EXCLUSIVE: Taliban Commander Says U.S. Troops are Being Targeted

In Afghanistan, suicide bombers are ready, alliance stronger than ever.

March 18, 2009, 1:44 PM

March 18, 2009— -- ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Three of the most dangerous Taliban leaders in Pakistan, once arch-enemies, have formed an alliance that could threaten thousands of American troops set to arrive across the border in Afghanistan this year, according to an exclusive interview with one of the commanders.

Maulvi Nazir, one of the leaders of the newly established Council of the Mujahedeen Union, said U.S. troops in Afghanistan were "absolutely" the group's target. "We have readied suicide bombers for them, they cannot escape us," he said in the interview, sitting in front of the mountains that separate Pakistan and Afghanistan, a black turban wrapped around his head.

Until Nazir helped form the alliance, he and another tribal leader had been clashing with the most notorious Taliban commander in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, believed to be responsible for dozens of suicide attacks inside Pakistan in 2008.

The three had been fighting, at some points openly in the streets of Waziristan, for the past two years. Now that they have formed an alliance, analysts in Pakistan and the United States say, they will be able to focus more on sending fighters across the border into Afghanistan, putting U.S. troops at greater risk.

"We, Baitullah, Hafiz Gul Bahadur [the third commander] and all our friends reached the conclusion that organizations have created mistrust and discrimination among us -- the CIA, Mossad, and especially Pakistani organizations," he told an ABC News cameraman, referring to the American, Israeli, and Pakistani spy agencies. "All these divisions, cracks and mistrust were created by the enemy. Baitullah, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and I understood this and reached this conclusion and put all differences aside and united against the enemy."

The alliance was first reported in late February, but until now, none of the three commanders had confirmed its existence in an interview.

"We were dealing with three evils, but now we're dealing with one big devil," a Pakistani intelligence agent in Waziristan told ABC News. "Strategically, they all can now facilitate each other more effectively."

Al Qaeda and Taliban

The United States has identified Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, seven districts along the border, as one of the largest threats to peace in Afghanistan. Dozens of al Qaeda and Taliban affiliated training camps are located in the tribal areas, American officials have said, most notably in North and South Waziristan, where the CIA has been leading a covert war using missiles fired from unmanned drones.

The alliance is yet more proof, analysts say, that the Pakistani intelligence and military services have failed to stem a militancy that still uses safe havens inside Pakistani borders.

"These networks have been allowed to operate," says Samina Ahmed, the Pakistan country director for the International Crisis Group. "They have fought with the government and the government security agencies. And yet we see after all these years, not only are their networks intact, they can forge open alliances, and declare war on Afghanistan and American troops -- from Pakistani territory."

Nazir did not mention Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, during the interview. But one-page announcements distributed in mosques across North and South Waziristan have mentioned him, likely indicating that the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have never been more united against a common enemy.

"Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden gave to all Muslims, especially to the mujahedeen, the chance to fight collectively against the enemy of Muslims and to defeat their cronies such as [U.S. President Barack] Obama, [Pakistani President Asif Ali] Zardari, and [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai," says the announcement, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News. "The enemy has united against the Muslims, especially against the mujahedeen, in the leadership of America headed by President Obama. Therefore we mujahedeen too should shun our differences and work for… the defeat of the infidels."

The alliance comes at the worst possible time for the United States. Attacks in the two eastern Afghanistan provinces across from Waziristan -- Patika and Khost -- are up 91 and 90 percent respectively, according to stats provided to ABC News by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, though most of the rise is due to an increased number of soldiers initiating attacks against the Taliban.

Taliban Movement in Pakistan

Nazir and Bahadur lead fighters from the Wazir tribe in South and North Waziristan, respectively, and much of their animosity with Mehsud comes from their differences with the Mehsud tribe.

Mehsud's notoriety soared in December 2007, when he created the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Taliban Movement in Pakistan. Soon thereafter, Pakistani and U.S. authorities accused him or orchestrating the attack that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

At one point Bahadur joined Mehsud, but the two had a falling out, according to Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor. Nazir never joined Mehsud, and some of the Uzbek fighters that Mehsud was sheltering fought with Nazir as early as April, 2007.

At one point Nazir was once dubbed a "pro government" Taliban leader for his attacks on Mehsud's fighters. But Pakistani analysts say that unmanned CIA drone strikes in Waziristan -- and reported support for them by the Pakistani government -- have helped alienate Nazir from the Pakistani authorities, helping push him toward the alliance.

The alliance also gives Mehsud access to the Afghanistan border for the first time -- both Nazir and Bahadur's land is between Mehsud's territory and the border.

But despite the potency of such an alliance, there is no indication that the Pakistani military has any intention to try and confront it.

There is an unwritten agreement between the Taliban and the military not to attack each other in Waziristan, according to the provincial government that oversees Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.

"There was certain pressure on us to accept the agreement in Waziristan between the militants, led by Baitullah Mehsud, and the military," said Bushra Gohar, senior vice president in the Awami National Party. "The agreement was … that they will not operate inside Pakistan, but they would be free to operate outside, anywhere."

Gohar says the agreement was made in early 2008, but state patronage of Taliban training camps has existed for much longer than that, despite claims to the contrary by Pakistani authorities.

"When Pakistan says militants' training camps are going to be closed, then we must mean that we're going to close those camps," she said. "And for the past 8 to 10 years we've all seen that those camps have received state patronage. So this duplicity of policy needs to come to an end."

Military Denies Deal Was Made

Publicly, the military denies a deal was ever made. But senior military officials are privately thankful that there is no fighting in Waziristan at the same time as paramilitary troops continue to battle the Taliban in the tribal areas north of Waziristan.

Each of the Taliban fighters have focused most of their energies on Pakistan and Afghanistan, though in the interview, Nazir had a message of global jihad.

"Infidels … attack innocent people with drones on our land, and pain the innocent people of Afghanistan, and martyr innocent people and 400 to 500 children in Palestine," Nazir said in the interview. "Hence we will do jihad against the infidels and America. This is a large burden and problem for us. So we will confront them."

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