07/12/09 - 4:08pm
by Chas Danner

Meanwhile in Pakistan

Echoes of the kind of operation Al Qaeda was able to put together prior to the attacks of 9/11: a Taliban leader named Baitullah Mehsud has amassed a significant level of power and is proceeding with the destabilization of Pakistan, a domino everyone agrees must not be allowed to fall in the conflict against Islamic Jihad. He currently has a $5 million bounty on his head, and an army at his beck and call:

12,000 local fighters, many belonging to his own Mehsud tribe, and close to 4,000 foreign fighters, predominantly Arabs and Central Asians seasoned in the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. Many of them spent time in al Qaeda training camps and can’t return to their home countries for fear of prosecution… He also has a stable of teenage boys who have been indoctrinated to serve as suicide bombers.

And he has built a security zone around himself in the areas he occupies, often with ambitious assassinations:

the government has met little success because Mehsud has in many cases dismantled the centuries-old tribal structures in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); there is no mechanism left to mobilize against him. This June, another Taliban commander, Qari Zainuddin, challenged Mehsud and was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards. The murder was a stark message to others who might try the same.

The US has been targeting him with drone attacks, but it might only be through cutting off his funding that he can he stopped or slowed – that is of course if anyone could find out where he gets his money – they can’t. He does have a potential weakness in that for someone who never allows his face to be photographed he has a flare for publicity and even invited many journalists to an Osama Bin Laden-like “Kill the Americans” declaration, something which theoretically could have exposed him to capture. However go read The Looming Tower and you’ll learn that no matter how much hubris an adversary seems to have, often our own intelligence community so ties its own hands with bureaucracy and in-fighting (even apparently after the post 9/11 reforms) that we miss opportunities to capture or kill such leaders. Osama Bin Laden survived so much of his own carelessness that it actually reinforced his and his followers notion that their path was just; that they were protected by God. (In fact, the most powerful “God” in this case was the lack of information sharing between the mutually clannish CIA, FBI, and NSA.)

From this article Mehsud frighteningly seems even more dangerous (if less funded) than Bin Laden was in the several years prior to 9/11. It is a must read for those thinking about the dynamics at play in the Middle East. It is also worth relating to the Iran story in realizing that the one enemy American and Iran share is the Taliban. In fact Iran (under then President Khatami, but with Khamenei’s blessing of course) connected the US military with the Northern Alliance in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, providing crucial on-the-ground intelligence on where to bomb the Taliban. And make no mistake, if Ahmadinejad had actionable intelligence on someone like Mehsud – no matter what the status of Iran’s democracy or crackdown, the US would have open ears. That is the nature of the beast.

Commander of the Faithful
by Imtiaz Ali @ Foreign Policy