Counter-Terrorism: Al Qaeda Flees Pakistan


June 14, 2009: Losing their support in Pakistan, Al Qaeda operatives are moving to the Horn of Africa. Dozens of al Qaeda fighters and a handful of commanders have fled Pakistan for Somalia and Yemen in the last few months. They’re leaving their former stronghold in the tribal region of Pakistan after months of increased drone attacks in the region have disrupted their local networks killing. 11 of 20 top Al Qaeda commanders. The Pakistani Army’s recent campaign against Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists has further threatened Al Qaeda’s local network.

After defeating the Taliban in Swat, Pakistani forces have taken the fight to militant strongholds along the border of Afghanistan. The Taliban overplayed their hand when they attacked a fort in the tribal region, prompting fierce clashes with government forces. Although the Pakistani army has not yet initiated an offensive in the tribal region, they are making use of artillery and airpower in neighboring regions to drive the Taliban back. Militias of local villagers that have risen against the Taliban are also receiving air support in a clear show of government aid in their fight against militants.

The military operations undertaken by Pakistani forces as well as their clear material support for the actions of local anti-Taliban militias represent a turning point in the Pakistani approach to Islamic extremism. Similarly, the drone attacks perpetrated by American forces against Islamist positions deep in the tribal provinces of Pakistan, have demonstrated a new American resolve to pursue and kill individual Islamist commanders. Taken together, recent Pakistani and American military actions have tightened the noose around Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in their tribal strongholds.

But while the flight of Al Qaeda fighters and commanders will hasten the demise of Islamist militants along the Afghan border it will also necessitate expanded anti-terror operations in Somalia and Yemen. Somalia is already being compared to a pre-9/11 Afghanistan and is certain to offer Al Qaeda fighters from Pakistan myriad opportunities among Somalia’s Islamist insurgency. -- Giles Howard


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