“Pakistan has become the nerve center of al Qaeda's global operations, allowing the terror group to re-establish its organizational structure and build stronger ties to al Qaeda offshoots in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and parts of Europe.”
This assertion by Gen. David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, to FOX News Sunday, May 10, confirmed DEBKA-Net-Weekly's reports over the last two years that al Qaeda is still alive and kicking under the active command of Osama bin Laden.
He added that senior al Qaeda leaders are using sanctuaries in Pakistan's lawless frontier regions to plan new terror attacks and funnel money, manpower and guidance to affiliates around the world.”
Our al Qaeda experts add three new arenas of operation to the five cited by the US general:
Tajikistan in Central Asia, Kenya in East Africa and the Arab region of Khuzestan, home to most of Iran's southern oil fields.
Petraeus' evaluation has several wide-reaching implications:
1. Al-Qaeda is alive, well and active. It thinks and operates like an orderly military organization with a clear chain of command. He appreciates that as Central Command chief he may have opposite numbers in the Islamist terror organization. This is a far cry from the estimate popular among most American al Qaeda experts that the organization has been ground down to disorganized remnants which are permanently on the run.
Petraeus and Jones at odds
2. In fact, the US general named these commanders as Osama Bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, adding: “They surface periodically. We see communications that they send out.”
Which is to say that Bin Laden is not only alive, but active as the supreme commander of al-Qaeda. Petraeus has actually seen operational directives signaled by bin Laden to his field networks and is thus able to offer an authoritative rebuttal of the claims by many western intelligence and academic pundits that no one has heard from Bin Laden since 2002.
Petraeus also disagreed with US National Security Adviser, Gen. James Jones, who the same day told another US network, ABC: “I am not sure if Osama bin Laden is dead or alive.” U.S. intelligence agencies are “looking at data and watching for confirmed appearances by the al-Qaida leader.” Jones said: “The truth is, I don't think anybody knows.”
The CentCom chief clearly differs.
3. His statement that “There is a degree of hierarchy, there is a degree of interconnection, and there is certainly a flow of people, money, expertise, explosives and knowledge,” suggested not only that al Qaeda had re-emerged as a centrally-directed organization capable of plotting attacks in other countries, but also that is in the throes of a spurt spanning three continents (Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe).
Taliban leader's threat to US not idle after all
4. Some media wrongly deduced that al Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan from Petraeus' comment that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have “enclaves and sanctuaries” in Afghanistan and that “tentacles of Al Qaeda” have touched countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terrorism sources infer rather that he was referring to a new division of labor between al-Qaeda and the Taliban at this point in the conflict.
The Taliban is focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, whereas al-Qaeda is using the two embattled countries as its bases of operation with infrastructure and capabilities that can be activated any time for terrorist actions outside their borders.
One of the offshoots activated by this central command is the Lashkar e-Taiba organization, whose fighters are concentrated in the Pakistan borderlands and Afghanistan. This group has been upgraded by training and organization into an elite jihadi force, which the central al Qaeda command can quickly deploy for quasi-military strikes against each of Washington's three senior war allies: India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
5. Al Qaeda's global deployments appear to be elastic and developing, in the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources. A secret directive from Osama bin Laden to start training groups of Taliban fighters, under the supervision of Zawahri, to operate in countries outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, has only recently come to light.
Zawahri's tradeoff with Mullah Omar
On April 1, following the Taliban assault on the police academy in Lahore, Baitullah Mehsud, the 35-year-old supreme commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, known as the Pakistani Taliban, threatened to expand his targets beyond Pakistan. “Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world,” he said in remarks to the Associated Press.
At the time, no American security sources said they knew of any such Taliban capability. But some weeks later, US and Western security elements involved in the undercover war on al Qaeda and its offshoots, discovered that around February and March, bin Laden's instructors had begun running courses for small elite Taliban groups to operate in countries outside their home terrain of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They were being drilled for the same sort of massive attacks as Lashkar e-Taibe carried out in Mumbai, India, last November.
The fundamental Western intelligence supposition that Taliban is a local movement, with no interest in al Qaeda's global offensive, no longer holds true, say our sources. The former fanatical rulers of Afghanistan, ousted by the US-led anti-terror offensive launched in 2001, today pose a major menace to Pakistan and are branching out as a senior partner in al Qaeda's international jihad.
Zawahiri is said to be present in Pakistan's Quetta, along with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Omar was given to understand that for al Qaeda's cooperation in his expanding push for control of Afghanistan and Pakistan, he must contribute his top fighting talent to train for bin Laden's overseas operations, including terrorist strikes in the United States and Europe.