While many are disappointed American turncoat Adam Gadahn was not the al-Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan, as erroneously reported on Monday, there is still good cause to celebrate: Al Qaeda is on the run.
And it is a fitting irony that Gadahn’s latest propaganda video, released last Sunday, serves as an indicator al-Qaeda’s time in Pakistan may be running out. In it, al-Qaeda’s English-language spokesman unsurprisingly praises Fort Hood murderer, Nidal Hasan, and callously calls on al-Qaeda sympathizers in the West to launch similar homicidal attacks.
“You shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that military bases are the only high-value targets in America and the West. On the contrary, there are countless other strategic places, institutions and installations which, by striking, the Muslim can do major damage,” said the first American charged with treason since World War II.
But it was Gadahn’s telling potential al-Qaeda terrorists they need not travel abroad (meaning Pakistan) for training that constituted the video’s most unusual moment as well as the least commented on.
This statement, as one analyst noted, raises the question as to whether al-Qaeda is any longer in the position to train recruits. Gadahn’s call for individual operators to instead use “a little imagination and planning and a limited budget”, like in 9/11, to stage independent attacks rather than travel to al-Qaeda’s notorious training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border indicates it isn’t.
If such is the case, the principle reason for al-Qaeda withdrawing its long-standing invitation to would-be terrorists is that Pakistani and American anti-terrorist measures are proving very successful.
The most effective of these has definitely been the Pakistani army’s ongoing offensive launched against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan’s rugged border area with Afghanistan a year ago last October. In seventeen months of fighting, more than two thousand radical Islamist fighters have been reported killed for about two hundred army casualties. Thousands of the Taliban’s tribal fighters, realizing the futility of resisting a modern, well-equipped army, have simply melted away or retreated over the border into Afghanistan or into North Waziristan.
Besides large losses in personnel, al-Qaeda and the Taliban also suffered a crippling blow when ousted from their strategic base in South Waziristan. It was in this harsh, mountainous region, western intelligence agencies believe, that al-Qaeda’s terrorist training facilities were mainly located.
The Pakistani army is also keeping up the pressure, not allowing the jihadists a breathing space. Last January, it captured a well-developed cave complex in the Bajaur district near the Afghan border that was “a major headquarters” for al-Qaeda. Seventy-five Islamists were reported killed defending the complex that may have been the headquarters of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command. And just yesterday, a Pakistani air strike killed several Islamists.
American drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas have also contributed to the Taliban’s and al-Qaeda’s decline, killing many mid-level and senior cadres. A recent drone attack killed five Islamists in North Waziristan where a high-ranking Taliban perished from a Hellfire missile attack last December.
Gadahn strongly indicated in his video the drone attacks are badly hurting al Qaeda. In another irony, the American terrorist castigated the American weapon as a form of terrorism, complaining about…“American drones violating Islamic air space and terrorizing Muslim populaces from Miranshah (in Waziristan) to Mogadishu (in Somalia).”
Life under the drone has become so dangerous that many senior Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives have moved to Karachi, Pakistan’s teeming, lawless port city. With a population of 15 million, they hope to hide among the city’s one million Pashtuns, many of them refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions. Karachi is where the man mistaken for Adam Gadahn, Abu Yahya, another American convert to radical Islam, was arrested on Sunday.
Yahya may have been betrayed by the extensive informer network both Pakistani and American intelligence agencies have set up inside Pakistan. Rewards for information leading to the arrest of sought-after Islamists have also been very helpful in this respect In the shadow world of terrorism, everything has a price, so Gadahn, who has a million dollar reward on his head, may yet land in American custody.
Many leading Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives have already been arrested in Pakistan by American and Pakistani intelligence forces. Fourteen were reported captured in the last few weeks alone. Such long-overdue success, hindered by former Pakistani president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf, is due to the civilian government under President Asif Zardari and the army putting pressure on Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, to act.
The ISI created the Taliban and was always reluctant to crack down on its creation, believing, like Musharraf, it would be a good asset in any war against India. An ISI-controlled Taliban was also viewed as a means for Pakistan to extend and maintain its influence in Afghanistan. Moreover, there were Islamists in the ISI who sympathised with the Taliban and al Qaeda, but these, according to one report have been purged because of internal and foreign pressure including from the United States government.
The Pakistani security services are also more serious about preventing western volunteers from reaching al Qaeda camps. A five-man group of would-be jihadist warriors from Washington D.C. were arrested last year in Pakistan. Last September, another group made up of Swedes, Turks and Russians en route to an al-Qaeda training camp were arrested at a Pakistani army checkpoint.
After last Sunday, American security and intelligence forces are probably working extra hard to hunt down Adam Gadahn, among other al-Qaeda and Taliban assets. The American public would like to see his capture not just to bring a traitor to trial, but also so that they never again have to view his pathetic videos.