The stories about AQ taking over the Pakistani border areas are the Sunni jihadist equivalent of the Iranian nuclear saga: it’s a slow-motion train wreck, it gets worse with each passing moment, and there’s seemingly nothing the west can do short of watered-down sanctions that won’t make the problem considerably worse. Bryan called the Waziristan peace deal between Musharraf and the tribal elders a “surrender” days after it was announced; it was obvious within weeks, as cross-border attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan increased, that it was a disaster; and the Times itself finally administered the last rites in an article back in December, declaring that the tribal areas had become “a Taliban mini-state” infested with foreign fighters and would-be suicide bombers. AQ groupie Peter Bergen warned WaPo readers back in July not to assume the leadership was finished, either. That warning proved prescient a month later when the UK airline plotters were linked to higher-ups in Al Qaeda, and it proved prescient again a few weeks ago when the Daily Mail claimed that a “senior AQ terrorist with close links to Osama Bin Laden” was behind the cell that planned to kidnap and behead British Muslim soldiers. Meanwhile, Musharraf’s looking to expand the treaties with the tribal elders and Pakistan’s foreign minister wants NATO to make a deal with the Taliban, even as suicide bombs are going off inside Pakistani courtrooms and captured AQ operatives are accusing Pakistani intelligence of sheltering Mullah Omar.
Which is a long way of saying that nothing in tonight’s Times article, including the news about the training camps, should come as a surprise.
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…
[D]ebates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government…
“The chain of command has been re-established,” said one American government official, who said that the Qaeda “leadership command and control is robust.”…
American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said … dozens of seasoned fighters were moving between Pakistan and Iraq, apparently engaging in an “exchange of best practices” for attacking American forces.
Over the past year, insurgent tactics from Iraq have migrated to Afghanistan, where suicide bombings have increased fivefold and roadside bomb attacks have doubled. In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee last week, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the departing commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said the United States could not prevail in Afghanistan and defeat global terrorism without addressing the havens in Pakistan.
The stupider, more reactionary types among the nutroots will try to blame this on Chimpy’s Iraq gambit, but one has nothing to do with the other. The issue here is Pakistani sovereignty, not troop levels, and in any case there aren’t enough men and women in the U.S. military to occupy a country of 160+ million people with nuclear weapons and a jihadist power base that’s the envy of the Wahhabist world. We might have enough troops to invade and occupy the tribal areas if Musharraf was willing to cut a deal on that, but (a) what could we possibly offer him to get him to effectively cede territory, (b) how could he hope to survive the irredentist backlash among Pakistanis, and (c) if you think 3,000 dead in Iraq is bad, what would the numbers look like with U.S. troops fighting Iwo-style cave-clearing warfare in the mountains of Waziristan with jihadis from every shinolahole in the Middle East streaming in as reinforcements?
Exit question: What now?
I spoke with a senior military intelligence officer about the Times article. He reports that the Times’s description that camps in Pakistan have “yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule” and its mention of “groups of 10 to 20 men” being trained is only a partial picture of the training camps in Pakistan. The Times article focuses on al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan, camps where militants receive the kind of training that could enable them to carry out terrorist attacks in the West. But there are also larger military training camps — the kind that are used to train Taliban fighters to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan, or to train Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, or other Kashmiri separatist groups. The training required to carry out a terrorist attack in the West is different than what is needed to fight in Afghanistan or Kashmir.