Commando terror ‘threat’ suits army argument nicely
Generals want to crush Haqqani and al-Qaeda militants before US and UK troops leave Afghanistan
Coincidence? Today we hear that a major al-Qaeda plot for simultaneous 'Mumbai-style' terrorist commando attacks on London, Berlin and Paris has been "thwarted at an early stage". We also hear that this month the CIA has carried out a record 21 drone attacks in Waziristan in northern Pakistan. The previous highest total for a month was 12.
One of the recent targets was a compound near Wana in South Waziristan belonging to the Haqqani clan, hardline Taliban militia leaders, linked closely, according to the CIA, with the al-Qaeda leadership and the Pakistan military's Inter Service Intelligence, ISI.
According to CIA whispers to the New York Times and the Washington Post, the al-Qaeda terror commando plot for Europe was being hatched in the Haqqani/al-Qaeda compounds in Waziristan. Hence the escalation in CIA drone attacks.
However, the details of the plot remain astonishingly sketchy. The BBC's stalwart security correspondent Frank Gardner reports today with almost studied caution: "The plot is in its early stages... Western agencies may have been hoping to keep their knowledge of it out of the public spotlight for longer so criminal evidence could be gathered, but initial details were leaked to the US press."
There seems to be a great deal of method behind the CIA leaking to the Times and the Post in the US, and this is no careless blabbing. "We know al-Qaeda wants to attack Europe and the United States," the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr, told the Post. "We continue to work closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including al-Qaeda."
Another official tells the Washington Post that the US is stepping up attacks on the Haqqani network because the Pakistan military either cannot or will not take them on. So the CIA "have been given the green light" by President Obama to go after the Haqqani.
Serious doubts about the Pakistan military's political strategy have been raised by Jane Perlez, the New York Times' resident correspondent in Islamabad. In the lead story of the international edition today, she reports that the army is now distancing itself from President Zardari's government because of its mishandling of the aftermath of the floods, which have left 20 million still homeless, and the incipient collapse of the national economy as a consequence.
She strongly hints that yet another military takeover is now on the cards in Pakistan. However, Perlez reports, the military are telling her they don't want to tackle the economy. Moreover, the military seem in no hurry to go on the offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan, least of all the Haqqani.
So, the Haqqani are now the focus of the counter-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. This was confirmed by the outgoing British commander and deputy ISAF international commander, Gen Sir Nick Parker, in a farewell press brief this week.
He said that in Kandahar and Helmand the Taliban, largely affiliated to Mullah Mohammad Omar and his Quetta Shura syndicate, had been "given a good kicking" in this summer's fighting, and some even were seeking reconciliation with the Kabul government.
But he said "some very tough fighting indeed" lay ahead in confronting the Haqqani Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.
Gen David Petraeus, the US international commander, has vowed to "turn up the heat on the safe havens" - in other words, the Haqqani and al-Qaeda bases inside northern Pakistan.
It has just been revealed that US special forces have mounted three helicopter commando raids along the border in the past fortnight, one of which seems to have gone deep into Pakistan territory. The CIA has a ghost force of 3,000 dedicated to this sector, as well.
Gen Petraeus and the British commanders, with whom he works closely, not least because he is a self-confessed anglophile, seem to have set the destruction of the Haqqani net and their al-Qaeda allies as the benchmark of success in Afghanistan.
Ahead of the December assessment of US strategy ordered by President Obama, they are saying that the Haqqani and their like must be destroyed and relations with Pakistan and the Pakistan army must be stabilised. Otherwise US and UK troops cannot be brought home any time soon.
To underline the seriousness of their case, the sketchy outlines of a foiled al-Qaeda commando plot in Europe have been available for leaking to trusted channels in the international media. ·
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