US spies walked into al-Qaeda's trap
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - The suicide attack on the United States Central Intelligence
Agency's (CIA's) forward operating base of Chapman in the Afghan province of
Khost last week was planned in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.
The attacker - a handpicked plant in the Afghan National Army (ANA) - detonated
his explosive vest in a gym at the base, killing seven agents, including the
station chief, and wounding six. The base was officially for civilians involved
The plan was executed following several weeks of preparation by al-Qaeda's
Lashkar al-Zil (Shadow Army), Asia Times Online has learned. This was after
Lashkar al-Zil's intelligence outfit informed
its chief commander, Ilyas Kashmiri, that the CIA planned to broaden the
monitoring of the possible movement of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his
deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Well-connected sources in militant camps say that Lashkar al-Zil had become
aware of the CIA's escalation of intelligence activities to gather information
on high-value targets for US drone attacks. It emerged that tribesmen from
Shawal and Datta Khel, in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, had been
invited by US operatives, through middlemen, to Khost, where the operatives
tried to acquire information on al-Qaeda leaders. Such activities have been
undertaken in the past, but this time they were somewhat different.
"This time there was clearly an obsession to hunt down something big in North
Waziristan. But in this obsession, they [operatives] blundered and exposed the
undercover CIA facility," a senior leader in al-Qaeda's 313 Brigade said. The
brigade, led by Ilyas Kashmiri, comprises jihadis with extensive experience in
Pakistan's Kashmir struggle with India.
Once it became clear that efforts to track down al-Qaeda were being stepped up
and that the base in Khost was being extensively used by the CIA, the Lashkar
al-Zil (Brigade 055) moved into top gear. It is the soul of al-Qaeda, having
being involved in several events since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the
US. Under the command of Ilyas Kashmiri, its intelligence network's
coordination with its special guerrilla action force has changed the dynamics
of the Afghan war theater. Instead of traditional guerrilla warfare in which
the Taliban have taken most of the casualties, the brigade has resorted to
special operations, the one on the CIA base being the latest and one of the
Lashkar al-Zil comprises the Pakistani Taliban, 313 Brigade, the Afghan
Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan and former Iraqi Republican Guards. It has
taken on special significance since the US announcement of a 30,000 troop surge
in Afghanistan, due to kick into action this week.
Leaders of the Lashkar al-Zil now knew that CIA operatives were trying to
recruit reliable tribal people from Afghanistan so that the latter could
develop an effective intelligence network along the border with North
Waziristan's Shawal and Datta Khel regions, where high-profile al-Qaeda leaders
often move around.
Laskhar al-Zil then laid its trap.
Over the past months, using connections in tribal structures and ties with
former commanders of the Taliban and the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, the
militants have planted a large number of men in the ANA.
One of these plants, an officer, was now called into action. He contacted US
personnel in Khost and told them he was linked to a network in the tribal areas
and that he had information on where al-Qaeda would hold its shura (council)
in North Waziristan and on the movement of al-Qaeda leaders.
The ANA officer was immediately invited to the CIA base in Khost to finalize a
joint operation of Predator drones and ground personnel against these targets.
Once inside, he set off his bomb, with deadly results.
"It's a devastating blow," Times Online quoted Michael Scheuer as saying.
"[Among others] we lost an agent with 14 years' experience in Afghanistan."
Scheuer is a former head of Alec Station, the unit created to monitor bin Laden
five years before the attacks of September 11.
Unlike the Taliban's mostly rag-tag army, Laskhar al-Zil is a sophisticated
unit, with modern equipment such as night-vision technology, the latest light
weapons and finely honed guerrilla tactics. It has a well-funded intelligence
department, much like the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan had during the resistance
against the Soviets in the 1980s when it had access to advance information on
the movement of the Red Army.
However, Laskhar al-Zil is one step ahead of the Hezb's former intelligence
outfit in that it has been able to plant men in the ANA, and these "soldiers"
are now at the forefront of al-Qaeda-led sabotage activities in Afghanistan.
In addition, a large number of senior government officials both in the capital,
Kabul, and in the provinces are sympathetic to the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan,
and, by extension, to the Taliban. Similarly, several former top Taliban
commanders have been given responsibilities by the central government in
district areas, and as the insurgency has grown, these former militants have
been increasingly useful to the Taliban-led insurgency.
In sum, the US troop surge, coupled with increased US efforts to track down
al-Qaeda, has resulted in a shift in southeastern Afghanistan. There has been
hardly any uprising against foreign troops in which the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) could hit the Taliban hard. The insurgents now select
specific targets for the most effective outcome, such as the spy base in Khost
- it took just one insurgent's life for the "devastating" result.
Consequently, for the first time in the many years that Afghanistan has been at
war, the winter season is hot. Last October, the US withdrew its troops from
its four key bases in Nuristan, on the border with Pakistan, leaving the
northeastern province as a safe haven for the Taliban, under the command of
Qari Ziaur Rahman. Kurangal Valley in Kunar province is heavily under siege and
Taliban attacks on US bases there could see US forces pulling back from Kunar
And in the meantime, Lashkar al-Zil can be expected to be planning more strikes
of its own.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]