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Context of 'Mid-2004: Pakistani Army Deployment Forces Al-Qaeda to Slightly Move Their Safe Haven'

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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had promised to seal off the Pakistani side of the border near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in return for considerable US economic aid (see November 2001). But Musharraf spent two weeks negotiating with tribal chieftains on the border before starting the deployment. Around December 10, two brigades begin to take up positions along the border. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002] However, Pakistan does not seal several important parts of the border. The regions of North and South Waziristan, Dir, Chitral, and Balochistan have no Pakistani army presence whatsoever. Bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders likely escape into Waziristan, where they begin to rebuild al-Qaeda (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The CIA intercepts communications between Pakistani officers warning not to harass any foreign fighters entering Waziristan. Several US officers will later tell Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid that they suspect Pakistan deliberately failed to guard these regions in order to allow the fighters to escape. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148] On December 11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says of this border region, “It’s a long border. It’s a very complicated area to try to seal, and there’s just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] But armed gunmen storm the Indian Parliament on December 13, and a group based in Pakistan and allied with al-Qaeda is blamed (see December 13, 2001). Tensions suddenly rise between India and Pakistan, and Musharraf halts troop deployments to the Afghan border. The border near Tora Bora still is not adequately guarded by Pakistan when the battle of Tora Bora ends on December 17. Less than 100 stragglers entering Pakistan around December 19 are captured by Pakistani forces, but a number of these subsequently escape. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: United States, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In the wake of the defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, many of them flee into the tribal region of Waziristan, just across the Pakistani border (see December 2001-Spring 2002). These tribal regions normally have no Pakistani military presence, and the Pakistani army left the border near Waziristan unguarded (see December 10, 2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148, 268] In early May, the US begins applying pressure on Pakistan to act. On anonymous Defense Department official tells the Washington Post, “We know where there is a large concentration of al-Qaeda.” He notes there are several hundred in one Waziristan border town alone. A senior US offical says, “We are trying to encourage, wheedle, coerce, urge the Pakistanis to move more aggressively” against the Waziristan safe haven, but have not been having much progress. [Washington Post, 5/12/2002] Pakistan finally moves army units into Waziristan in late May 2002, but even then the 8,000 troops remain in the administrative capital of Wana and do not attempt to seal the border with Afghanistan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148, 268]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Tahir Yuldashev.Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. [CNN, 3/18/2004; FOX News, 3/18/2004] On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. [Interactive Investor, 3/19/2004] In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Tahir Yuldashev, Taliban, George W. Bush, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Nek Mohammed, Colin Powell, Frontier Corps, Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Nek Mohammed in front of a microphone during the signing of the peace accord on April 24, 2004. Nek Mohammed in front of a microphone during the signing of the peace accord on April 24, 2004. [Source: Tariq Mahmood / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]A Pakistani army offensive against the al-Qaeda safe haven in the tribal region of South Waziristan ends in victory for al-Qaeda and associated militants (see March 18- April 24, 2004). On April 24, 2004, the Pakistani army signs an agreement with the local militants. They are pardoned and given money to pay the debts they claim they owe to al-Qaeda. One young local militant, Nek Mohammed, emerges as a hero for his fighting against the army offensive. Army commander General Safdar Hussein travels to South Waziristan and signs the agreement with Mohammed in front of a large crowd. One Pakistani politician will later tell PBS Frontline: “It was really shocking to see the Pakistan army entering into agreement with al-Qaeda operatives. It was for the first time after September 11th that any state was not only entering into negotiation with al-Qaeda but establishing peace with their help, which is really amazing.” But the agreement quickly breaks down, as Mohammed publicly vows to fight against the US in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army goes on the offensive, blockading the main town of Wana and preventing goods from entering the region. Pakistan also makes a secret deal with the US, allowing them to attack certain targets in Pakistan with missiles fired from Predator drones. On June 18, Mohammed is killed by a missile fired from a Predator after his location was determined from his use of a satellite phone. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 272-274]

Entity Tags: Nek Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Army, Safdar Hussein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Since being defeated in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001, al-Qaeda has made a safe haven in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan (see December 10, 2001 and Late May 2002). But in April 2004, the Pakistani army begins attacking militants there (see March 18- April 24, 2004 and April 24-June 18, 2004). The army is defeated, but rapidly increases its troops in South Waziristan from less than 10,000 militia soldiers based only in the main town before the fighting began to 80,000 throughout the region. As a result, most of the al-Qaeda militants simply move from South Waziristan to North Waziristan. There is no similar increase in troop strength in North Waziristan, so al-Qaeda is able to reestablish a safe haven there. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 274] In February 2005, the army will strike a deal with the remaining militants in South Waziristan and withdraw all its troops from there, allowing al-Qaeda to reestablish themselves there as well (see February 7, 2005).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A meeting of tribesmen in Wana, South Waziristan, May 2004.A meeting of tribesmen in Wana, South Waziristan, May 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir]The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. [Asia Times, 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 433] Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. [New York Times, 7/25/2007] The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. [Washington Post, 1/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Baitullah Mahsud, Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Mahsud, Mullah Omar, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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