December 28, 2007

AQ Infiltration Of Pakistani Intelligence A Possibility

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto looks more like a complex operation, planned carefully, with decoys and serious preparation. Eli Lake at The New York Sun reports that the murderers used one explosion as a feint to draw Bhutto into a sniper's line of fire. The killers had already prepared to shoot through her defenses:

American and Pakistani military leaders are seeking to account for what may be renegade commando units from the Pakistani military's special forces in the wake of the assassination of Pakistan's opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

The attack yesterday at Rawalpindi bore the hallmarks of a sophisticated military operation. At first, Bhutto's rally was hit by a suicide bomb that turned out to be a decoy. According to press reports and a situation report of the incident relayed to The New York Sun by an American intelligence officer, Bhutto's armored limousine was shot by multiple snipers whose armor-piercing bullets penetrated the vehicle, hitting the former premier five times in the head, chest, and neck. Two of the snipers then detonated themselves shortly after the shooting, according to the situation report, while being pursued by local police. ...

A working theory, according to this American source, is that Al Qaeda or affiliated jihadist groups had effectively suborned at least one unit of Pakistan's Special Services Group, the country's equivalent of Britain's elite SAS commandos. This official, however, stressed this was just a theory at this point. Other theories include that the assassins were trained by Qaeda or were from other military services, or the possibility that the assassins were retired Pakistani special forces.

"They just killed the most protected politician in the whole country," this source said. "We really don't know a lot at this point, but the first thing that is happening is we are asking the Pakistani military to account for every black team with special operations capabilities."

The operation described by Lake does not sound like a typical al-Qaeda operation. While their attacks have a certain level of coordination, they do not have much sophistication beyond bomb-making. They usually use fairly banal devices, while their hallmark has been multiple attacks synchronized within minutes of each other. Until now, their assassination attempts have not involved skilled snipers with the kind of weaponry or ammunition Lake describes.

If true, this would tend to implicate Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI. They have long been suspected of sympathies towards the radical Islamists. In fact, they propped up the Taliban in Afghanistan until 9/11 changed the political calculations in that region. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to think that AQ could easily have infiltrated the ISI and plotted this operation using Pakistan's intel resources.

This would have allowed AQ another way to profit from the assassination. If this turns out to be true, then it would undermine Pervez Musharraf, both at home and abroad. It could also pit the army against the intel service, which also would benefit AQ by crippling Musharraf's ability to wage effective war against the radicals in Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province. Even with AQ claiming responsibility for the assassination, this infiltration puts everyone on notice that the national-security apparatus of Pakistan has been seriously compromised -- not an especially comforting thought when one considers the nuclear capability of Pakistan.

One final unsettling thought comes to mind as well. If the snipers really did blow themselves up after the shooting, and didn't use patsies to cover their tracks, then AQ must have more snipers available to them for other operations. Professional snipers are far too valuable to be discarded, and even infiltrated ISI units would be so casual about losing this scarce resource. If Lake's source has this right, the infiltration could be very extensive indeed.


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