x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Taliban's foreign fighters

A video released on Saturday showing the Jordanian doctor, Homam Khaleel Mohammad Abu Mallal, who attacked the CIA, sitting alongside the Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, suggests that the Wazirstan-based group is extending its international reach.

A video released on Saturday showing the Jordanian doctor, Homam Khaleel Mohammad Abu Mallal, who attacked the CIA, sitting alongside the Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, suggests that the Wazirstan-based group is extending its international reach. Al Jazeera reported: "The suicide bomber who killed eight people at a US base in Afghanistan said he was carrying out the attack in response to the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader killed by a US drone. "In a video released to Al Jazeera on Saturday, Hammam Khalil al-Balawi is shown shooting a gun as he describes how the attack would target US and Jordanian intelligence agents. "Seven American CIA officers were among the dead when al Balawi, a 'double agent' recruited by Jordanian intelligence services to inform on al Qa'eda, blew himself up at the base in Khost, a province bordering Pakistan." The CIA's director, Leon Panetta, in an effort to rebut suggestions that the US intelligence agency had dropped its guard said: "This was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset, even one who had provided information that we could verify independently. It is never that simple, and no one ignored the hazards. The individual was about to be searched by our security officers - a distance away from other intelligence personnel - when he set off his explosives." Whatever that distance, it proved to be inadequate. In The Daily Telegraph, Toby Harnden noted: "Security has become a CIA obsession. In Iraq, its officers lived in their compound within a compound in the Green Zone and very few ever ventured outside the wire. Instead, potential sources were brought inside. "This meant they had little chance to develop contacts or experience Iraqi culture. Most CIA officers in Iraq and Afghanistan spend only a few months in country and for many their spell is just a career tick in the box. Only a handful speak Arabic, Pashto or Dari. "Ironically, in the instance of Khost the very security concerns about meeting al-Balawi outside the base led to the catastrophic decision to let him inside. "Inexperience meant that the CIA relied too heavily on the GID [Jordan's General Intelligence Service] vouching for him so he was not frisked. And an elementary breach of tradecraft meant that at least 13 CIA personnel were bunched around him as he exploded. "In the Cold War, no more than a pair of officers would meet a source. It seems that in the clamour to use al Balawi to get to Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who is al Qa'eda's number two, basic procedures were abandoned." The New York Times reported: "Shortly after the video screened on Al Jazeera, Mr Balawi's father came to the door of his home in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and amid sighs and some tears, confirmed that it showed his son. " 'My heart is tearing apart,' he said. 'Who is the one who destroyed the one that I brought up? Who is the one who turned him from a human doctor to someone who carries out such a thing?' "Still, he said, he was not astonished by what his son had done. 'We are not surprised,' he said. 'Fighting the arrogant, unjust, haughty and tyrant American who kills civilians and innocent people makes the whole Islamic world hate America.' "He continued: 'They say that Jesus gave his life to people. I say that Humam sacrificed his body and soul for the oppressed.'" Meanwhile, a report in The National revealed that: "As Pakistan's army pushes ever deeper into the country's mountainous tribal regions in a bid to flush out extremists, they are making a startling discovery - the majority of fighters are foreigners, and not just from Afghanistan. "Uzbeks, Europeans, Afghans, Russians and even a few Caucasian Americans all have been arrested along the rugged border with Afghanistan as the military presses its operation in North and South Waziristan. "Col Nadeem Mirza, the military commander, told The National on an exclusive trip to the region: 'Our intelligence had informed us that al Qa'eda followers were hiding in the tribal agencies but no one was expecting to find so many foreigners and al Qa'eda members here. It seemed like these areas had become a fortress for al Qa'eda.'" "We are at war against al Qa'eda," the US President Barack Obama said in a televised address on Thursday. "And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them." Central to that endeavour is the expansion of American military forces in Afghanistan, but the "surge" that Mr Obama recently ordered is taking longer than his staff anticipated. The New York Times said: "Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon's slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday. "Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials - among them Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr, Gen James L Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff - and top commanders, including Gen Stanley A McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan. "A rapid deployment is central to President Obama's strategy, to have a jolt of American forces pound the Taliban enough for Afghan security forces to take over the fight. Administration officials said that part of the White House frustration stemmed from the view that the longer the American military presence in Afghanistan continued, the more of a political liability it would become for Mr Obama. But beyond the politics, the speeded up deployment - which Mr Obama paired with a promise to begin troop withdrawals by July 2011 - is part of Mr Obama's so-called 'bell curve' Afghanistan strategy, whereby American troops would increase their force in Afghanistan and step up attacks meant to quickly take out insurgents. "One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said."

pwoodward@thenational.ae