Washington, Aug 14 : A noted US-based terrorism analyst has claimed that Al Qaeda was exploiting the recent political turmoil in Pakistan to strengthen its foothold along the country's border with Afghanistan.
He said that al Qaeda had strengthened its safe haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by deepening its alliances with Pakistani militants and pushing many elements of Pakistani government authority from the area. "It now has many of the operational and organisational advantages it once enjoyed across the border in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller and less secure scale," the Dawn quoted Ted Gistaro, the US national intelligence officer for trans-national threats, as saying in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He also warned of a heightened risk of attack during the upcoming US presidential election. "Al Qaeda remains the most serious terrorist threat to the US. As the election nears, we expect to see an up-tick in threat reporting of varying credibility regarding possible attacks."
Gistaro noted that in the past several days, militants had forced Pakistani troops to beat a hasty retreat from a Taliban stronghold in FATA. Pakistani forces' effort to regain its strategic supremacy in Bajaur had not been very successful either, he said and added that since early 2006, Pakistani militant groups had increased their collaboration with Al Qaeda.
He said that while a major focus of these groups was conducting attacks against the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, they also provided safe haven to Al Qaeda fighters and collaborated on attacks inside Pakistan.
Al Qaeda has replenished its bench of skilled mid-level lieutenants capable of directing its global operations. These losses collectively represent the most serious blow to Al Qaeda's leadership since 2005, the Dawn quoted him as saying.
According to him, al Qaeda has developed succession plans, can reshuffle leadership responsibilities, and promote younger commanders with years of battlefield experience to senior positions. The leaders' collocation in the FATA allows them to manage the organisation collaboratively, helping facilitate the replacement of key figures.