Key Quotes, Transcript, and Video - Web Briefing on Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Times Square

May 11, 2010

Critical Threats held a web briefing on May 7 to discuss the Times Square attack, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the global al Qaeda and associated movements network, and policy implications. Please find video, key quotes, and a transcript below.

CTP Director Frederick Kagan, Senior Analyst and Program Manager Charlie Szrom, and Analyst Chris Harnisch participated in the briefing.

 

Video

 

 

Key Quotes

 

Context Necessary to Understand Times Square and TTP:

Frederick Kagan –  “In order to understand these events we have to have the larger context and it’s very important to understand what’s been going on in Waziristan and what’s been going on within the larger global al Qaeda movement generally in order to see how this attempt fits in, how it relates to the Christmas bombing attempt over Detroit conducted by a different al Qaeda franchise, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in order to understand what the trend lines might suggest and how we should think about the problem and challenges that we face. “

 

On TTP Shift Targeting the U.S.:

Charlie Szrom – “The TTP has linked itself to targets up on the “far enemy” of the United States rather than the "near enemy" of the Pakistani government, which was the original intent and reason for the founding of the TTP…”

 

On TTP Operational Link and Spokesman Denials of Involvement:

Szrom –  “It's difficult to determine the exact operational linkage when you have any terrorist attacks and you have numerous terrorist groups. This is true, but particularly so in Pakistan where you have an overlapping series of groups that often blur together when it comes to operations and personnel. But we should understand that there is a likely operational link with the TTP so that we can better focus our analysis and policy understanding of the situation...It's possible that Azam Tariq, due to an ongoing leadership struggle within the TTP and the difficulty of intercommunication within the TTP, simply did not know of what could have been a Qari Hussain Mehsud operation.”

 

On TTP Within the Broader al Qaeda and Associated Movements Network:

Chris Harnisch –  “…we can see that the Times Square attack was really a significant incident in the broader war led by al Qaeda against the United States and against the West. The TTP is not part of al Qaeda but it does share the same ideology as al Qaeda and it does ultimately have the same long term objectives and goals as al Qaeda.”

Harnisch – “This statement saying that the Times Square attack was conducted to avenge the death of Omar al-Bagdhadi, who really was not operationally connected at all with the TTP, was a sign of solidarity with broader al Qaeda and global militant Islamist movement and in fact several other al Qaeda franchises and associated movements also released similar statements of condolence and, in one case, al Shabaab, the terrorist group in Somalia, actually conducted a successful suicide attack in Somalia and said that the reason for the attack was to avenge the death of Omar al Bagdhadi and other groups such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Abdul Azzam Brigade, and the Islamic Emirates of the Caucuses also made statements of condolences for the death of Bagdhadi. So you see here all these different groups operating autonomously from one another but make statements showing solidarity with one another and are ultimately working towards the same goals and share the same ideology.”

 

On Importance of Territory to Times Square Operation:

Szrom – “Secondarily, Hussain's biography shows us one more important thing: he used the territory in South Waziristan as a safe haven to train suicide bombers. This is important; individuals came to him and his camps to train. They did not go to Karachi or to Lahore or even to Bahawalpur where there's a known militant presence. Instead they came to South Waziristan, a safe haven.”

Kagan –  “But it's important to understand the context from which this bomber emerged is a context where there is a highly sophisticated notion of how to do these things that's not really replicable from a base in Connecticut at this point because, whatever else is going on, I do think that our national security agencies would have noticed if there was a large car bomb factory in Bridgeport. I lived in Bridgeport, so I understand the difficulties and challenges that are involved in that, but I'm confident that Bridgeport's police actually would have caught that and called it to someone's attention.”

 

On US Policy Towards Pakistan and North Waziristan:

Szrom – “We have to understand that in April 2009 the Pakistan public and the Pakistani military set themselves a goal: the goal of defeating a militant network that was aimed against the destruction of the Pakistani state. They made significant progress towards that goal, both in Swat and South Waziristan and in other areas of the country, and it's important that the US plays the role of providubg advice and support as they move towards that goal. We should help them as they move towards this goal and make clear that we also believe, along with their commanders, that North Waziristan is part of that effort.

Kagan –  “There is more than a division's worth of combat power in North Waziristan. It may or may not be sufficient to clear the area out but neither is it similar to what we had in South Waziristan where there was actually an uncontested enemy safe-haven. So, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap that, honestly, even some of the Pakistani statements would lead you into of saying, well, the Pakistani's don't have forces to send, it's too hard, they want to do an invasion of North Waziristan. That's really not what we're talking about at this point. In North Waziristan what we'd be talking about is a change in focus, removing some protections from groups that they know are there but they haven't been targeting and operating against them.”

Kagan –  “This is a case where the Pakistani military is already committed to going after and defeating the group that we believed conducted this attack on American soil. Probably the worst thing that the United States could do from this perspective is to make it appear now as though we regard the fight against the TTP as America's war and we insist that the Pakistanis do this. It is generally counterproductive when we do that vis-a-vis Pakistan and, in this case, it's not needful because the Pakistani military is already getting after this particular threat.”

 

On Need to Target All Militant Groups in Pakistan:

Szrom – “[Qari Hussain Mehsud] is highly skilled and has ties with numerous groups, which brings us to another point: that we can't target just one militant group within Pakistan in responding to this attack. We cannot single out the TTP at the exclusion of other groups… it's clear that targeting one group will not achieve the goal of eliminating the terror threat as they all have symbiotic relationships with one another and support one another in many ways.”

Szrom – “Furthermore, and just as importantly, we should make clear that targeting just one group, either the TTP or whichever organization, at the exclusion of others would be a folly and would not allow the Pakistani's to fully achieve their goal of defeating militants that threaten their state. Any group that participates in the violent Islamist network in Pakistan, that's linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban is a threat to the United States and a threat to Pakistan. This includes, and particularly of note, the Lashkar-e-Taiba network. So, therefore we should make clear that this is a Pakistani mission, it's not an American mission, it's a Pakistani mission that is good for Pakistan, but it means that the Pakistanis need to take on every militant Islamist group in Pakistan.”

Kagan –  “...the Pakistani military has been deliberately shielding Lashkar-e-Taiba, has not been going after it within Pakistan, and it has also been deliberately shielding the Haqqani Network within North Waziristan for political reasons and complex inter-agency dynamics.”

 

On Future Terror Campaigns Targeting America:

Kagan –  “So, the question is: is this a one off or are we going to see a concerted attempt to conduct some kind of car bomb campaign or some kind of even IED campaign in the United States, frankly, and, if so, how rapidly will they evolve and how will we stay ahead of it? It's a horrific concept for many Americans to contemplate because it suggests that we might actually end up fighting this war, in effect, on our soil with groups that continue to try to attack and I'm not suggesting that this necessarily is where this is going to go. But, as Chris will point out, there are internal dynamics within the larger al Qaeda and affiliated movements grouping that would suggest that we should be very far from confident that this was a one off that will be seen as a failure and something not to be repeated.”

Harnisch –  “The final point that I want to make that we can take away from both the Christmas Day attack and the Times Square attack is that these different groups --TTP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the various al Qaeda and associated movements-- they're in constant competition with one another for resources, for funds, for international recruits, for recognition from al Qaeda's leaders, namely bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. So the fact that now two groups have conducted attacks on US soil, both of them near successful attacks, raises the bar in terms of what other groups need to strive for, need to achieve in order to compete on the same playing field.”

 

Transcript

 

Frederick Kagan: Good afternoon everyone. I’m Fred Kagan, the director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute and we’re here today to discuss the Times Square bombing attempt, the suspect in that attempt, and his connections with Pakistani militant groups in the Waziristan area. It’s still early in the investigation in a certain sense. We don’t have all of the details about exactly how this individual made all of his preparations in the US, exactly what group he was affiliated with, exactly how he was affiliated with them.

But even at this early date it’s possible to make some reasonable conjectures based on strong circumstantial evidence about the nature of his relationship in general terms with Pakistani militant groups, particularly the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), formerly headed by Beitullah Mehsud, which was also head responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. And that was also a group that the Pakistani military has been targeting aggressively in Waziristan and throughout Pakistan for some time and continues to fight against. In order to understand these events we have to have the larger context and it’s very important to understand what’s been going on in Waziristan and what’s been going on within the larger global al Qaeda movement generally in order to see how this attempt fits in, how it relates to the Christmas bombing attempt over Detroit conducted by a different al Qaeda franchise, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in order to understand what the trend lines might suggest and how we should think about the problem and challenges that we face.

Once again, in the rush to response to this crisis, the immediate focus fell on the failure of American homeland security systems to identify and detect this plot before it was hatched and then the success in apprehending and various questions, technical questions surrounding how our systems performed, and those are very important questions. But we should also understand that this terrorist was not a ‘lone wolf’ and that he was not acting without any connection with the larger al Qaeda movement and it was therefore the action of an enemy organization and we need to look at it from that perspective as well, and that’s what we’re going to work on today.

We have two outstanding speakers to lay out the details of what’s been going on in North Waziristan and the larger al Qaeda movement. Charlie Szrom is our senior analyst and program manager of the Critical Threats Project. Chris Harnisch is a research analyst and has had the lead for our Gulf of Aden project here looking at the al Qaeda franchises in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia. Both of them have been tracking events in Waziristan very closely and so I want to turn the microphone to Charlie right now.

 

Charlie Szrom: Thank you Fred and thanks to everyone for watching us this Friday afternoon. As Fred said, we’re going to get into the background of the TTP and connections to the attack. I’m going to talk about who the TTP is, why would they claim the attack, probable operational ties, leadership struggles within the TTP, describe Qari Hussain Mehsud, a TTP commander who is linked by many reports now to Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bombing suspect, and lastly look at North Waziristan, what’s the militant landscape look like there, and what should the US policy response be to a likely scenario there.

Fred described the TTP in pretty good detail. They were founded in December 2007 by Beitullah Mehsud. It was founded as an umbrella network to target the Pakistani government following the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) siege in July 2007. Again, the primary focus of the movement is the destruction of the Pakistani government, which distinguishes it from the Afghan Taliban networks led by Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin and Jalaluddin Haqqani. The TTP, as Fred mentioned, has become increasingly beset by challenges in the last several months especially since the Pakistani military conducted an offensive into South Waziristan, which was the TTP stronghold, in October and November of 2009.

So, beset by these challenges is begun look for high profile success. Since the TTP was linked to the attack on the CIA facility in Khost Province, Afghanistan it has largely been unable to achieve a high profile success for the group. We’ve seen this within its operations in Pakistan. The one major success that we can mention that made headlines was the attack upon the US consulate in Peshawar. However, other than that, it’s largely been unable to project power into the Pakistani heartland areas of Punjab and Islamabad. Traditionally, the TTP has viewed attacks in these areas as significant leverage points in attempts to influence the Pakistani public. Prior to the launch of the South Waziristan campaign in October 2009, the TTP conducted several attacks in the Punjab and Islamabad areas, for example, targeting the General Headquarters of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi. Following the South Waziristan campaign, the TTP conducted another series of attacks in Punjab and Islamabad to show that after the campaign it’s still retained vitality and was not a dead organization.

However, since then we've seen less and less activity [in Punjab and Islamabad] over the months. We have a database posted on CriticalThreats.org where you can see the breakdown of attacks by province in Pakistan of militant attacks. We've seen less and less activity. Last month In April we saw one bombing in a parking lot in Islamabad. However, it's not clear what the Islamist links are to that.

So, this brings us to the TTP's need to seek a high profile success on the world stage that can distinguish itself from other militant groups, achieve headlines for it, achieve funding, achieve personnel goals that it set for itself and in general increase its influence in power. Thus, it had a very direct interest in claiming the Times Square attack. The TTP also likely claimed the attack due to a strategic shift we've seen in the TTP over the last several months starting with the Khost attack, which targeting a clearly American facility, and going forward to the April 5 attack upon the US consulate in Peshawar to the most recent Times Square attack. The TTP has linked itself to targets up on the “far enemy” of the United States rather than the "near enemy" of the Pakistani government, which was the original intent and reason for the founding of the TTP: to combat the Pakistani government. This is an interesting shift and Chris is going to discuss later how this plays out in the larger global violent Islamist movement and discuss some other examples.

There have been many questions over the last few days over what role the TTP played operationally in this attack. It's difficult to determine the exact operational linkage when you have any terrorist attacks and you have numerous terrorist groups. This is true, but particularly so in Pakistan where you have an overlapping series of groups that often blur together when it comes to operations and personnel. But we should understand that there is a likely operational link with the TTP so that we can better focus our analysis and policy understanding of the situation.

There are several factors that appear to make this clear. First, the method in which the videos were posted. Rita Katz, head of SITE intelligence group, conducted an investigation into how the YouTube videos were posted and that reveals some very interesting conclusions. There was an original video posted, the one that was attributed to Qari Hussain Mehsud that claimed credit for the attack. This video was taken down early Sunday and the re-uploaded along with two videos that provided Hakimullah Mehsud threatening attacks against cities in the United States. These secondary two videos out of the three were supposedly pre-recorded at other dates in April. One individual uploaded all three of these from the same account. This same individual, according to SITE, also had a history of uploading Taliban videos. It's clear that this person had some access to proprietary Pakistani Taliban information with the Hakimullah Mehsud video and also appears to have a history beyond that, so there's a clear linkage to that.

I mention this because of comments from the TTP spokesman Azam Tariq on Monday where Azam Tariq said he did not have any knowledge of who posted these videos. I'll get into Azam Tariq a little bit later. Let's talk about what happened on Tuesday when we saw a criminal complaint unveiled against Shahzad that mentioned that he had trained in Waziristan. This has been further supported by reporting over the last few days. We've seen Pakistan security forces arrest individuals with links to the groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad. One individual in particular, known as Mohammad Rehan, may have brought Faisal Shahzad to Waziristan and introduced him to TTP individuals in the area. This is one possible link that's emerged.

Counter to this narrative, many folks have criticized and focused on the un-sophistication of the bomb as the reason why an operational linkage did not exist. The bomb didn't go off and there are many instances we can discuss. The technical design was not as sophisticated as some of the TTP bombs in Pakistan. However, we should understand that perhaps the TTP did not fully train Shahzad. One report we've seen from the Washington Post this morning states that Faisal Shahzad only began radicalizing as recently as a year ago. It's possible the TTP did not trust such an outsider and therefore wanted to limit the exposure to the identities of their trainers, the locations of their facilities, that those could have been released by Faisal Shahzad to an intelligence agency. That's one possibility.

There's also the possibility that techniques and materials that Faisal Shahzad would have used in Pakistan differs substantially from those used in the United States given the wider availability of arms and explosive material in the Pakistani tribal region as opposed to those available in the United States where those items are watched much more closely. You have one of the world's largest arms bazaars, for example, in Darra Adam Khel. And futhermore, Shahzad did actually display some sophistication in his tradecraft that goes beyond the design of the bomb. Perhaps most importantly, he did deliver a bomb, even if unsophisticated, into the heart of America's biggest city. This is an important fact. It is very difficult to get that into Times Square, place it in a parking spot close to numerous individuals and facilities. Furthermore, he conducted a dry run the day before in which he placed a getaway vehicle. Beyond that, the SUV that held the bomb was purchased for $1300 in cash over a transaction conducted via Craigslist with a pre-paid cell phone. The investigation is also looking for, according to reports this morning, for a money courier, who is believed to have transferred funds between Shahzad and individuals overseas, further showing a potential operational connection and Shahzad's possible sophistication.

So again on Azam Tariq. Yesterday he came out and said, this is the TTP spokesman, he said that the TTP was not linked to Shahzad, that they did not know him. However, Tariq did praise Shahzad. He said that he had committed a brave act, and Tariq further said that the TTP had operatives in the West, in America and Europe, and was going to conduct further attacks. It's possible that Azam Tariq, due to an ongoing leadership struggle within the TTP and the difficulty of intercommunication within the TTP, simply did not know of what could have been a Qari Hussain Mehsud operation.

So let's discuss a little bit what the leadership struggle in the TTP looks like. First, some background. When Beitullah Mehsud died in early August 2009 we saw several contenders for the position of TTP leader emerge. We saw Qari Hussain Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, and Wali-ur Rehman. Eventually Hakimullah Mehsud took control of the organization and was named leader after a brief leadership struggle. These same individuals are now likely in contest for the leadership position again. About ten days ago when reports emerged of Hakimullah Mehsud still being alive, originally reports had indicated that he had died in January of 2010, we also saw reports that Wali-ur Rehman was now operationally in charge or perhaps had the most influence in the organization. It's unclear how much influence Rehman is wielding right now as the release of the Hakimullah Mehsud videos that threaten attacks on the United States clearly show that Hakimullah Mehsud still has some operational role within the TTP. It's not clear how much.

It's possible that these individuals are unable to communicate now, unable to hold leadership and coordination meetings and pass messages due to Pakistani military operations that have split the Pakistani tribal areas into numerous different areas of control. For example, military operations continue in Orakzai, limiting TTP ability to operate in that area, and the Pakistani military continues to hold and maintain significant force in South Waziristan, where it cleared last fall. So it's unclear who's currently in charge. The Critical Threats team will continue to track that development, but let's keep that in mind when we see any statements from Azam Tariq that he may not be necessarily speaking for the entire organization.

As part of that leadership struggle, we should understand Qari Hussain Mehsud, the individual linked to Shahzad. Qari Hussain Mehsud is a suicide bomber commander for the TTP. He's been known as a particularly brutal, ruthless, and somewhat independent-minded individual. He's perhaps only as young as 21 years old, according to at least one report, and is infamous for recruiting child suicide bombers and has bragged that he can recruit individuals to become suicide bombers within a half hour of sitting down with them. He's a brutal individual who plays to the beat of his own drum but also works with the TTP. In a case where he disagreed with TTP leadership, Qari Hussain Mehsud in this instance had captured a Polish engineer, reportedly Qari Hussain Mehsud wanted to release this individual in exchange for the release of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants while Beitullah Mehsud, who was in charge at the time and still alive, wanted to release the engineer in exchange for some TTP militants. Beitullah disagreed and Hussain ended up eventually executing the Polish engineer because he did not get his way.

However, Hakimullah and Hussain have also worked together on numerous operations. It is believed that Hussain played a role in the training and operation of al-Balawi, who was the suicide bomber in the Khost province attack in Afghanistan in December. He's highly skilled and has ties with numerous groups, which brings us to another point: that we can't target just one militant group within Pakistan in responding to this attack. We cannot single out the TTP at the exclusion of other groups because they are the ones conducting this attack. Hussain has a background working in Kashmir where he interacted with numerous groups. Particularly, he was a member of the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi organization. Many of these groups share personnel, such as Hussain, and conduct joint operations. So it's clear that targeting one group will not achieve the goal of eliminating the terror threat as they all have symbiotic relationships with one another and support one another in many ways.

Secondarily, Hussain's biography shows us one more important thing: he used the territory in South Waziristan as a safe haven to train suicide bombers. This is important; individuals came to him and his camps to train. They did not go to Karachi or to Lahore or even to Bahawalpur where there's a known militant presence. Instead they came to South Waziristan, a safe haven. It's unclear if he's been able to use such a safe haven after the Pakistani military operation in South Waziristan.

Discussing safe havens brings us to the one that's been on most people's minds this week, which is North Waziristan. Let me talk a little bit about North Waziristan and what might be the US policy role in relation to that situation. First, in discussing the Pakistani military and North Waziristan we should keep in mind that the Pakistani military already has significant forces based in the area. There has been conflict in North Waziristan before the South Waziristan operation, last fall for example. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the Pakistani military has a current load upon it throughout all of the country. Active fighting continues in the Orakzai Agency, for example, rebuilding is still an issue in Swat, we see army forces still present there, and repatriation of civilians has yet to occur in South Waziristan, an effort and operation that will be very significant for the future of South Waziristan. So, it's conducting its force planning and it sees a current load from all these operations. It also conducts its force planning based on enemy forces, typically. So, when looking at North Waziristan, it sees a large number of enemy forces, perhaps more than in other conflicts its encountered.

Let's just go down the list briefly of enemy forces in North Waziristan: the Haqqani Network, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi organization, the Jaish-e-Muhammad organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Hafiz Gul Bahadur network, whom the Pakistani military would likely have to fight if they decided to invade, the TTP, Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union, the so-called Asian Tigers, a group that we've seen pop up recently, and other al Qaeda and Taliban-linked groups. It's clear that there's a significant enemy force there. Listing these also shows something else: that these groups are working in very close proximity. We're not talking about a very large area, essentially an area with only two major towns: Mir Ali and Miramshah. And these individuals are working closely together in close proximity, mixing with the population, and supporting each other in many ways. It's impossible to target just one group without removing the entire cancer.

So, it's clear that there's an incredibly dense enemy force set in North Waziristan and it would take significantly more forces than are currently stationed there to conduct a Waziristan operation. Furthermore, the Pakistani military, particularly those commanders who are based on the ground today, do understand the need for taking increased kinetic activity in North Waziristan. We've seen ground commanders call for increased ground operations against militant forces there. And, as conditions in Swat improve, repatriation in South Waziristan occurs, and time goes on through out the summer we may see that a North Waziristan operation becomes more likely and that rather the issue of a North Waziristan operation is not a question of whether it will happen but when it will occur.

This is important for US policy. We have to understand that in April 2009 the Pakistan public and the Pakistani military set themselves a goal: the goal of defeating a militant network that was aimed against the destruction of the Pakistani state. They made significant progress towards that goal, both in Swat and South Waziristan and in other areas of the country, and it's important that the US plays the role of providubg advice and support as they move towards that goal. We should help them as they move towards this goal and make clear that we also believe, along with their commanders, that North Waziristan is part of that effort.

Furthermore, and just as importantly, we should make clear that targeting just one group, either the TTP or whichever organization, at the exclusion of others would be a folly and would not allow the Pakistani's to fully achieve their goal of defeating militants that threaten their state. Any group that participates in the violent Islamist network in Pakistan, that's linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban is a threat to the United States and a threat to Pakistan. This includes, and particularly of note, the Lashkar-e-Taiba network. So, therefore we should make clear that this is a Pakistani mission, it's not an American mission, it's a Pakistani mission that is good for Pakistan, but it means that the Pakistanis need to take on every militant Islamist group in Pakistan.

I'm going to end there and hand it over to Chris and Fred who are going to talk about the larger al Qaeda network in the broader context. Thank you.

 

Frederick Kagan: Thanks Charlie. And before I turn it over to Chris I just want to add a little bit of granularity on a couple of points that Charlie raised. It's important to understand that there is unfortunately a high degree of technical and doctrinal literature on the terrorist side about how to build and construct and use car bombs, what the military calls vehicle born IEDs (VBIEDs). It is not, in the world of Iraq and Afghanistan where these things are used, and Pakistan, it is not usually the case that the guy who sets the bomb off is the guy who constructs it, puts it in the car, buys the car. Usually that's a network. In Iraq, it was a very sophisticated network that al Qaeda in Iraq used to do this where an individual would be responsible for usually not buying but stealing the car and there was often, especially in 2006 and 2007, a very complex apparatus whereby the car would be remanufactured in order to accommodate the payload of explosive and someone else would be building the explosive and then still another person would put the explosive in the car, someone else would drive the car close to a staging area or close to the target, and then the suicide bomber would be mated up with the vehicle at the last minute and so forth.

I believe in Afghanistan and Pakistan, what the military would call tactics, techniques, and procedures that the enemy uses are different. But it's important to understand the context from which this bomber emerged is a context where there is a highly sophisticated notion of how to do these things that's not really replicable from a base in Connecticut at this point because, whatever else is going on, I do think that our national security agencies would have noticed if there was a large car bomb factory in Bridgeport. I lived in Bridgeport, so I understand the difficulties and challenges that are involved in that, but I'm confident that Bridgeport's police actually would have caught that and called it to someone's attention.

So, one possibility is that we're looking at groups that have yet to refine tactic's, techniques, and procedures that are suitable for America where, as Charlie noted, different sorts of material have to be used or can be used because the government watches who purchase C-4 and who purchases ammunition and we don't have a large amount of ordnance just lying around that you can strap together and so forth. And so, it is a possibility, and I don't have an evidentiary basis for this yet, but it's a possibility that if we see a continued effort on the part of these groups to conduct these kinds of attacks in the United States you will see a gradual evolution in the way that they construct their mechanisms, the way that they deploy them, the way that they detonate them. It would be strange if we didn't see that evolution because we've seen that kind of evolution in every theater where they've deployed that kind of weapon.

So, the question is: is this a one off or are we going to see a concerted attempt to conduct some kind of car bomb campaign or some kind of even IED campaign in the United States, frankly, and, if so, how rapidly will they evolve and how will we stay ahead of it? It's a horrific concept for many Americans to contemplate because it suggests that we might actually end up fighting this war, in effect, on our soil with groups that continue to try to attack and I'm not suggesting that this necessarily is where this is going to go. But, as Chris will point out, there are internal dynamics within the larger al Qaeda and affiliated movements grouping that would suggest that we should be very far from confident that this was a one off that will be seen as a failure and something not to be repeated.

I would also point out just a little more explicitly, because I'm senior to Charlie so I can be a little more open about these things, the Pakistani military has been deliberately shielding Lashkar-e-Taiba, has not been going after it within Pakistan, and it has also been deliberately shielding the Haqqani Network within North Waziristan for political reasons and complex inter-agency dynamics. There is more than a division's worth of combat power in North Waziristan. It may or may not be sufficient to clear the area out but neither is it similar to what we had in South Waziristan where there was actually an uncontested enemy safe-haven.

So, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap that, honestly, even some of the Pakistani statements would lead you into of saying, well, the Pakistani's don't have forces to send, it's too hard, they want to do an invasion of North Waziristan. That's really not what we're talking about at this point. In North Waziristan what we'd be talking about is a change in focus, removing some protections from groups that they know are there but they haven't been targeting and operating against them. Doing that would increase the threat that they face, it would certainly galvanize the local enemy against them and create a bigger problem but it is not the case that we're talking about: the Pakistani military having to find a completely new set of forces, send them into an area that the insurgents have owned uncontested, and do what they did in South Waziristan. This is a question of military capability. It's also a question of political will.

I'll come back to this at the end but I think the point that Charlie made is an extremely important one. This is a case where the Pakistani military is already committed to going after and defeating the group that we believed conducted this attack on American soil. Probably the worst thing that the United States could do from this perspective is to make it appear now as though we regard the fight against the TTP as America's war and we insist that the Pakistanis do this. It is generally counterproductive when we do that vis-a-vis Pakistan and, in this case, it's not needful because the Pakistani military is already getting after this particular threat.

But, with that, I'll turn it over to Chris to discuss the larger al Qaeda context.

 

Chris Harnisch: Thank you Fred. Fred and Charlie both did an excellent job discussing and explaining to us the security dynamics in Pakistan and Charlie gave a wonderful briefing on the TTP, its background, its leadership, and the power struggle within the TTP.

If we take a step back though, we can see that the Times Square attack was really a significant incident in the broader war led by al Qaeda against the United States and against the West. The TTP is not part of al Qaeda but it does share the same ideology as al Qaeda and it does ultimately have the same long term objectives and goals as al Qaeda. The alleged Qari Hussain statement that surfaced on YouTube taking credit for the Times Square attack made clear that one of the reasons for the attack was to avenge the death of previous martyred mujahideen leaders and explicitly named Beitullah Mehsud, the first leader of the TTP, and Omar al-Bagdhadi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who was recently killed by American and Iraqi forces in mid-April.

This statement saying that the Times Square attack was conducted to avenge the death of Omar al-Bagdhadi, who really was not operationally connected at all with the TTP, was a sign of solidarity with broader al Qaeda and global militant Islamist movement and in fact several other al Qaeda franchises and associated movements also released similar statements of condolence and, in one case, al Shabaab, the terrorist group in Somalia, actually conducted a successful suicide attack in Somalia and said that the reason for the attack was to avenge the death of Omar al-Bagdhadi and other groups such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Abdul Azzam Brigade, and the Islamic Emirates of the Caucuses also made statements of condolences for the death of Bagdhadi. So you see here all these different groups operating autonomously from one another but make statements showing solidarity with one another and are ultimately working towards the same goals and share the same ideology.

But, if we do dismiss, and Charlie spoke in detail about the Qari Hussain video which Azam Tariq, the spokesman of the TTP, dismissed, and so even if were to dismiss the Qari Hussain video and say that it wasn't really a TTP statement we don't have to go far to find other statements by TTP leaders reflecting a shared ideology with al Qaeda. And I have one here, this is from March 2010, so only a couple of months ago, this is from Hakimullah Mehsud, believed to be the current leader of the TTP, he said in a statement: "My respectable brothers, youths, scholars, mujahideen, especially such people who are suffering from pains, obstacles, and troubles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Muslim brothers from all over the world, peace be upon you. The war today is between infidels and Islam. It is not a war between Taliban and America. The war between the Muslim Ummah and the infidels is a holy war."

The leader of the TTP makes clear in this statement that it's not the Taliban that's operating independently against America. The TTP is part of a much broader Ummah, or nation, which they consider is basically everybody and every group that adheres to the same Salafist ideology as them; that they are all operating together as an Ummah in the same holy war against all infidels around the world. So if we accept the Times Square attack as an attack by al Qaeda and its associated movements, which I think we should accept -- it's clear the TTP views itself as part of al Qaeda and its associated movements, we've had two attacks then in the past five months on US soil, the first one of course being the Christmas Day attack and then the Times Square attack. And its sheer luck that these attacks were unsuccessful.  

There are several points we can take away from these two attempts regarding al Qaeda and its associated movements and also Western policy as a whole in defeating this Islamist movement that's seeking to defeat the United States and our allies. The first is that we can no longer view the enemy as simply al Qaeda. The enemy is al Qaeda franchises and associated movements. The franchises being groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who attacked us on Christmas Day, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is the al Qaeda franchise in northwest Africa, namely Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, which Charlie has done a lot of work on. And then other affiliated organizations such as al Shabaab in Somalia or the TTP in Pakistan.

These groups are not simply copycat cells but are well-structured, often times well-funded, groups that operate training camps, they have international recruits, international militants operating within the groups, and all these groups have a history of conducting terror attacks and insurgencies in their home regions or home countries. There may be some sort of operational cooperation between the groups but overall the groups operate largely autonomously but they're operating for the same long term goals and those are the goals laid about by al Qaeda and strived for by the entire global Islamist movement.

The second point we can take from these attacks is regarding the sophistication of the attacks. Much has been made about what is described as the amateurish attempt for the Times Square attack and also the Christmas Day attack. It's very dangerous for us to label these attacks as either unsophisticated or amateurish. In both cases, both the TTP and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, trained an operative in both cases did a lot right in attempting to conduct the attacks. Now, in both cases they made mistakes and that's what ultimately led to their failures, but both these groups, as Fred pointed out, and not just these groups but the myriad of militant Islamist groups that I was referencing, they all have the capability to conduct sophisticated attacks and they've done it in their home countries. We see al Shabaab on a more regular basis carrying out high-profile, sophisticated suicide car bombings, we see the same with al Qaeda in Iraq, and of course the TTP in Pakistan.

So, we shouldn't dismiss this attack as amateurish but the other point that we need to think about in terms of the sophistication is we need to realize that al Qaeda and its associated movements appear to have prioritized attempting attacks on the US as opposed to the sophistication of the attack that they're going to conduct on US soil.

The final point that I want to make that we can take away from both the Christmas Day attack and the Times Square attack is that these different groups --TTP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the various al Qaeda and associated movements-- they're in constant competition with one another for resources, for funds, for international recruits, for recognition from al Qaeda's leaders, namely bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. So the fact that now two groups have conducted attacks on US soil, both of them near successful attacks, raises the bar in terms of what other groups need to strive for, need to achieve in order to compete on the same playing field.

 

Frederick Kagan: Please visit CriticalThreats.org where we will be having more background information on Qari Hussain coming out soon and we will also be having information on the situation in the Swat district written by our own Reza Jan from the Swat district which we hope to get up shortly. Thank you for joining us.