The Fourth Rail, Little Green Footballs, un-named intel sources, and CNN are all questioning the dissappearance of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from training camps. They are also pairing that with speculation about Pakistan’s Nuclear forces. Everything they state is factual, but coupling it all together leads to a lot of questions which I will attempt to analyze below.
Update: the Foreign minister from Pakistan has released this statement to counter the worries created by the CNN article:
Speaking to reporters, ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Pakistan’s nuclear command and control structures were not controlled by any single individual and had been institutionalised and multi-layered to ensure safety and security at multiple levels since 1998.
She said the country’s strategic assets are governed by “strong multi-layered decision making, organisational, administrative and command and control structures”. She said Pakistan, as a nuclear weapons state, had formally instituted an elaborate Nuclear Command and Control mechanism in February 2000 consisting of the National Command Authority (NCA), the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), and the Strategic Forces Command. pr
Just a reminder: Our government is charged with protecting US citizens, to do that our intel agencies sometimes speculate in “worst case scenarios”. The press almost always runs with “worst case” when presented with a spectrum of possibilities because it makes for a better headline and sells more ads.
UPDATE: Missing soldiers held by Taliban
First there are a series of seasonal events, coupled with failed intiatives and Pakistan Army movements that work together to empty the camps:
1. School’s starting, Universities are starting. The question to ask is “are enrollments down?”. If not, then many of the Taliban went back to school – it would be good to take a look at that.
2. The army is in the frontier, and they are attacking camps in some areas, and ignoring them in others. See the previous three Pakistan updates for the steady lead up to this. The clear signal from the army is that they are not going to mount operations, but where attacked they are weapons-free and actively going offensive. Where the soldiers were kidnapped they have been on the hunt attacking multiple camps with infantry, helicopters, and artillery. In Darra however they have done nothing. The army is unpredictable, as are US Forces not far over the border. If you are Al Qaeda you are going to disperse from known camps – it’s pretty much a given in the current situation.
3. AQ knows we know where their camps are now. In the past they’ve used spectacular masses of cannon-fodder students to mask their movements (TNSM’s villager and student crusade was used as a blocking force to distract our forces from Bin Laden’s retreat at Tora Bora – the attack on Darra was mostly students.) It’s natural that the leadership would retreat to an area near the Afghan border with the Pak army in their face. That gives them two options for flight, but some might also have gone Northeast to the Darkot/Kunar escape route into Afghanistan.
4. The passes close in the mountains in a few weeks — if you are leaving Pakistan, now’s the time you would travel, just as AQAM forces have re-shuffled the past two years at this time.
So let’s look at potentials – first strategic, then to tactical, but please note that some things after this are pure wild-assed speculations made solely by me. I could be wrong, my wife tells me that often.
Al Qaeda has refocused on Pakistan – declaring Hirabah (unholy war) against the government of the Islamic nation that was their original base. It’s not clear whether that is due to the closing of the camps in Kashmir and the sweetening of relations with India, or the continued interdiction at the border of Afghanistan, or as last-ditch defense of their base with the noose tightening worldwide. Ayman Al Zawahiri is certainly not respecting his previous hosts.
The gambits they’ve tried this year met with small or no success – while they might have re-fired their base (the students, some tribals,) they have not gained or made headway with the general populace of Pakistan.
If anything they’ve decreased support after Lal Masjid, the failed offensive in Afghanistan, their attacks on NGO’s/foreign nationals, attempts to create civil sectarian war with the Shia, assassination attempts, and their suicide bombing campaign inside Pakistan. The attempt to introduce Taliban-style law in opposition to Quranic laws of Islam inside Islamabad backfired except with the brainwashed madrassa students.
The tribals are less supportive with clear rifts between clans where sympathy for AQAM in the Frontiers used to be near-ubiquitous. Meanwhile except in the madrassas, the urban centers want Musharraf to turn the armies loose on the Mufisduun (evildoers — “Bolverkers” if you speak Finno-Urdic.) Warning : here comes that wild speculation.
So what next for Zawahiri? If he masses and attacks within Pakistan in the frontiers, it’s a dice throw — and somewhat dependent on the outcome of the Jirga. The forces instead might be splitting three ways — some back to Iraq, some to reinforce the flagging front in Afghanistan, and I would wager that the Kashmir is about to fire up again.
The Kashmir is one area where he might gain defections from the army, since the bettering of relations with India is not to their liking. Either way the AQ forces are not going to be sitting in camps waiting for the Pakistan Army or the hellfires to fall on them.
If they are going to strike I expect a concerted effort in several areas since that’s Al Qaeda’s signature.
There was probably an assassination attempt planned for President-General Musharraf at the Pak-Afghan Jirga, so his last minute cancelation was not surprising. What is surprising is that he will be going to address the close of the Jirga.
Overnight there was a loud explosion in Islamabad, with little news after — since Zawahiri cannot strike in force in the urban areas, he will try coordinated sucide bombings. Perhaps this was a bomber sent but not called off in time after things changed — the “state of emergency” rumors could have been sent out just to justify the troops on the streets during that period.
On the Indian side of the Kashmir there was a huge explosion at a military ammo dump, with two groups both claiming credit. This could signal a shift back to the Kashmir, again with the potential to gain support from some Pak army units.
Now, what about the fears of the mil intel guys and CNN? They are most likely concerned about the missiles and warheads, but also the nuclear reactors at Chashma.
The military intel guys I expect to do worst-case scenario analysis, but the taking of warheads is unlikely, it’s going to take multiple assassinations to put them at risk, and it’s doubtful that the Hamid faction in the Pak army is strong enough to do this.
Zawahiri’s 2nd is rumored to be in Jani Khel, in Bannu — this is just to the north and east of Chashma — while it’s unlikely they could make a successful grab at weapons, they could seriously damage infrastructure at the two reactors. I would be expecting it, since they have been steadily attacking power-delivery infrastructure to shake the urban areas, and it’s one area where they have been successful at creating mass unrest. When load-shedding instead becomes two days of power outage you get shutter-downs and marching in the streets.
To sum up: I would be beefing up security and forces near the Jirga – the Taliban could try for a suicide attack at the Jirga, or a mass attack on the Jirga itself. Chashma needs protecting. Watch for an AQAM shift back to Tora Bora region, and the Kashmir, but don’t leave the Kunar unguarded. Expect some student demonstrations in the cities, some IED’s and suicide bombers. Look for the Korean captives to be ferried into Waziristan if they can make it there with them.
The remaining questions: Is Mehsud camped across the hills on the border of South Waziristan to block the Pak army, or is he there to stop return of the Uzbeks? Will Omar resurface? (Zawahiri is proving less than inspirational, and Bin Laden is dead, captured, or incommunicado.) Will the Pak army make a real move after independence day? (Two days away Pakistan time.)