the West, the New York Times reported.

Similarly, Major General Joseph Osterman, the deputy operations commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said in July that al Qaeda is fighting for its survival in Afghanistan and is isolated primarily in Nuristan province.

“They are less than 100, I would say, and they are in fact just trying to survive at this point,” Osterman told Reuters. “I think what you find is that it’s not necessarily that they have got a springboard in there.”

Since the summer of 2010, Obama administration officials have been consistently claiming that 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives are present in Afghanistan. The claims of a limited presence of al Qaeda have been used to justify US disengagement from Afghanistan.

But a study by The Long War Journal that looks at ISAF’s own reports on its raids against al Qaeda since 2007 paints a different picture. Since 2007, ISAF has conducted 357 reported raids against al Qaeda and allied groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Balkh, Farah, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Paktika, Sar-i-Pul, Takhar, Wardak, and Zabul, or 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Many of these raids have taken place over the past three years.

ISAF data on the location of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan is mirrored by al Qaeda’s propaganda. Al Qaeda routinely reports on its Afghan operations in Vanguards of Khorasan, a magazine produced for its members and supporters. Al Qaeda has reported on operations in all of the provinces in which ISAF has conducted raids.

Al Qaeda operatives serve as military advisers to the Taliban, and also fight in small formations throughout the country.

At the end of June, after completing its transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces, ISAF stopped reporting on its raids against al Queda, shutting off information on the targeting of al Qaeda’s network in Afghanistan.

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The Long War Journal

http://www.longwarjournal.org

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