Bin Laden's "Walking Dead" Cross Into Afghanistan As Suicide Bombings Quadruple
The Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan are finding no shortage of new recruits in Pakistan, as jihadists gear up, and bomb up, for what are expected to be increasingly deadly clashes with NATO forces in the coming months.
While Pakistan's President Musharraf appears to remain a 'favourite' of the United States and the UK, there was a swirl of rumours last month that he, the leader of a military coup, was going to fall victim to another military coup, off the back of some extremely public protests by white collar professionals, mostly lawyers and doctors, in open defiance his dictatorship.
For now, Musharraf appears to have crushed any such dissident plans to overthrow him. But the pressure grows on Musharraf to do something about the steadily increasing number of jihadi militants crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and infiltrating the neighbouring nation of Waziristan, where a small-scale tribal war has erupted.
Musharraf did a deal last year with supposedly non-Taliban aligned tribal leaders near Pakistan's border that was supposed to see a decrease in manpower support for the Taliban. The Taliban and Al Qaeda simply went recruiting in Pakistan instead.
The Pakistan military are sometimes openly aligned with the Taliban, and Afghanistan's President Karzai now accuses Musharraf of allowing Al Qaeda and the Taliban to train and recruit inside Pakistan's borders.
The much-hyped 'Spring Offensive' in Afghanistan appears to be drawing near, at least in propaganda terms. The Taliban now claims it has deployed thousands of suicide bombers to all of Afghanistan's cities, where they will wait for the right foreign targets to show themselves before attacking. Such claims are dismissed by the Afghan government as the stuff of fantasies, but NATO forces are clearly gearing up for some major confrontations.
The Australian government is about to announce a new deployment of SAS, which will double Australia's troop commitment to the war. Such SAS forces are highly regarded by both NATO country armies and the Taliban itself. They respect Australian SAS because they've killed so many Taliban fighters during 2001, 2004 and 2006.
Germany, meanwhile, is sending over new fighter jets, and the United States is still pressuring EU nations not already committed to deploy military forces into Afghanistan if they want to see the 'War on Terror' ever get a recognisable victory.
Meanwhile, dozens of Taliban fighters are being killed each week, on average, while NATO forces lose three or four troops to gun fights and suicide bombings, the incidence of which has increased four-fold in the last twelve months from the year before.
The death toll on all sides, however, is expected to increase dramatically in the coming months, previewed by the defence ministers of NATO countries with forces already deployed hitting the local media hard and talking of sacrifice in order to prepare their constituents for what is expected to be a brutal increase in fighting, and dying.
The Washington Times has a curious, disturbing story on new Al Qaeda fighters, known as Bin Laden's "walking dead". They are suicide bombers, trained in Pakistan madrassas, who then literally walk into Afghanistan loaded with explosives. When they've completed their missions, they leave behind only "two feet and a lot of flesh" :
Orphaned by war and schooled in anti-American religious madrassas, the bombers often smile for a final video testament in Pakistan before walking or riding to their deaths in Afghanistan. As new explosives technology and tactics from the war in Iraq arrive in this remote corner of South Asia, suicide bombing attacks in the past 12 months have more than quadrupled from fewer than half a dozen in the previous year.Time Magazine has an excellent, in depth look at the 'Talibanisation' of Pakistan 's border frontiers leading into Afghanistan. This is easily one of the most important investigative stories they've run in the entire history of the 'War on Terror', but in a blinding sign of just how little importance the US mainstream media places on the Afghanistan war, Time use the 'Talibanisation' story as its international edition cover story, but buried this historical feature behind a celebrity fluff piece cover story for its American edition.
At least some of the bombers cross the border with a blessing from Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's bespectacled ideological lieutenant, said Lutfullah Mashal, a senior intelligence official with Afghanistan's National Security Council.
Afghan and U.S. officials say the bombers are trained in Waziristan, a tribal-administered border region of Pakistan. Several weeks of reporting along the rugged border suggests that al Qaeda and its affiliates are regrouping with charitable funds from Gulf Arab states, assistance from rogue elements of Pakistan's intelligence services and profits from the heroin trade.
Pakistan, which sanctioned U.S. bombing raids on suspected al Qaeda hide-outs last year, has all but retreated from its effort to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in border areas, say Western diplomats.
Suicide bombing was unheard of during the long war against Soviet forces in the 1980s, when locals prided themselves on their skill in shooting down Soviet helicopters, rows of which still line the edge of the airport here.
As elsewhere in the Islamic world, al Qaeda is usually a facilitator of terrorism, rarely the direct instigator. Bin Laden's operatives exploit anti-American sentiment within home-grown Islamist groups and dispatch young men over the mountains toward martyrdom.
Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in nearby Pakistani community of Miram Shah, mimicking similar martyrdom celebrations in the West Bank and parts of the Arab world, throw lavish parties for the families of the suicide bombers...
Time Magazine's 'Talibanisation' (excerpts follow) :
...the tribal region of Pakistan, a rugged no-man's-land that forms the country's border with Afghanistan (is) rapidly becoming home base for a new generation of potential terrorists.
Fueled by zealotry and hardened by war, young religious extremists have overrun scores of towns and villages in the border areas, with the intention of imposing their strict interpretation of Islam on a population unable to fight back.
Like the Taliban in the late 1990s in Afghanistan, the jihadists are believed to be providing leaders of al-Qaeda with the protection they need to regroup and train new operatives. U.S. intelligence officials think that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may have found refuge in these environs. And though 49,000 U.S. and NATO troops are stationed just across the border in Afghanistan, they aren't authorized to operate on the Pakistani side.
Remote, tribal and deeply conservative, the border region is less a part of either country than a world unto itself, a lawless frontier so beyond the control of the West and its allies that it has earned a name of its own: Talibanistan.
Since Sept. 11, the strategic hinge in the U.S.'s campaign against al-Qaeda has been Pakistan, handmaiden to the Taliban movement that turned Afghanistan into a sanctuary for bin Laden and his lieutenants. While members of Pakistan's intelligence services have long been suspected of being in league with the Taliban, the Bush Administration has consistently praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for his cooperation in rooting out and apprehending members of bin Laden's network. But the Talibanization of the borderlands--and their role in arming and financing insurgents in Afghanistan--has renewed doubts about whether Musharraf still possesses the will to face down the jihadists.Because Musharraf also heads Pakistan's army, it's unlikely that he will be forced from office. But a loss of support from his moderate base could deepen his dependence on fundamentalist parties, which are staunch supporters of the Taliban. If the protests against Musharraf continue, he will be even less inclined to crack down on the militants holding sway in Talibanistan--grim news for the U.S. and its allies and good news for their foes throughout the region. Says a senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan: "The bottom line is that the Taliban can do what they want in the tribal areas because the [Pakistani] army is not going to come after them."
In fact, the territory at the heart of Talibanistan--a heavily forested band of mountains that is officially called North and South Waziristan--has never fully submitted to the rule of any country.
After 9/11, Islamabad initially left the tribal areas alone. But when it became obvious that al-Qaeda and Taliban militants were crossing the border to escape U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan sent in the first of what eventually became 80,000 troops. They had some success: the Pakistani army captured terrorist leaders and destroyed training camps. But the harder the military pressed, the more locals resented its presence, especially when civilians were killed in botched raids against terrorists.
As part of peace accords signed last September with tribal leaders in North Waziristan, the Pakistani military agreed to take down roadblocks, stop patrols and return to their barracks. In exchange, local militants promised not to attack troops and to end cross-border raids into Afghanistan. The accords came in part because the Pakistani army was simply unable to tame the region. Over the past two years, it has lost more than 700 troops there. The change in tactics, says Gul, was an admission that the Pakistani military had "lost the game."
The army isn't the only one paying the price now. Since Pakistani forces scaled back operations in the border region, the insurgency in Afghanistan has intensified. Cross-border raids and suicide bombings aimed at U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have tripled, according to the senior U.S. military official. He concedes that "the Pakistanis are in a very difficult position. You could put 50,000 men on that border, and you wouldn't be able to seal it."
The troop drawback has allowed Pakistani militants allied with the Taliban to impose their will on the border areas. They have established Shari'a courts and executed "criminals" on the basis of Islamic law. Even Pakistani-army convoys are sometimes escorted by Taliban militants to ensure safe passage...
The emergence of Talibanistan may directly threaten the West too. Locals say the region has become one big terrorist-recruitment camp, where people as young as 17 are trained as suicide bombers.
"Here, teenagers are greeted with the prayers 'May Allah bless you to become a suicide bomber,'" says Obaidullah Wazir, 35, a young tribesman in Miranshah. National Intelligence Director John McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that "al-Qaeda is forging stronger operational connections that radiate outward from their camps in Pakistan to affiliated groups and networks throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe."
....the Bush Administration is beginning to recognize that to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent the rebirth of al-Qaeda, it has to contain the growth of Talibanistan.
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