Terrorist training in Waziristan

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

WE DON'T yet know precisely where or with whom accused Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad trained in Waziristan, the lawless Pakistani tribal area that is home to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and a toxic mix of other Islamic terrorist organizations. It's not been reported whether he visited South Waziristan -- which was recently cleared by the Pakistani army -- or North Waziristan, where the surviving militants are now concentrated. A few things, however, are known: Waziristan has been connected to two failed plots to terrorize New York in the past few months. The North Waziristan-based leader of the Pakistani Taliban has declared, in videos recorded several weeks ago, an intention to carry out attacks on major American cities.

Most important, the refusal of the Pakistani army to move against the militants in North Waziristan means that Waziristan-sponsored attacks against Americans are likely to continue -- and eventually, to succeed. When that happens, what has been a slow and hard-won improvement in relations between the United States and Pakistan could be quickly destroyed.

Predictably, Pakistani officials have been playing down the reports of Mr. Shahzad's connection to Waziristan-based groups as well as the claims by the Pakistani Taliban of responsibility for the Times Square operation. It may be, as those officials assert, that Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud lacks the resources to carry out his threat on a video released Sunday to "attack . . . the American cities." But then, they claimed until last week, wrongly, that Mr. Mehsud had been killed in a drone attack in January.

The Pakistani Taliban is not the only militant group that could sponsor attacks on Americans. News reports Wednesday said Pakistan had detained a suspect connected with Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda that operates in Waziristan. The Haqqani network, a major component of the Afghan Taliban, is based there, as are militants from Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Central Asia. The Pakistani army, which has carried out operations in the other six tribal areas that border Afghanistan, has resisted U.S. pressure to take on North Waziristan on the grounds that its forces are spread thin after earlier operations. But it is well known that the army and its intelligence service have had close ties to the Haqqani network and some other groups and regard them as a means of leverage over Afghanistan and India.

This double game should have ended years ago; now it has become intolerable. To its credit, the Obama administration has stepped up drone attacks in North Waziristan, despite rote Pakistani protests. If action by the Pakistani army in North Waziristan is not forthcoming, the Obama administration should consider other steps -- such as renewed screening of airline passengers from Pakistan carried out in the weeks after the attempted Christmas bombing, which apparently produced an interview with Mr. Shahzad when he entered the country in February. Pakistan strenuously objected to that measure, too; but the United States must take the steps necessary to defend its homeland, with or without Islamabad's approval.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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