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Our friend Bill Roggio with the Long War Journal has a fantastic piece of breaking news and follow-up analysis on the regeneration of al Qaeda’s shock-troop unit dubbed the “Shadow Army.“

We’re running an excerpted version of the story on Military​.com this afternoon, but I am posting more value-added content here.

In addition, as part of my new “multi-media” strategy, we’re going to interview Bill about the situation in Pakistan, the command of insurgent groups by al Qaeda and the White House strategy to stabilize Afghanistan from within Pakistan today at 16:30 EST.

We’ll allow listeners to call in and hear the interview, but I’m not ready to allow folks to ask questions yet (I might change my mind, though) because I’m still feeling my way through this.

Check out Bill’s amazing story below and be sure to tune in to the online radio interview this afternoon.

Al Qaeda has reorganized its notorious paramilitary formations that were devastated during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Al Qaeda has reestablished the predominantly Arab and Asian paramilitary formation that was formerly known as Brigade 055 into a larger, more effective fighting unit known as the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The Shadow Army is active primarily in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and in eastern and southern Afghanistan, several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The paramilitary force is well trained and equipped, and has successfully defeated the Pakistani Army in multiple engagements. Inside Pakistan, the Shadow Army has been active in successful Taliban campaigns in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat.

In Afghanistan, the Shadow Army has conducted operations against Coalition and Afghan forces in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangahar, Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Zabul, Ghazni, and Kandahar provinces.

“The Shadow Army has been instrumental in the Taliban’s consolidation of power in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province,” a senior intelligence official said. “They are also behind the Taliban’s successes in eastern and southern Afghanistan. They are helping to pinch Kabul.“

Afghan and Pakistan-based Taliban forces have integrated elements of their forces into the Shadow Army, “especially the Tehrik-e-Taliban and Haqqani Network,” a senior US military intelligence official said. “It is considered a status symbol” for groups to be a part of the Shadow Army.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban is the Pakistani Taliban movement led by Baitullah Mehsud, the South Waziristan leader who has defeated Pakistani Army forces in conventional battles. The Haqqani Network straddles the Afghan-Pakistani border and has been behind some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.

The Shadow Army’s effectiveness has placed the group in the crosshairs of the covert US air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In October 2008, the US killed Khalid Habib al Shami, the leader of the Shadow Army, in a strike on a compound in North Waziristan.

The presence of the Shadow Army has been evident for some time, as there have been numerous reports of joint operations between the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Hizb-i-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, and other terror groups. In January 2008, The Long War Journal noted that the various terror groups were cycling through the numerous camps in the tribal areas and have organized under a military structure.

While the Shadow Army has been active, there has been little visual evidence of its existence until now. The Long War Journal has obtained a photograph of a unit from the Shadow Army operating in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled district of Swat.

The photograph was taken some time in January of this year. It shows what appears to be either a reinforced squad or two squads of foot soldiers. Fourteen fighters are in view, and others appear to be in the far background. All of the fighters are wearing masks, new clothes, sneakers, and web gear. One fighters is wearing a Camelbak. The weapons are uniform; six AK-47s and one RPG are in view.

A look at the clothing of the fighters gives a good indication of the identity of the fighters, an expert on al Qaeda told The Long War Journal. The length of the pants of pictured fighters is described as being at “al Qaeda height” — meaning only al Qaeda and allied “Wahhabi/Salafi-jihadis” wear their pant legs this high.

“The extremists who follow al Qaeda’s religious beliefs think that pants must be at least six inches above the ground because there’s a hadith [a saying of the Prophet Mohammed] that says clothes that touch the ground are a sign of pride and vanity,” the expert said. “This, along with the new dyeing of men’s beards red or yellow is a sure sign of al Qaeda-ization.“

The type of masks worn and the tennis shoes are also strong indicators that these fighters “are non-Afghan fighters,” an expert on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan said. “Those types of masks I have seen, and they are always on the Pakistani side of the border,” the expert said. “The tennis shoes and socks are a big indicator that they are non-Afghan fighters, probably Pakistanis or Arab/Central Asian fighters.“

The Shadow Army is organized under a military structure, a US military intelligence officer familiar with the situation in northwestern Pakistan informed The Long War Journal. There are units analogous to battalion, brigade, and division formations found in Western armies.

The military organization has a clear-cut command structure with established ranks. A senior al Qaeda military leader is placed in command of the Shadow Army, while experienced officers are put in command of the brigades and subordinate battalions and companies.

The re-formed Brigade 055 is but one of an estimated three to four brigades in the Shadow Army. Several other Arab brigades have been formed, some consisting of former members of Saddam Husseins Republican Guards as well as Iraqis, Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians, North Africans, and others.

During the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the US invasion in 2001, the 055 Brigade served as “the shock troops of the Taliban and functioned as an integral part of the latter’s military apparatus,” al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna wrote in Inside al Qaeda. At its peak in 2001, the 055 Brigade had an estimated 2,000 soldiers and officers in the ranks. The brigade was comprised of Arabs, Central Asians, and South Asians, as well as Chechens, Bosnians, and Uighurs from Western China.

The 055 Brigade has “completely reformed and is surpassing pre-2001 standards,” an official said. The other brigades are also considered well trained.

One official said the mixing of the various Taliban and al Qaeda units has made distinctions between the groups somewhat meaningless.

“The line between the Taliban and al Qaeda is increasingly blurred, especially from a command and control perspective,” the official said. “Are Faqir Mohammed, Baitullah Mehsud, Hakeemullah Mehsud, Ilyas Kashmiri, Siraj Haqqani, and all the rest ‘al Qaeda’?” the official asked, listing senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan that operate closely with al Qaeda. “Probably not in the sense that they maintain their own independent organizations, but the alliance is essentially indistinguishable at this point except at a very abstract level.“

The Taliban have begun an ideological conversion to Wahhabism, the radical form of Sunni Islam practiced by al Qaeda. “The radicalization of the Taliban and their conversion away from Deobandism to Wahhabism under Sheikh Issa al Masri and other al Qaeda leaders is a clear sign of the al Qaeda’s preeminence,” the official noted. Sheikh Issa is the spiritual adviser for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al Zawahiri’s organization that merged into al Qaeda, and the leader of al Jihad fi Waziristan, an al Qaeda branch in North Waziristan.

The establishment of the joint Taliban and al Qaeda military formations under the overall command of the Shadow Army has been facilitated by the proliferation of terror training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province.

In the summer of 2008, senior US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that more than 150 camps and more than 400 support locations were in operation in Northwestern Pakistan. Most of the camps are considered “transient” in nature, an official said. Trainers and recruits may gather in villages and meet to conduct training in the vast mountains and valleys in Pakistan’s northwest. As of last summer, an estimated 25 to 40 of the camps were considered permanent.

These camps have various functions, and not all of them are used to train the Shadow Army. Some of the camps are used to indoctrinate and train suicide bombers for attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and the West. Some of the camps are devoted to training the various Kashmiri terror groups who have flocked to the tribal areas and are also integrating with the terror alliance. One of these camps serves as a training ground for the Black Guard, the elite bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.

The Shadow Army has distinguished itself during multiple battles over the past several years, particularly in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province. Taliban forces under the command of Baitullah Mehsud defeated the Pakistani Army in South Waziristan during fighting in 2005–2006, and again fended off the Pakistani Army in 2008 after fighting pitched battles and overrunning a series of forts.

In Swat, the Pakistani military was twice defeated by forces under the command of Mullah Fazlullah during 2007 and 2008. Earlier this year, the military launched its third attempt to secure Swat, which has been solidly under the control of the Taliban. The most recent operation was initiated after Fazlullah issued an amnesty to certain government officials and called for others to be tried in a sharia court. The military regained control of a small region last week, but fighting has been heavy. A few days ago, Taliban forces overran a police station and captured 30 members of the police and paramilitary Frontier Corps.

In Bajaur, the hidden hand of the Shadow Army has been seen in multiple reports from the region. Taliban forces dug a series of sophisticated trench and tunnel networks as well as bunkers and pillboxes. The Pakistani military took more than a month to clear a six-mile stretch of road in the Loisam region. Pakistani military officials also said the Taliban “have good weaponry and a better communication system (than ours).“

[Continue reading…]

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The head of counterterrorism operations for the U.S. Department of State said the al-Qaeda network is largely broken and has lost the ability to conduct large-scale terrorist operations.

While the U.S. has still been unable to kill or capture the organization’s top leaders, they have nevertheless been “beaten back into a hole” by relentless pressure from special operations, law enforcement and drone attacks.

“They are scratching their heads, realizing they took on a pretty savvy opponent who went after them kinetically very fast, pulled out the rug from underneath them, put them on the run, put them in a area where they didn’t have the assets they had before,” said former Army special operations commander, Amb. Dell Dailey, who now heads the State Department’s counterterrorism office. “Bin Laden can’t get an operational effort off the ground without it being detected ahead of time and being thwarted.“

Dailey cited the foiled terror plot to bring down as many as 10 U.S.-bound commercial jets in 2006 as an example of al-Qaeda’s diminished capability to launch dramatic attacks.

“Their ability to reach is non-existent,” Dailey told military reporters during a Jan. 6 breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.

But that doesn’t mean the U.S. can sit back and relax, he added.

Though he’s a political appointee who may not keep his job in an Obama administration, Dailey had high praise for the incoming team’s counterterrorism strategy and for the people who’ve been tabbed to wage it.

Over the five meetings he’s had with Obama officials since the election, Dailey sees a willingness to abandon presidential campaign promises to unilaterally move into Pakistan if there’s solid intel on bin Laden’s whereabouts and the local government cannot or will not act. The incoming administration’s focus on strengthening multilateralism over unilateralism seems to mesh with the State Department’s current counter-terror plan.

“It’s not ‘go out and kill people right now’ to the detriment of our relationships with sovereign countries,” Dailey said. “Their twist is going to be more aggressive engagement with our partner nations.”

[Continue reading…]

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So, let me get this straight. Bush critics have been whining for years that the president wasn’t doing enough to kill bin Laden and his deputies — that he should essentially invade Pakistan, Syria and other places to kill him or Zawahiri if US officials get the right intel.

And now the New York Times — after Obama wins largely on an anti-Bush referendum — decides to publish a story that shows all the way back in 2004, the much-maligned Donald Rumsfeld secured an executive order form the president to allow the same kind of commando raids administration critics have been saying should have been pursued all along? And don’t tell me the NYT didn’t have a good portion of this story a month ago…this is an evergreen piece that didn’t have any news hook to it other than the recent Syria raid, which is probably when Mazzetti and Schmitt fleshed out most of the sourcing.

Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries

WASHINGTON The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.

These military raids, typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.

In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft in real time in the C.I.A.s Counterterrorist Center at the agencys headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.

Some of the military missions have been conducted in close coordination with the C.I.A., according to senior American officials, who said that in others, like the Special Operations raid in Syria on Oct. 26 of this year, the military commandos acted in support of C.I.A.-directed operations.

But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence.

More than a half-dozen officials, including current and former military and intelligence officials as well as senior Bush administration policy makers, described details of the 2004 military order on the condition of anonymity because of its politically delicate nature. Spokesmen for the White House, the Defense Department and the military declined to comment.

Apart from the 2006 raid into Pakistan, the American officials refused to describe in detail what they said had been nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks, except to say they had been carried out in Syria, Pakistan and other countries. They made clear that there had been no raids into Iran using that authority, but they suggested that American forces had carried out reconnaissance missions in Iran using other classified directives.

According to a senior administration official, the new authority was spelled out in a classified document called Al Qaeda Network Exord, or execute order, that streamlined the approval process for the military to act outside officially declared war zones. Where in the past the Pentagon needed to get approval for missions on a case-by-case basis, which could take days when there were only hours to act, the new order specified a way for Pentagon planners to get the green light for a mission far more quickly, the official said.

Be sure to read the rest of the story HERE…

– Christian

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From today’s Military​.com front page:

WASHINGTON — After secret interrogations, the CIA transferred to U.S. military custody a high-level al-Qaida figure who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001, the Pentagon announced Friday.

Mohammad Rahim was captured last summer in Lahore, Pakistan, according to a diplomatic official who spoke on condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are involved. Rahim was later handed over to the CIA, which after interrogating him, turned him over to the U.S. military this week. In a message to agency employees Friday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said it was the first such transfer from his agency’s interrogation program since April 2007.

Rahim is now being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Hayden said.

“Rahim’s detention in the summer of 2007 was a blow to more than one terrorist network,” Hayden told agency employees in a memo obtained by The Associated Press. “He gave aid to al-Qaida, the Taliban and other anti-coalition militants…”

…Rahim is a close associate of bin Laden and has ties to al-Qaida organizations throughout the Middle East, according to Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman. Officials said Rahim helped arrange the al-Qaida hide-out at Tora Bora — a mountain area full of warrens used by bin Laden during the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The article focuses on the secret prison controversy, but unfortunately buries the lede by ignoring the key question raised by Rahim’s position in the al Qaeda organization. If he helped bin Laden escape Tora Bora and he is a “close associate” of the AQ leader, then why haven’t we captured bin Laden? This guy surely knows where he is, or at least has a pretty good idea of where he was. So why don’t we have the big guy?

Seems to me if they released him from CIA custody, they got what they needed out of him and he’s used up. So, a bin Laden capture on the eve of the ’08 election? Conspiracy theories abound!

– Christian

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Killing off your [erstwhile] allies…?

Our friend Aharon Etingoff sends me this from the JP:

‘Arabs helped Mossad kill Mughniyeh’

Syrian sources claim that several Arab nations conspired with Mossad to assassinate Hizbullah chief of operations Imad Mughniyeh earlier this month, the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily stated on Wednesday.

According to the report, which could not be confirmed by any official source, Syria was making significant progress in the investigation of Mughniyeh’s death, and would publish the results of its inquiry following the Arab league summit in Damascus in March.

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Here’s a story forwarded by Defense Tech contributor Aharon Etengoff, our mideast expert.

From the Sunday Times (of London)

NOTHING seemed very remarkable about the short, bearded man who mingled with other guests on Tuesday evening at a reception in Damascus, the Syrian capital, to mark the 29th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeinis Iranian revolution.

Yet before the night was over he was dead in the twisted wreckage of his car and the inevitable assumption was that Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, had killed him with an ingeniously planted bomb.

The news spread rapidly that the dead man was Imad Mughniyeh, an elusive figure known as the Fox who had been one of the worlds most feared terrorist masterminds.

Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who spent years on his trail, said Mughniyeh was probably the most intelligent, most capable operative weve ever run across.

As the Israelis rejoiced, Iran and Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group, which together had harnessed Mugniyehs expertise, mourned his death at a huge funeral in Beirut, where he established his terrorist network.

Mughniyehs mother, Um Imad, sat amid a sea of black chadors, a lonely, sombre figure as mourners held their heros picture aloft.

If only I had more boys to carry on in his footsteps, she sighed, confessing that she did not have any pictures of him, even from his childhood, as he had taken them away. He was the third of her sons to die in a car bombing.

With a price of $25m (12.7m) on his head, he was always vigilant. Some say he had had plastic surgery to alter his face in an effort to elude the Americans and Israelis who blamed him for plane hijackings and other bloody attacks which killed hundreds of their citizens in the Middle East and as far away as South America.

He had grown accustomed to living dangerously and there was no reason he should have feared for his safety last Tuesday as he sipped fruit juice at the party at the Iranian cultural centre. Mughniyeh was on fairly good terms with everybody present almost all the leaders of the Damascus-based militant groups were represented.

At 10.35pm he decided to go home. Having exchanged customary kisses with his host, Hojatoleslam Ahmad Musavi, the newly appointed Iranian ambassador, Mughniyeh stepped into the night.

Minutes later he was seated in his silver Mitsubishi Pajero in a nearby street when a deafening blast ripped the car apart and killed him instantly.

According to Israeli intelligence sources, someone had replaced the headrest of the drivers seat with another containing a small high-explosive charge. Israel welcomed his death but the prime ministers office denied responsibility. Hezbollah accused the Zionist Israelis of killing its brother commander but believed the explosive had been detonated in another car by satellite.

Read the rest of the Times story HERE…

– Christian

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