February 10, 2009

DOING THE HARD WORK FOR US:

Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army' (Bill Roggio, February 9, 2009, Long War Journal)

Al Qaeda has reorganized its notorious paramilitary formations that were devastated during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Al Qaeda has reestablished the predominantly Arab and Asian paramilitary formation that was formerly known as Brigade 055 into a larger, more effective fighting unit known as the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The Shadow Army is active primarily in Pakistan's tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and in eastern and southern Afghanistan, several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The paramilitary force is well trained and equipped, and has successfully defeated the Pakistani Army in multiple engagements. Inside Pakistan, the Shadow Army has been active in successful Taliban campaigns in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat.

In Afghanistan, the Shadow Army has conducted operations against Coalition and Afghan forces in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangahar, Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Zabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar provinces.

"The Shadow Army has been instrumental in the Taliban's consolidation of power in Pakistan's tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province," a senior intelligence official said. "They are also behind the Taliban's successes in eastern and southern Afghanistan. They are helping to pinch Kabul." [...]

A look at the clothing of the fighters gives a good indication of the identity of the fighters, an expert on al Qaeda told The Long War Journal. The length of the pants of pictured fighters is described as being at "al Qaeda height" -- meaning only al Qaeda and allied "Wahhabi/Salafi-jihadis" wear their pant legs this high.

"The extremists who follow al Qaeda's religious beliefs think that pants must be at least six inches above the ground because there's a hadith [a saying of the Prophet Mohammed] that says clothes that touch the ground are a sign of pride and vanity," the expert said. "This, along with the new dyeing of men's beards red or yellow is a sure sign of al Qaeda-ization."

The type of masks worn and the tennis shoes are also strong indicators that these fighters "are non-Afghan fighters," an expert on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan said. "Those types of masks I have seen, and they are always on the Pakistani side of the border," the expert said. "The tennis shoes and socks are a big indicator that they are non-Afghan fighters, probably Pakistanis or Arab/Central Asian fighters." [...]

One official said the mixing of the various Taliban and al Qaeda units has made distinctions between the groups somewhat meaningless.

"The line between the Taliban and al Qaeda is increasingly blurred, especially from a command and control perspective," the official said. "Are Faqir Mohammed, Baitullah Mehsud, Hakeemullah Mehsud, Ilyas Kashmiri, Siraj Haqqani, and all the rest 'al Qaeda'?" the official asked, listing senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan that operate closely with al Qaeda. "Probably not in the sense that they maintain their own independent organizations, but the alliance is essentially indistinguishable at this point except at a very abstract level."

The Taliban have begun an ideological conversion to Wahhabism, the radical form of Sunni Islam practiced by al Qaeda. "The radicalization of the Taliban and their conversion away from Deobandism to Wahhabism under Sheikh Issa al Masri and other al Qaeda leaders is a clear sign of the al Qaeda's preeminence," the official noted. Sheikh Issa is the spiritual adviser for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al Zawahiri's organization that merged into al Qaeda, and the leader of al Jihad fi Waziristan, an al Qaeda branch in North Waziristan.


The two most difficult tasks facing the US against al Qaeda are identifying members and convincing Muslims that they're more of a threat within Islam than without. Uniformity aids the first, Wahhabism accomplishes the second. Confining themselves to the tribal regions of Western Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan makes them fish in a barrel far from public view. The rest is killing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2009 7:08 AM
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