Art Keller at Foreign Policy. Keller is a former case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. He participated in counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the FATA of Pakistan in 2006:
Attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad claims he received explosives training in Waziristan, Pakistan, the heartland of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group closely allied with al-Qaeda. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has publicly stated that Shahzad was both directed and financed by the TTP. Yet Shahzad’s alleged militant pedigree reconciles very poorly with the ineptitude of his attempted attack, which raises more questions about his background than it answers.
- Was Shahzad simply a poor bomb-making student/incompetent jihadist?
- Was the training he received unsuited for conducting attacks in the U.S. context?
- Despite claims of a six month sojourn in Waziristan, did he really get any bomb-training?
One place to look for answers is the improvised explosive device Shahzad cobbled together. The FBI’s criminal complaint against Shahzad describes an IED constructed of 153 M-88 fire-crackers, three propane tanks, two five-gallon cans of gasoline, bags of fertilizer, and two alarm clocks connected to wires.
A demolition and pyrotechnic expert with 23 years of experience, Matt Kutcher, deconstructs Shahzad’s device in an interview:
Click here to read more and and the video of the bomb factory.
From The Economist:
“YOU should enjoy this,” said a Pushtun from Waziristan, the most remote and radicalised of the tribal areas in North-West Pakistan that border Afghanistan, as he proffered a bottle of Scottish whisky. It was an excellent Sutherland single-malt; but the man was referring to the bottle’s more recent provenance, not its pedigree.
He had been given it by a fellow Waziristani working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. This spy had received the illegal grog from an American CIA officer. Your correspondent’s friend returned homewards, Scotch in hand, driven by another Waziristani, who is also employed as a fixer by al-Qaeda.
Waziristan, home to 800,000 tribal Pushtuns, is a complicated place. It is the hinge that joins Pakistan and Afghanistan, geographically and strategically. Split into two administrative units, North and South Waziristan, it is largely run by the Taliban, with foreign jihadists among them. If Islamist terror has a headquarters, it is probably Waziristan.
For terrorists, its attraction is its fierce independence. More:
Mohsin Hamid in the Guardian:
My wife Zahra and I recently decided to move back to Pakistan. Many friends in London seem puzzled by our decision. That is understandable. Pakistan plays a recurring role as villain in the horror sub-industry within the news business. It is, we are constantly told, a place where car bombs go off in crowded markets, beheadings get recorded in grainy video, and nuclear weapons are assembled in frightening proximity to violent extremists.
August 14 is Pakistan’s independence day. This year it also marked the birth of our daughter, Dina. (It was a close thing. Nineteen hours later and she would have been born on India’s independence day. For a novelist, the symbolism would have been considerably more tricky. Fortunately Dina was in no mood to dally.)
Childbirth changed my perception of my wife. She was now the bloodied special forces soldier who had fought and risked everything for our family. I was the supportive spouse tasked with cheering her victory, celebrating her homecoming, and easing her convalescence. So I gave her a respectful few hours before suggesting that we uproot our lives and move across continents to a city thousands of miles away. More:
As the Pakistan Army turns its guns on Waziristan, Manan Ahmed argues that the dysfunctional state remains its own worst enemy. From the National:
On May 11, Rehman Malik, the ubiquitous and consistently enervated Pakistani interior minister, declared the military’s ongoing operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley a resounding success. “We haven’t given them a chance,” he boasted. “They are on the run. They were not expecting such an offensive”. He added that the operation, then barely a week old, had already killed 700 Taliban. Over the summer the declarations of victory continued: prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called the conflict “a great success”; the Pakistan Army spokesman, Major Gen Athar Abbas announced that “we have beaten the Taliban decisively in Swat”.
Since the army maintained a media blackout in the region, there were few voices to dissent from these cries of victory. But the extent of the army’s achievement remains unknown: areas of Swat are still under Taliban control, and many militants simply fled the territory for more favourable terrain elsewhere. What is clear, however, is that the army campaign – waged with heavy artillery and aerial strikes – forced some three million civilians to flee.
After declaring victory in Swat, and under pressure from the Americans to “take the fight to the Taliban”, the Pakistan army announced that it would soon proceed towards Waziristan, the hunting-ground for the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose founder and leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was assassinated by a US drone in early August. The targets struck back with a wave of terrorist attacks in October, many directed against the state itself – killing over 250 Pakistanis and injuring hundreds more. More here:
Basharat Peer, the author of Curfewed Night, a memoir of the Kashmir conflict, and a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, uncovers lessons from last spring’s Swat valley campaign. From the National:
On the morning of May 27, Tariq Ali, a 42-year-old clerk at Rescue 15, a police helpline centre in Lahore, reported to work after a weekend visit to his family a few hours outside the city. He shared an office with two other clerks and a police officer. The building faced a shopping complex with a Toyota dealership and an immigration consultancy. Next door to Rescue 15 was an unmarked residence, known to locals as the Lahore office of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency. Half an hour after Ali arrived, shots rang out over the noise of passing traffic. Police sirens sounded, and Ali rose from his desk. Some of his colleagues ran to fetch weapons. Ali was still unsure what to do when an enormous blast threw him onto the floor. A suicide bomber had exploded a car inside the office compound.
“I saw a black wind filled with shards of glass tear into my office. Then the ceiling and the walls came crashing on us,” Ali told me, a week later, lying on his bed in the intensive care ward of Gangaram Hospital, surrounded by fellow policemen, his brother and his teenage son. Ali’s face was burnt, and the glass had cut most of his back, his lips, and both his eyes, one of which the doctors had sewed up – the other one was bandaged. The attack killed 23 people, including the officer who shared Ali’s office, and injured 150. More:
Investigators have discovered a village of white German al-Qaeda insurgents, including Muslim converts, in Pakistan’s tribal areas close to the Afghan border. From the Telegraph:
The village, in Taliban-controlled Waziristan, is run by the notorious al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which plots raids on Nato forces in Afghanistan.
A recruitment video presents life in the village as a desirable lifestyle choice with schools, hospitals, pharmacies and day care centres, all at a safe distance from the front.
In the video, the presenter, “Abu Adam”, the public face of the group in Germany, points his finger and asks: “Doesn’t it appeal to you? We warmly invite you to join us!”
According to German foreign ministry officials a growing number of German families, many of North African descent, have taken up the offer and travelled to Waziristan where supporters say converts make up some of the insurgents’ most dedicated fighters. More:
Tim Reid from Washington in the Times:
Art Keller, a blond, blue-eyed CIA agent, sits inside a decrepit building deep inside al-Qaeda territory, staring at his computer screen. He is forbidden by his Pakistani minders from venturing out into the badlands of Waziristan to help to find and kill the world’s most wanted man.
He is sick and exhausted, and suffering from food poisoning. Back home in the US his father is dying of cancer. The plumbing is basic, the heat intense – the generator has failed again. He pores over cables looking for any scrap of information – an intercepted phone call, an aerial photograph – that might finally end the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The fruitless search has essentially been outsourced by the US to a network of Pashtun spies run by the Pakistani intelligence services.
Mr Keller was one of an estimated 50 to 100 CIA agents and special operations officers whose mission for the past eight years has been to find and kill bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders in the hostile and forbidding Pakistani border region, where he is believed to be hiding. More:
- Al-Qaeda’s focus has moved from UK, but the threat has not gone away: Andy Hayman, former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at Scotland Yard, in the Times:
US author Steve Coll spent years looking into Osama bin Laden’s family. Now, his new book, The Bin Ladens, provides a unique insight into the clan. SPIEGEL spoke with him about where the terrorist might be hiding, how his father got his start, and the unique romantic liaisons pursued by one of his brothers:
SPIEGEL: Where is bin Laden now?
Coll: I am firmly convinced that he is on Pakistani soil, and I would even venture to say where: in the mountainous region of North Waziristan, near the city of Miram Shah. Bin Laden knows the area like the back of his hand. It is controlled by the Haqqani clan, in which he has deep roots. Pakistan’s army doesn’t dare enter the region.
SPIEGEL: Do you think he’s in some sort of al-Qaida camp where he can play a role coordinating the group’s activities?
Coll: Osama probably moves from place to place, protected by friends — which doesn’t mean that someone won’t betray him one of these days. And he apparently has access to modern means of communication, like satellite TV. The Miram Shah region, unlike rural Afghanistan, is further developed in this respect than we in the West generally assume. I imagine that Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy, isn’t in the same place as bin Laden.