The Director of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden said last week that the safe havens afforded by the rugged terrain along the Afghan-Pakistan border remain the most clear and present danger to the safety of the United States.
Many of the major post-9/11 plots and attacks against the West have reportedly been traced back to Pakistan’s tribal areas. It is there that Islamist extremists based in the West travel to obtain approval, training and support to carry out their plans.
Many in the U.S. intelligence communities believe al-Qaeda has regenerated its capacity to strike at the West by rebuilding in Pakistan’s northwest, claiming there are 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations spread throughout Waziristan and other tribal areas—numbers that do not include Taliban camps and support locations in Baluchistan province.
|“Today, virtually every major terrorist threat that my agency [CIA] is aware of has threads back to the tribal areas. Whether it's command and control, training, direction, money, capabilities, there is a connection.” – Gen. Michael Hayden|
To counter this alarming trend, cross-border raids by U.S. forces have been designed to strike at al-Qaeda’s training camps and safe houses.
The United States is also targeting Taliban, who attack U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from bases inside Pakistan, and who provide safe havens and training camps for foreign terrorists.
The U.S. strikes inside Pakistan’s tribal areas have reportedly killed at lease five senior al-Qaeda leaders and members of their staff this year. Unmanned Predator aircraft armed with deadly missiles would seem to be the weapon of choice. The list of dead and wounded reads like the Who’s Who of international terrorism:
- Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander in Afghanistan—killed in a strike in North Waziristan in January.
- Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al-Qaeda’s external operations chief—killed in a strike in Bajaur in March.
- Abu Khabab al Masri, al-Qaeda’s WMD chief, and several senior members of his staff—killed in a strike in South Waziristan in July.
- Khalid Habib, the leader of al-Qaeda’s paramilitary forces in the tribal Ares—killed in North Waziristan in October.
- Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and member of al-Qaeda’s top council—killed in North Waziristan this October.
Other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are rumored to have met similar fates, including Taliban leader Mullah Nazir who was wounded in South Waziristan and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was targeted in that strike, but may not have been among the dead.
President-elect Barack Obama was criticized by Senator John McCain for saying during the presidential campaign that he’d authorize strikes inside Pakistan to get at America’s enemies, but it looks like President George W. Bush has beaten him to it.