Another consequence of Pakistan’s continued and virtually unchallenged status as a haven for jihadists. “Militant Gains in Pakistan Said to Draw Fighters,” by Eric Schmitt for the New York Times, July 10:
WASHINGTON “” American military and intelligence officials say there has been an increase in recent months in the number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to join with militants there.
The flow may reflect a change that is making Pakistan, not Iraq, the preferred destination for some Sunni extremists from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia who are seeking to take up arms against the West, these officials say.
The American officials say the influx, which could be in the dozens but could also be higher, shows a further strengthening of the position of the forces of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, increasingly seen as an important base of support for the Taliban, whose forces in Afghanistan have become more aggressive in their campaign against American-led troops.
According to the American officials, many of the fighters making their way to the tribal areas are Uzbeks, North Africans and Arabs from Persian Gulf states. American intelligence officials say that some jihadist Web sites have been encouraging foreign militants to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is considered a “winning fight,” compared with the insurgency in Iraq, which has suffered sharp setbacks recently.
The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has dropped to fewer than 40 a month from as many as 110 a month a year ago, a military spokesman in Baghdad said Wednesday. “The sanctuary situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province is more, rather than less, troublesome than before,” Gen. David D. McKiernan, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview. “The porous border has allowed insurgent militant groups a greater freedom of movement across that border, as well as a greater freedom to resupply, to allow leadership to sustain stronger sanctuaries, and to provide fighters across that border.”
The suicide bombing at the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on Monday underscored the increasing fears of American and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents working with Pakistani intelligence operatives might have used the bombing to pursue Pakistan’s long power struggle with India.
Al Qaeda and other militant groups have used redoubts in Pakistan’s rugged mountains as havens for the past several years. But especially since the new Pakistani government sharply curtailed security operations in the tribal areas in March and began negotiating with tribal leaders to rein in the militants, the number of foreign fighters entering the tribal areas has increased “from a trickle to a steady stream,” said a Defense Department official who follows Pakistan closely, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Some of the foreign militants take commercial flights into Pakistan and make their way to the tribal areas by car or bus, while a smaller, undetermined number go overland through Iran and then up through Baluchistan, the Defense Department official said. General McKiernan said, “There are noticeably more non-Pashtun-speaking fighters than this time last year.”
Some American intelligence officials cautioned, however, that the increases were still relatively small, perhaps a few dozen “” military and independent analysts estimate between 150 and 500 hard-core Qaeda fighters are operating in the tribal area “” and that Al Qaeda was still recruiting fighters and suicide bombers for both Afghanistan and Iraq. […]
American options for strikes inside the tribal areas are limited. The C.I.A. has armed, remotely piloted Predator aircraft ready if high-level insurgents are located. But a Pentagon order authorizing an increased campaign by Special Operations forces in the tribal areas remains under review by administration officials. […]
President Bush’s new homeland security adviser, Kenneth L. Wainstein, traveled to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar and Kuwait last month, and urged leaders in those countries to help crack down on groups or individuals that are helping to finance or funnel fighters to the insurgency in the tribal areas. “We”re seeing financing and recruiting from the gulf countries going to the tribal areas,” Mr. Wainstein said in an interview….