With Al Qaeda weakened, US warns about other Pakistani terror groups
While these groups have links with Al Qaeda, the bigger danger to the US is their ability to trigger a major crisis for nuclear-armed Pakistan, including a war with India.
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That threat is bigger than the threat from Al Qaeda, argued Michael Krepon of the Henry L. Stimson Center before a Senate hearing this month. He said that “we’re the crisis manager” if a “big, ugly, uncontrolled conflict” breaks out between India and Pakistan.
For Mr. Krepon, mitigating this threat requires improving relations with Pakistan and nudging the country toward rapprochement with India and reining in LeT. He argued for fewer troops in Afghanistan due to their marginal ability to affect outcomes there, and because of the stress they put on relations with Pakistan.
General Petraeus is arguing for a robust Afghan troop presence to keep Al Qaeda and these other groups pinned down. If they had freer range into Afghanistan, the theory goes, it would give such groups more ability to plan attacks against the West as well as India and Pakistan.
In Pakistan, there’s concern that the US is “elevating the status of these organizations, making them larger than life” to create a justification for boots on the ground there, says security analyst Imtiaz Gul in Islamabad.
Still, for most Americans, the primary concern is attacks inside the US. The only group aside from Al Qaeda to give it a serious try is the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Who are the Tehrik-e Taliban (TTP)?
The group has declared war against the Pakistani government but also linked up with Al Qaeda and declared it would strike within the US.
When Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad traveled to Pakistan to join Islamic extremists, the TTP agreed to give him bomb training and sent him home.
The training appeared to have its gaps, however, as the bomb he attempted to set off in Times Square failed to detonate. The close call revealed that, despite all the focus on Pakistan and homeland security, Mr. Shahzad was able to go for training and come back undetected, says Bill Roggio, who runs the Long War Journal website.
Had the bomb worked, it would have killed far fewer than Al Qaeda’s Twin Tower attacks, but “this country would have freaked out,” he says.
It may have been the TTP’s best shot, however. Pakistan-based analysts say the group is on the run from the Army and in serious decline.
“I think for them now to reach out to the West, that’s a very unrealistic assumption,” says Roshtam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistan ambassador to Afghanistan based in Peshawar.
High-end estimates for TTP put their fighters at 10,000. But the group is scattered, says senior Pakistani reporter Sami Yousufzai. He puts the number at 1,500 who actually have weapons and are near the group’s leader.
Roggio and Tankel caution against fixating too much on group affiliations since some of the militants have overlapping allegiances and the ability to freelance.
“What are these groups? They’ve trained in the same camps. They’ve fought together. Their leaders sit on the same councils and coordinate operations. So what does that make them?” says Roggio. “Does it require 150,000 troops in Afghanistan? I don’t know to be honest [but] letting them go unfettered is ultimately detrimental to our national security."