WASHINGTON (AFP) -Leaders of Al-Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, The New York Times reported.
Citing unnamed US intelligence and counterterrorism officials, the newspaper said on Sunday there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.
Until recently, the administration of President George W. Bush had described bin Laden and Zawahiri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al-Qaeda, the report said.
The United States has also identified several new Al-Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan, according to the paper.
Recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al-Qaeda, The Times said
They receive guidance from their commanders and Zawahiri, analysts said. Bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement, according to the report.
Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Al-Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the paper reported.
But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, and the Al-Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.
The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan, The Times said.
US officials say the new intelligence points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained US-led campaign to weaken it, the report said.
The concern about a resurgent Al-Qaeda has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan’s role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of General Pervez Musharraf, according to The Times.
Last week, senior White House counter-terrorism adviser Frances Fragos Townsend went to Afghanistan to meet with security officials about rising concerns on Al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the paper said.