The Obama administration points to a “symbiotic relationship” between the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.4:37 PM, Sep 8, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Ever since the September 11 attacks, some in counterterrorism and intelligence circles have tried to define al Qaeda narrowly, thereby limiting the scope of the organization’s threat. We’ve seen this in the recent debate over the number of al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, for instance. CIA Director Leon Panetta said that only 50 to 100 al Qaeda terrorists are operating in Afghanistan. That estimate does not make any sense when compared to various facts, and the real number is certainly far greater.
But even if that number is right (and it isn’t), it is still based on a misleading definition of al Qaeda. Some define “al Qaeda” such that its ranks are confined to senior leaders like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, and the terrorists who have sworn bayat (an oath of loyalty) to them. This does not make any sense either, as senior al Qaeda terrorists such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah did not swear bayat to al Qaeda’s senior leaders for years. But that did not stop them from being master terrorists responsible for thousands of deaths in al Qaeda’s name.
Al Qaeda has always been the tip of a much longer jihadist spear – a coalition of like-minded terrorist organizations that share common traits and practices (ideology, training, funding, and cooperation in attacks). This coalition has its internal rivalries and disagreements, but it is still a coherent alliance. Part of what makes Osama bin Laden so lethal is that he and his immediate cohorts receive support and cooperation from jihadist groups around the globe, from North Africa to Southeast Asia.
Bin Laden and al Qaeda’s roots inside Pakistan and Afghanistan are particularly deep.
We were reminded of this basic fact earlier this month when the Obama administration designated the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) a foreign terrorist organization, and released its indictment of the organization for various terrorist attacks.
On September 1, the State Department announced that the TTP had been added to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The State Department reported:
TTP and al-Qa’ida have a symbiotic relationship; TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qa’ida, while al-Qa’ida relies on TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border. This mutual cooperation gives TTP access to both al-Qa’ida’s global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. Given the proximity of the two groups and the nature of their relationship, TTP is a force multiplier for al-Qa’ida.
That same day, the Justice Department announced that the Pakistani Taliban and its senior leadership had been indicted for their role in an attack on an American military base in Afghanistan on December 30, 2009. That attack killed seven Americans, and was aimed directly at the CIA because of the agency’s involvement in Predator strikes in northern Pakistan.
In its announcement, the Justice Department described the contents of an affidavit filed in support of the charges (emphasis added):
The affidavit alleges that the TTP has had alleged roles in, or claimed responsibility for, a number of acts of violence, including the December 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the September 2009 suicide attack on the Bannu, Pakistan, police station and numerous attacks on NATO supply lines throughout the FATA. These attacks are often coordinated with other insurgents or terrorist groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In other words, TTP is part of al Qaeda’s jihadist coalition. Osama bin Laden’s not-so merry men are simply the vanguard of this coalition. And to define the threat to American interests as coming from “al Qaeda” alone, without accounting for all of the other organizations that make up the spear, is a crucial mistake. In May, when Faisal Shahzad tried to blow up a car bomb in the middle of Times Square on behalf of the TTP, we learned just how short-sighted the “al Qaeda only” focus can be.
It is no wonder the Obama administration sent a “warning” to Pakistan’s leaders.11:30 AM, May 24, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Writing at the Daily Beast a few days ago, Philip Shenon (formerly an investigative reporter at the New York Times) had a scoop that deserves wider attention. According to Shenon, a “senior federal law enforcement official” told him that the Obama administration has sent a “clear, if carefully worded warning” to Pakistani leaders.
Barack Obama won't say. 12:00 AM, May 18, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
At Commentary’s Contentions blog, Jen Rubin points out that President Barack Obama did not identify who killed Daniel Pearl at a signing ceremony for a bill that bears Pearl’s name – the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act. Obama, like other members of his administration, failed to identify the forces of radical Islam, Islamic extremism, Islamist terrorism, jihad, or the like as the culprits behind Pearl’s ruthless murder.
That is a noticeable omission in the president’s remarks. There is another noteworthy omission as well.
America remains the main target, not the aggressor, in the conflict with radical Islam.1:40 PM, May 17, 2010 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
In the aftermath of the failed Times Square bombing, the world appears--not for the first time--to be catching on about Pakistan. That country’s reality is simple: Radical Islamist movements have a choke-hold over the military and intelligence services, and blackmail Islamabad into subsidizing jihadist activities across South Asia, from Afghanistan to Burma, the latter with a small Muslim community. In addition, the large Pakistani diaspora, mainly in the UK and U.S., shelters numerous active agents of and contributors to terrorist efforts.
The secretary of state takes notice of a dangerous link. 12:33 PM, May 11, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
On 60 Minutes Sunday night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made what CBS News rightly called a “remarkable” allegation. Secretary Clinton was first asked if the would-be Times Square bomber had ties to terrorists operating out of Pakistan. “There are connections,” Clinton responded before expressing some ambiguity as to the precise nature of those connections. (Other senior Obama administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan clarified those connections earlier in the day.)
Clinton was asked what message she would deliver to the Pakistanis in the wake of the Times Square attack. She answered:
Eight hours after the failed bombing, an email arrived claiming ‘responsibility of recent Attack on Times Square Newyork USA.’May 17, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 33 • By BILL ROGGIO
Early Sunday morning, May 2, I awoke and followed my usual routine: Grabbed a cup of coffee, logged onto my computer, scanned the news for major developments in the war, and checked my email. It was no ordinary morning, though, as the evening before someone had attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in New York City.
We were lucky Shahzad’s bomb fizzled. Next time we might not be as lucky.5:50 PM, May 4, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES and THOMAS JOSCELYN
On Sunday morning, Janet Napolitano twice suggested that the attempted attack in Times Square was a "one-off" event during an interview with ABC News. ABC's Jake Tapper had asked Napolitano directly about the possibility of international involvement, given the similarities (superficial, at least) between the crude bomb discovered in the Nissan Pathfinder in New York City and those used in attempted bombings in London and Glasgow in 2007. "Well, right now, we have no evidence that it is anything other than a one-off, but we are alerting state, local officials around the country, letting them know what is going on."
Calling the attempted attack a "one-off" wasn't directly responsive to Tapper's question. But it's clear that Napolitano, who also described the bomb as "amateurish," wanted to downplay the seriousness of the attack.
We can’t keep relying on Lady Luck.12:48 PM, May 4, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Faisal Shahzad, a 30 year-old naturalized American citizen from Pakistan, has been arrested as the chief suspect behind the failed car bomb attack on Times Square this past Saturday. The good news is, of course, that the bomb was fairly unsophisticated (showing a low-level of expertise), it failed to detonate (sparing the lives of New Yorkers and tourists), and the man believed to be responsible for assembling and deploying the car bomb was apprehended in short order. Authorities were able to pinpoint the would-be terrorist in impressively little time.
It is not all good news, however. Law enforcement and intelligence officials failed to stop the perpetrator from placing his bomb in the first place. We were simply lucky that onlookers weren’t killed. If this was truly the work of a rogue individual, a “one-off” event as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano suggested on Sunday, then that failure would be somewhat understandable. As law enforcement and intelligence professionals have repeatedly lamented, it is exceedingly difficult to stop a “lone wolf” terrorist.
Following the TTP link. 11:50 AM, May 4, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
As noted by the New York Times early this morning, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin named Faisal Shahzad, aged 30, was arrested by federal authorities in the attempted car-bombing in Times Square, thwarted on May 1. Shahzad was apprehended on a flight to Dubai that was about to take off from Kennedy Airport. The Los Angeles Times reported that more arrests are to come.
Shahzad was caught by tracing the purchase of the SUV filled with explosives and left on a Manhattan street. He had recently visited his country of birth, and his arrest lends credibility to the claim by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the branch of the Afghan terrorist movement operating there, that they planted the unsuccessful car-bomb. TTP has threatened a campaign of attacks in American cities.
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