Apparently the stories we’ve been hearing all these years about al Qaeda’s leaders living in caves along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were true. The London Times reports: “Pakistan’s Army takes control of al-Qaeda cave network on Afghan border.”
Pakistani forces have taken control of a warren of caves that served until recently as the nerve centre of the Taleban and al-Qaeda and sheltered Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command to Osama bin Laden.
“It was the main hub of militancy where al-Qaeda operatives had moved freely,” Major-General Tariq Khan, the Pakistan regional commander, said as he gave journalists a tour of Damadola yesterday.
The village, nestling among snow-capped peaks in the Bajaur region along the Afghan border, has been fought over for 16 months. It is the first time that the Pakistani Army has set foot in the village, which had long been dominated by the insurgents operating on the both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“Al-Qaeda was there. They had occupied the ridges. There were 156 caves designed as a defensive complex,” said General Khan, head of the Frontier Corps responsible for Pakistan’s counter-insurgency campaign in the region. He said that his forces had killed 75 foreign and local militants and cleared a zone up to the Afghan border, and that the campaign against the insurgents was in its final stage.
The article includes this remarkable photo of one of the caves:
In general, I think our efforts against al Qaeda and those of our allies, including ambiguous allies like Pakistan, have been more successful than is generally recognized. The Bush administration never wanted to overstate the successes it achieved, both because it knew there was always a danger of future attacks–no “mission accomplished” here–and because it didn’t want to create an excuse on the part of others (Congress or Bush’s successor) to slacken our efforts. In truth, though, our toppling of the Taliban and al Qaeda’s declaration of Iraq as the great field of international jihad were disasters for that organization. For somewhat different reasons, the Obama administration doesn’t want to bring much attention to the areas where it has maintained and even strengthened, our anti-al Qaeda efforts. So, while Islamic extremism will be a serious problem for the foreseeable future and terrorism will always be a threat, my guess is that today’s chief terrorist organizations, most notably al Qaeda and its affiliates, have been devastated more thoroughly than is generally known.