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Context of 'March 18- April 24, 2004: Pakistani Army Offensive Fails to Defeat Al-Qaeda in Border Safe Haven'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event March 18- April 24, 2004: Pakistani Army Offensive Fails to Defeat Al-Qaeda in Border Safe Haven. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Pakistan’s tribal region, shown in various colors, while the rest of Pakistan is in green. FATA stands for Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the bureaucratic name for the area.Pakistan’s tribal region, shown in various colors, while the rest of Pakistan is in green. FATA stands for Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the bureaucratic name for the area. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been regrouping in the Pakistan tribal region of South Waziristan (see Late May 2002 and June 2002). By late 2002, these forces begin regularly attacking US outposts, also known as firebases, just across the border in Afghanistan. In December 2002, the US is forced to abandon the Lawara firebase after phosphorus rockets fired on the base burn US Special Forces vehicles. US military officials begin to complain that the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps is not only turning a blind eye to these attacks, but is actually helping al-Qaeda forces cross the border and providing covering fire for their attacks. US forces are not allowed to pursue al-Qaeda forces across the Pakistan border (see Early 2002 and After). In January 2003, US commander Lieutenant General Dan McNeill publicly speaks out about the situation despite orders from his superiors not to. He says, “US forces acknowledge the internationally recognized boundaries of Afghanistan, but may pursue attackers who attempted to escape into Pakistan to evade capture or retaliation.” Around the same time, the US media begins to report that the Pakistani government is allowing militants to attack US positions across the border (see December 2002-February 2003). Pakistan comes under increasing pressure to do something, but takes no action. Confident of their position, militants begin killing tribal elders who they suspect are not loyal to them, further cementing their control and causing many to flee. Some fleeing locals claim that the Pakistani ISI is frequently meeting with al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders there, such as Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and apparently supporting them. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 440] The Pakistani army commander in the region, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, is considered a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It is believed he intensely hates the US and NATO, and has sympathy for the Taliban. He will later call them a “national liberation movement.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277, 384] The Pakistani army will finally launch its first limited attack against al-Qaeda in October 2003 (see October 2, 2003).

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Frontier Corps, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Daniel K. McNeill, Taliban, Jalaluddin Haqqani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

President Musharraf’s car damaged in one of the  assassination attempts.President Musharraf’s car damaged in one of the assassination attempts. [Source: Mian Khursheed / Reuters]On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007]
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamil, Maulana Masood Azhar, Pervez Musharraf, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hazir Sultan, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Tahir Yuldashev.Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. [CNN, 3/18/2004; FOX News, 3/18/2004] On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. [Interactive Investor, 3/19/2004] In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Tahir Yuldashev, Taliban, George W. Bush, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Nek Mohammed, Colin Powell, Frontier Corps, Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Nek Mohammed in front of a microphone during the signing of the peace accord on April 24, 2004. Nek Mohammed in front of a microphone during the signing of the peace accord on April 24, 2004. [Source: Tariq Mahmood / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]A Pakistani army offensive against the al-Qaeda safe haven in the tribal region of South Waziristan ends in victory for al-Qaeda and associated militants (see March 18- April 24, 2004). On April 24, 2004, the Pakistani army signs an agreement with the local militants. They are pardoned and given money to pay the debts they claim they owe to al-Qaeda. One young local militant, Nek Mohammed, emerges as a hero for his fighting against the army offensive. Army commander General Safdar Hussein travels to South Waziristan and signs the agreement with Mohammed in front of a large crowd. One Pakistani politician will later tell PBS Frontline: “It was really shocking to see the Pakistan army entering into agreement with al-Qaeda operatives. It was for the first time after September 11th that any state was not only entering into negotiation with al-Qaeda but establishing peace with their help, which is really amazing.” But the agreement quickly breaks down, as Mohammed publicly vows to fight against the US in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army goes on the offensive, blockading the main town of Wana and preventing goods from entering the region. Pakistan also makes a secret deal with the US, allowing them to attack certain targets in Pakistan with missiles fired from Predator drones. On June 18, Mohammed is killed by a missile fired from a Predator after his location was determined from his use of a satellite phone. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 272-274]

Entity Tags: Nek Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Army, Safdar Hussein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Since being defeated in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001, al-Qaeda has made a safe haven in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan (see December 10, 2001 and Late May 2002). But in April 2004, the Pakistani army begins attacking militants there (see March 18- April 24, 2004 and April 24-June 18, 2004). The army is defeated, but rapidly increases its troops in South Waziristan from less than 10,000 militia soldiers based only in the main town before the fighting began to 80,000 throughout the region. As a result, most of the al-Qaeda militants simply move from South Waziristan to North Waziristan. There is no similar increase in troop strength in North Waziristan, so al-Qaeda is able to reestablish a safe haven there. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 274] In February 2005, the army will strike a deal with the remaining militants in South Waziristan and withdraw all its troops from there, allowing al-Qaeda to reestablish themselves there as well (see February 7, 2005).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A US drone strike kills Tahir Yuldashev, the top leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. The strike apparently hits the town of Kanigoram, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Yuldashev may initially survive the strike but slowly dies of his injuries afterwards. Pakistani officials confirm his death several weeks later. The IMU confirms his death nearly a year later, and names his successor, Usmon Odil. [News (Islamabad), 9/30/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009; Daily Times (Lahore), 8/19/2010] In the late 1990s, most IMU operatives fled Uzbekistan when the government cracked down on the group. Under Yuldashev’s leadership, they resettled in Afghanistan and developed close ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yuldashev appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late July 2001). After the US conquest of Afghanistan in late 2001, Yuldashev and most of the IMU appear to have resettled in Pakistan’s tribal region, and they became a powerful force there. For instance, a Pakistani army offensive in 2004 targeted Yuldashev (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 10/2/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Usmon Odil, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Tahir Yuldashev, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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