July 17, 2007

Iran Hosts AQ Council: NIE

The national intelligence estimate will state that the Iranians have an active cell of al-Qaeda leadership in their eastern mountain area, Eli Lake reports today in the New York Sun. The same Quds force that has assisted Shi'ite and Sunni terrorists in Iraq has allowed the senior AQ figures to operate since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and they have ties to the Iraq branch of AQ as well:

One of two known Al Qaeda leadership councils meets regularly in eastern Iran, where the American intelligence community believes dozens of senior Al Qaeda leaders have reconstituted a good part of the terror conglomerate's senior leadership structure.

That is a consensus judgment from a final working draft of a new National Intelligence Estimate, titled "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland," on the organization that attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The estimate, which represents the opinion of America's intelligence agencies, is now finished, and unclassified conclusions will be shared today with the public. ...

In the estimate's chapter on Al Qaeda's replenished senior leadership, three American intelligence sources said, there is a discussion of the eastern Iran-based Shura Majlis, a kind of consensus-building organization of top Al Qaeda figures that meets regularly to make policy and plan attacks. The New York Sun first reported in October that one of the Shura Majlis for Al Qaeda meets in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan, one of the areas the Pakistani army this week re-engaged after a yearlong cease-fire. Both Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, participate in those meetings.

The other Shura Majlis is believed to meet in eastern Iran in the network established after Al Qaeda was driven from Afghanistan in 2001.

No one in the intel community disagrees with the notion that some AQ leaders fled into Iran, nor about their activities there. As Lake reports, the military has intercepted both signal intel and messengers from AQ in Iran coming into Iraq. They worked closely with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi since shortly after their flight from Afghanistan to structure AQI.

What the analysts debate is the extent to which the AQ cell operates as an independent part of the leadership structure and the extent of Iranian sponsorship of the group. The letter intercepted by US forces from Ayman al-Zawahiri scolding him for his bloodthirstiness shows that Zawahiri, at least, considered his branch superior to that which had handled Zarqawi to that point.

The second issue seems rather moot, however. If the Iranians know they are there -- and they do, since they attempted to trade them in 2003 for information on an opposition group -- then they have responsibility for their operations and attacks as a matter of sovereignty. And it seems absurd in any case to presume that the Quds force, which is a branch of the Iranian military, somehow manages to be the only part of the Iranian theocracy which runs independent of the mullahs.

The question becomes what we do about the al-Qaeda cell in eastern Iran. If they have protection from the Quds force, it won't be easy to take them out. Iran's eastern region resembles that of Afghanistan and Pakistan, rugged mountain territory in which stealth attacks would be difficult to conduct. Any other kind of operation will be (rightly) seen as a declaration of war on Iran -- in which case we would have to attack a range of other targets first in order to protect our military.

It creates an even bigger conundrum than Waziristan. We could reach the AQ assets there with our forces in eastern Afghanistan with more stealth and less risk of engagement with the Pakistani military, as our assets are already arrayed in that area. In this case, we'd have to go for the entire full-scale war, which would create a choice for us as to whether we'd like to let Iraq go or the bin Laden-Zawahiri AQ cell go, or both, in order to chase down the Adel cell in Iran and fight it out with the Iranian mullahs on their home turf. We should take care of current business first before expanding beyond our capabilities in the region -- but keep our eyes open for opportunities to work below the radar to shut down this AQ leadership cell.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (5)

Posted by stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 17, 2007 7:04 AM

FDR and WSC wanted to beat Hitler first, but a little event called Pearl Harbor intervened. Democracies cannot always fight the wars and battles they want but must be ready to meet the enemies of democracy where ever and when ever they seek to destroy freedom.

Posted by NoDonkey | July 17, 2007 8:10 AM

Iran is an established state sponsor of terrorism and should be put on notice - a terrorist attack on US soil will be met with an immediate and overwhelming response. Tehran will be leveled, along with their oil production capacity.

If the Mullahs don't like it - they can renounce terrorism and unilaterally disarm.

Posted by Roy Lofquist | July 17, 2007 9:15 AM

We are a land of laws with elaborate police forces, prosecutors and intrepid watchdogs, and $25,000 a year building inspectors driving Mercedes Benz's. If you just assume that the enemy are all the scum of the earth up front you not only save some time you start out a lot closer to the truth.

Posted by LarryD | July 17, 2007 9:41 AM

Another reason to pull the trigger on the Herman Option.

Posted by David M | July 17, 2007 10:23 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/17/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.