Al-Qaeda to pre-empt Army operation in Waziristan
By Amir Mir
LAHORE: In a bid to dissuade the Pakistan Army from launching a full-scale military offensive in North Waziristan tribal agency on the Pak-Afghan border, the al-Qaeda high command has dispatched Saif Al Adal, the military chief of the Osama-led terror outfit, to North Waziristan, which has already become a safe haven for the fugitive al-Qaeda leadership as well as the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.
According to well informed sources in the Pakistani security establishment, Saif Al Adal, one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, has been dispatched to North Waziristan by bin Laden’s No 2, Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, with the prime objective of boosting al-Qaeda’s military might against the Pakistani security forces in Waziristan and stepping up cross-border ambushes against the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan. Saif was set free by Iran in October 2010 after spending nine years under house arrest, and that too in exchange for the release of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, a senior Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2008. Saif has been dispatched to North Waziristan amidst reports that the Pakistani authorities have already given a commitment to the Obama administration to launch a full-scale military action in the area to uproot the Haqqani militant network led by veteran Afghan leader commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The Haqqani militant network is working in tandem with al-Qaeda as well as the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban to resist the Pakistani security forces and carry out cross border ambushes against the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan. North Waziristan has become a hub of the anti-US elements given the fact that it has a common border with Khost, the native Afghan province of Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Americans have targeted the Haqqani network in Waziristan extensively since the dawn of 2010, especially since a suicide bomber killed seven senior CIA officers in Khost, Afghanistan, on December 31, 2009.
As the US recently announced a hefty amount of two billion dollars in military aid to Islamabad to push it for early operation in North Waziristan, the Pakistani Taliban threatened (through an open letter) to wage an endless war against the Pakistan government.
On the other hand, the al-Qaeda leadership subsequently assigned Saif Al Adal with the task of launching a counter offensive on both sides of the trouble stricken Pak-Afghan tribal belt and foil the military designs of the Pakistan and American allies in the war against terror. An Egyptian by birth, Saif is considered by US intelligence agencies as a seasoned operational planner and an experienced field commander. Often mentioned together with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, he is accused of involvement in the bombing of two US embassies in Africa in August 1998. Saif, who was al-Qaeda’s military chief before 9/11, simply disappeared after these attacks. It later transpired that he was being kept in Iran under a protective house arrest together with many other key al-Qaeda leaders and their families who had fled the American invasion of Afghanistan in December 2001 and were being prevented from travelling further by Iran.
However, upon his release, Saif was straightaway restored to his previous position — chief of the military operations in the region — and asked by his fellow Egyptian boss Ayman Zawahiri to proceed to North Waziristan. According to sources in the Pakistani security establishment, the return of Saif to the field has set alarm bells ringing in the American intelligence circles given the fact that his role in the terror outfit had been that of a trainer, military commander and key member of bin Laden’s security ring. They believe his return would greatly bolster the terror group’s operational ability, which was largely affected by the non-stop US drone attacks in Waziristan and the subsequent killings of many key commanders. Saif has already started reviving his old connections with those Afghan and Pakistani militant groups, whose relations with al-Qaeda had turned sour in his absence. Under instructions from his leadership, he is now trying to unite all those groups on a single platform to put up a joint front against the Pakistan Army whenever the North Waziristan operation is launched.
The sources say the Pakistani authorities were earlier reluctant to launch the military offensive in North Waziristan due to their old links with the Haqqani militant network, which date back to the days of the Afghan war of the 1980s. Yet the Pakistani Taliban’s joining hands with the Haqqani network and the increase in targeting the Pakistani security and intelligence agencies, has made the North Waziristan-based Afghan and Taliban militants a common enemy of both Islamabad and Washington. This has subsequently paved the way for the much-awaited military action in North Waziristan.
At the same time, however, there are those in the Pakistani establishment circles who believe that the military operation would be launched only after the top brass of the Haqqani militant network is allowed to relocate itself from North Waziristan to some other parts of Fata as the Haqqanis are still considered an asset by the Pakistani establishment in its strategic depth policy in a post-US Afghanistan. They even claim that the ailing Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his elder son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also the operational commander of the Haqqani network, had already been moved to a safe location on the Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan tribal belt, thus giving a clear indication that the military offensive in North Waziristan was now inevitable.