The Corner

The Taliban and al Qaeda

Anonymous sources within the Obama administration and newly minted skeptics of the Afghan war like Frank Rich have been making it sound like the Taliban and al Qaeda barely know each other. Some new items on that front, from the New York Times the other day. There’s this passage from a piece on the new Pakistani offensive:


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan moved thousands of troops into the militant stronghold of South Waziristan on Saturday, the army said, beginning a long-anticipated ground offensive against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in treacherous terrain that has stymied the army in the past.


The operation is the most ambitious by the Pakistani Army against the militants, who have unleashed a torrent of attacks against top security installations in the last 10 days in anticipation of the military assault. The militants’ targets included the army headquarters where planning for the new offensive had been under way for four months.


The United States has been pressing the army to move ahead with the campaign in South Waziristan, arguing that it is vital for Pakistan to show resolve against the Qaeda-fortified Pakistani Taliban, which now embrace a vast and dedicated network of militant groups arrayed against the nuclear-armed state. The groups include some nurtured by Pakistan to fight India.


American officials have said the fighting there would probably not substantially help the American and NATO effort in Afghanistan because most militants who cross the border to fight there are from a different area in Pakistan and because the Taliban stronghold within South Waziristan is not directly along the border.


But if successful, the operations could put pressure on Al Qaeda, a pivotal supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan, providing training and strategic planning.


And this bit from David Rohde’s fascinating account of being held captive by the Taliban:


Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.


Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.


Finally, on a different note, Jackson Diehl included this telling criticism of the Biden plan in his column about European nervousness over where Obama will end up on Afghanistan:


[NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh] Rasmussen and other Europeans are also happy to speak up publicly against the strategy sometimes attributed to Vice President Biden, under which the United States would focus on counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda with drones or Special Forces. “Why are there no Predator strikes in Peshawar or Quetta? Because it can’t be done,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country currently represents the European Union. “But we know leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban are hiding in those urban areas. I fail to see that as a viable strategy.”