They Decamp from Iraq, Head Back to Afghanistan and Pakistan – via Iran
There is increasing evidence that most of the Arab and foreign fighters who fought in al Qaeda’s ranks in Iraq are on their way out to Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Iran has opened a covert corridor to let them through.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources, which reported this eventuality in previous issues as a prime factor in the drop in violence in Iraq, home in on six manifestations confirming this development:
1. In the last two weeks, a large number of Arab-speaking ex-Iraq fighters have been seen and heard in attacks on NATO convoys and bases in southern Afghanistan and assaults on police targets in the Kabul area.
For the first time since early 2004, signals were picked up of commanders issuing orders in Arabic to fighters in the field, who responded in the same language. Arabic has not been heard in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the three years since al Qaeda fighters were sent over to Iraq to fight US forces under the command of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, commander of al Qaeda in Iraq, whom the Americans killed two years ago.
2. Heard over these networks are voices and code-names familiar from Iraq’s various combat arenas. US intelligence has taped the new messages and compared them with tapes from Iraq.
3. Analysis of photographic images taken by spy planes and surveillance helicopters, as well as cameras in the field activated by sensors, have come up with faces recognized from Iraq, as well as garb sported by the al Qaeda adherents who fought there.
Efficient logistics and cunning intelligence
4. The combat tactics of the new arrivals, including suicide bombing attacks, are identical to the modes of assault practiced by al Qaeda in Iraq.
5. American intelligence investigations from mid-October in the countries bordering on Iraq – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan – have revealed that the flow of al Qaeda jihadists to Iraq had practically dried up, especially from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf. Only a few are still filtering through.
The probe also discovered that the rate of al Qaeda recruitment in the Middle East and Gulf has expanded. But now, instead of heading for Syria and Jordan to infiltrate Iraq, the new recruits are transferred to Gulf emirates from where they reach Iran by plane or boat.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that even the handful of Arab fighters reaching Iraq do not stay there but move on to Iran for their last jump into Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This development has radical military and political significance for the Iraq and Afghan wars against al Qaeda, and shed light on motivations behind the actions of Iran and Syria.
First, The large-scale relocation of fighting forces across many miles between the countries attests to al Qaeda’s efficient logistics and cunning intelligence, which allows the movements to take place shielded from the gaze of US intelligence.
Second, Al Qaeda’s exit from Iraq makes it difficult for the Americans and Iraqi government to claim that the fall in attacks and military and civilian fatalities represents a victory for their forces over the Iraq insurgency. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Baghdad sources comment that Washington and US commanders are no longer talking in those terms, although prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is clinging to his plan for a formal declaration that US and Iraqi armies were victorious over al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda no longer needs Syrian corridor to Iraq
Third, If further proof were needed, the five years of collaboration between Iran and al Qaeda is again in full spate. They are again swapping logistical services in the cause of their common war against America.
Just as in 2006, al Qaeda began taking delivery of armor-piercing roadside bombs and other weapons from Iran to maximize US casualties in Iraq, now Iran has in the last two months provided al Qaeda fighters exiting Iraq with a corridor to their next front against the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fourth, it is slowly emerging that the reduced flow in recent weeks of Iranian roadside bombs into Iraq for hitting US troops had nothing to do with the Iraqi prime minister’s request to Iran, but was the result of their users, Tehran’s key customers, leaving the country.
The same explanation accounts for Syria’s sudden willingness to seal its border to terrorist infiltration into Iraq – four years into the Iraq War. Damascus even brought journalists to the border to show them military positions built every 400 meters along the border and boasted of their success in blocking transit to the fighters and weapons which kept the Iraqi insurgency alive from 2003.
US military sources now conclude that Damascus, far from evincing a sudden outbreak of goodwill to Washington, was in fact tipped off by Iran that al Qaeda was no longer in need of the Syrian route into Iraq. The Syrians thereupon made a big show of sealing the frontier.
Fifth, the battle-seasoned arrivals from Iraq will no doubt seriously fortify the Taliban and al Qaeda ranks battling NATO forces and Pervez Musharraf’s army and raise the stakes of an increasingly vicious war on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.