American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.
The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.
“Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
No. It’s not a surprise — or it shouldn’t be.
When Pakistan negotiated the N. Waziristan agreement last fall, it was widely viewed as a full-on victory for the Taleban, extremists, and (by extension) al Qaeda. There’s very little that’s new in this NY Times article.
In fact, the BBC had this to say last October — about a month after the announced Waziristan agreement:
In recent years, the notion of al-Qaeda as a decentralised organisation – a group that inspires attacks rather than organising and planning them itself – has gained common currency.
But now senior counter-terrorist officials have told the BBC that they have seen evidence that this is no longer the case and that the threat has evolved.
It is believed that al-Qaeda has in fact regrouped in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region and now poses a more direct threat, particularly to the UK.
The NY Times article supports last year’s news, including the implied threat to the UK:
Officials said that both American and foreign intelligence services had collected evidence leading them to conclude that at least one of the camps in Pakistan might be training operatives capable of striking Western targets. A particular concern is that the camps are frequented by British citizens of Pakistani descent who travel to Pakistan on British passports.
So — we have reached, at last and again, a clarifying point in the “War on Terror”.
Between this (repetitive news) news and al-Zawahiri’s call last week for Muslims to unite under Mullah Omar, al Qaeda now seems to be effectively synonymous with the Taleban. What it does not mean is that Osama bin Laden is running around in the wintry Hindu Kush rallying tribal chiefs, no matter how much folks want to say it does.
If, however, the Taleban = al Qaeda now, people are absolutely right to question the legitimacy of Iraqi insurgent groups and their claimed relationship to al Qaeda — because the Taleban will gain no traction or support in Iraq.
And that was always true.
Thus (in terms of Iraq, at least), this is fairly good news, because the Talebani and Iraqi goals are much different.
The real problem is the same as it’s been since at least 2004 — because the definable enemy is in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Musharraf has been walking a tight-rope for many years, trying to maintain control while keeping the radicalized portions of the military muzzled. If we go into Pakistan, the risks are enormous, and India will no doubt have some passionate input into discussions of actions there.
However, as James Joyner correctly states this morning, “A global war on terrorism that won’t cross borders and kill terrorists is neither global nor a war.”
Same war we started with, and the same enemy. Doing well, eh?
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Some others who are writing about this latest “new” news:
Michael van der Galien at The Moderate Voice:
Al Qaeda is responsible for 9/11. Al Qaeda should be destroyed. Al Qaeda had a safe haven in Afghanistan, it now has a new safe haven in Pakistan. Musharraf is offically America’s ‘ally’, but in the meantime he’s not doing anything to prevent Al Qaeda from regaining strength. Should the U.S., then, destroy the camps in Pakistan?
Doug Mataconis at The Liberty Papers:
The most frustrating thing to me about the Iraq War is the way in which it has distracted us from fighting the real enemy. It wasn’t Saddam Hussein who attacked us on September 11th, it was al Qaeda. It wasn’t Saddam Hussein who was providing refuge to al Qaeda, it was the Taliban government of Afghanistan. That’s where the United States military should have been in 2003, not the deserts of Iraq.
Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye:
So I think it’s prudent that, rather than risking a nuclear World War III by bombing a few tents in the wilds of Waziristan, we stay our hand unless we become sufficiently unhappy with Pakistan that we’re willing to destroy the country (we should communicate that publicly and in no uncertain terms to Pakistan).