Merchant of Death
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The "Pakistanization" of the Taliban and the Survival of Core al Qaeda
Terrorism experts in and out of the intelligence community are growing increasingly concerned about the "Pakistanization" of the resurgent Taliban in the tribal territories that border Afghanistan.

There is increasingly strong evidence that lower-level ISI officers not only tolerate the Taliban, but host training camps for them and provide logisitcal support, helping the Taliban to regain political and military footing that is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the the Afghan central government as well as the U.S. and NATO forces on the ground.

It also seems that senior ISI officials can get in contact with Osama bin Laden or Zawahiri when necessary, indicating that, if not necessarily aware of the exact location at all times of the two most wanted men in the world, there still exist channels of direct communication.

This is certainly troubling, given Pakistan's central role in the Bush strategy of fighting Islamists. The recent Bush policy of working with India on its nuclear projects seems to have convinced the Pakistani leadership that Pakistan is not getting a fair shake and can therefore does not need to pay the internal political price for tackling the Islamists in a serious fashion.

The Taliban remains in close contact with the "core" al Qaeda leaders, but the "Arab Afghans," that is, the foreign fighters, are mostly limited to acting as advisers and trainers for the Taliban troops, rather than fighting as independent units. Taliban units usually have severl Arabs when them when carrying out their increasingly sophisticated attacks on the NATO and U.S. forces.

One of the primary roles seems to be to facilitate the transfer of technological know-how and bombing techniques from those fighting in Iraq to the cadres in Afghanistan. Hence, the sudden rise in suicide bombings in Afghanistan, the use of similar explosive devises to attack troops and the beheadings and other Iraqi-inspired tactics.

Peter Bergen, in his Sunday Outlook piece in the Washington Post argues that that traditional al Qaeda and its leadership, remain a real threat. He correctly points out that the presumed ringleader, Mohammed Sidique Khan, was tied to the al Qaeda core, not just a peripheral, self-starting radical. The British decision not to make this a more central part of their report is a mystery.

It is also a mistake to view the current Somali crisis and the leadership of the radical Salafist groups now holding the bulk of the power as totally separate from the core of al Qaeda. Rather, many of the current leaders have long-standing ties to the traditional al Qaeda leadership.

But Afghanistan seems to be the core al Qaeda's main project now, a chance, as they see it, to reverse the most humiliating defeat of the organization, and make new inroads that will tie up U.S. and NATO resources for an indefinite period of time, bleeding the enemy until they simply declare victory and go home.

That, coupled with the emphasis on expanding the war fronts in as many places as possible-Somalia, the GSPC in northern Nigeria and other parts of West Africa, the sudden al Qaeda public interest in Darfur, show the contours of a long-term strategy in which the core of al Qaeda continues to play a central role, dispersed and self-starting groups can join and aid the effort and a long war that will wax and wane in many parts of the globe.
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