LONDON: Turbulent Pakistan has replaced Iraq as the place to go for militants bent on striking the West, but the threat of US attacks means al Qaeda recruits may spend more time out of sight in a classroom than on an assault course.
Long a favoured destination of British militants of Pakistani descent,
One consequence: Western armies in
These foreign militants are likely to feature in Wednesday’s meetings between US President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Obama wants to end the use of
Dennis Blair, Obama’s national intelligence director, said in February the primary threat from Europe-based extremists stemmed from members of al Qaeda and its affiliates ‘who returned from training in Pakistan to conduct attacks in the West.’
‘We remain concerned about an influx of Western recruits into the (Pakistani) tribal areas since mid-2006,’ he said.
Western officials estimate there are several hundred non-Afghan foreign militants training in the tribal areas at any one time. That is probably more than three years ago, although the foreigners are outnumbered by Pakistanis and Afghans undergoing similar training at the same, or similar, facilities.
Little detailed information is known in the West about the training operation, and analysts differ on whether the inflow of militants has risen or just held steady in recent months.
But the assumption among many Western officials is that
Military training or adventure holiday?
US General David McKiernan told Reuters in October 2008 that intelligence had picked up the presence in Afghanistan of Chechens, Arabs, Uzbeks, Punjabis and even Europeans.
Some were old-time residents of neighbouring
Richard Barrett, coordinator of the US’s al Qaeda-Taliban monitoring team, said that the number of foreigners going for training in northwest Pakistan appeared to be rising, but might not exceed ‘a few hundred all told.’
‘Training over the last couple of years has typically taken place in small compounds which you find throughout the area of northwest
Of Britons, Barrett said: ‘It seems that a fair proportion of the
‘But it is very hard to distinguish between the serious and the less serious, and of course to identify people who go with one intention and return with another.’
Western officials say the move to more discreet locations has been prompted by a series of missile attacks by US unmanned aircraft on suspected al Qaeda bases in recent months, which have killed about 350 people over the past year.
The content of training may also be changing, with as much or more emphasis on suicide bombing as on guerrilla war, curbing the need for assault course-style camps, some analysts say.
He cited German officials as saying that since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, about 140 people from
Raphael Perl, Head of the Action Against Terrorism Unit at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
‘If I had to give a gut per centage, I’d say 60 per cent do nothing with the training. They just come home. But at some point they may be contacted to do a favour for somebody.’ — Reuters.