Al Qaeda is in trouble in Pakistan

Washington Post:

Drone-launched U.S. missile attacks and Pakistan's ongoing military offensive in and around the Swat Valley have unsettled al-Qaeda and undermined its relative invulnerability in Pakistani mountain sanctuaries, U.S. military and intelligence officials say.

The dual disruption offers potential new opportunities to ferret out and target the extremists, and it has sparked a new sense of possibility amid a generally pessimistic outlook for the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although al-Qaeda remains "a serious, potent threat," a U.S. counterterrorism official said, "they've suffered some serious losses and seem to be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety -- and that's not a bad thing at all."

The offensive in Swat against its Taliban allies also poses a dilemma for al-Qaeda, a senior military official said. "They're asking themselves, 'Are we going to contest' " Taliban losses, he said, predicting that al-Qaeda will "have to make a move" and undertake more open communication on cellphones and computers, even if only to gather information on the situation in the region. "Then they become more visible," he said.

It remains unclear whether U.S. intelligence and Pakistani ground forces can capitalize on such opportunities before they vanish. Chances to intercept substantive al-Qaeda communications or to take advantage of the movement of individuals are always fleeting, according to several officials of both governments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss counterinsurgency operations and the bilateral relationship.

Since last fall, the Predator drone attacks have eliminated about half of 20 U.S.-designated "high-value" al-Qaeda and other extremist targets along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. But the attacks have also killed civilians, stoking anti-American attitudes in Pakistan that inhibit cooperation between Islamabad and Washington.

...

"Anti-U.S. sentiment has already been increasing in Pakistan . . . especially in regard to cross-border and reported drone strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties," Petraeus wrote. Nearly two-thirds of Pakistanis oppose counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, he said, and "35 percent say they do not support U.S. strikes into Pakistan, even if they are coordinated with the GOP [government of Pakistan] and the Pakistan Military ahead of time."

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The CIA considers the Predator the most effective tool available in a conflict in which the U.S. military is barred from conducting offensive operations on land or in the air. "We're not at the point yet where there's a sense that there's anything that could replace that," the second military official said of the drone attacks.

The Bush administration last summer also authorized covert U.S. ground raids inside Pakistan, but Pakistani outrage after a single attack in September led to their suspension. Although U.S. Special Operations teams are on continuous alert on the Afghan side of the border, the Obama administration has not authorized any ground operations in Pakistan, and the military is divided over their advisability. "We ask all the time," said a military official who favors such raids. "They say, 'Now is not a good time.' "

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I tend to think Pakistan opposition to the Predator attacks is overstated and to the extent there is opposition it is irrational. The same can be said for Pakistan's reaction to special forces troops. The opposition makes no sense.

Perhaps what opposition there is may be based on emotion rather than logic. However, one of the indicators of an emotional reaction would be the tantrum like demonstrations that occur in the area for grievances as petty as insults to their religion. What I have noticed with respect to the Predator strikes is the lack of effect with the Pakistanis. When have you seen a demonstration of any kind following an attack. Usually the reports indicate that the Taliban cordon off the area of the strike and whisk the bodies away. That suggest to me that the target was one of theirs or al Qaeda's.

The opportunity with the current fighting will come if Pakistan sustains its operations against the Taliban and pushes into the sanctuary areas. Even if al Qaeda refrains from communication about the current situation, there is still opportunity in their ignorance. Their command and control has been rendered ineffective for years now and is currently relying on primitive word of mouth couriers. That makes it hard for them to react to the changing situation on the ground as forces close in on them.

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