Monday, April 2, 2007

Al Qaeda Resurgent In NWFP

Predictably, with a safe haven in Pakistan's NWFP, al Qaeda is reforming under new mid-level leadership:

Although the core leadership was weakened in the counterterrorism campaign begun after the Sept. 11 attacks, intelligence officials now believe it was not as crippling as once thought.

That reassessment has brought new urgency to joint Pakistani and American intelligence operations in Pakistan and strengthened officials’ belief that dismantling Al Qaeda’s infrastructure there could disrupt nascent large-scale terrorist plots that may already be under way.

In February, the deputy C.I.A. director, Stephen R. Kappes, accompanied Vice President Dick Cheney to Islamabad to present Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, with intelligence on Al Qaeda’s growing abilities and to develop a strategy to strike at training camps.

. . . Many American officials have said in recent years that the roles of Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants in Pakistan’s remote mountains have diminished with the growing prominence of the organization’s branch in Iraq, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and with the emergence of regional terrorism networks and so-called home-grown cells.

. . . Officials say they believe that, in contrast with the somewhat hierarchical structure of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, the group’s leadership is now more diffuse, with several planning hubs working autonomously and not reliant on constant contact with Mr. bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, his deputy.

Much is still not known about the backgrounds of the new Qaeda leaders; some have adopted noms de guerre. Officials and outside analysts said they tend to be in their mid-30s and have years of battlefield experience fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya. They are more diverse than the earlier group of leaders, which was made up largely of battle-hardened Egyptian operatives. American officials said the new cadre includes several Pakistani and North African operatives.

Experts say they still see Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as largely independent of Al Qaeda’s hub in Pakistan but that they believe the fighting in Iraq will produce future Qaeda leaders.

“The jihadis returning from Iraq are far more capable than the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets ever were,” said Robert Richer, who was associate director of operations in 2004 and 2005 for the C.I.A. “They have been fighting the best military in the world, with the best technology and tactics.”

. . . Top American officials said that, despite the damage to the structure of Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks, concern is still high that the group is determined to attack globally.

Read the whole article here.

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