Pakistan Taliban set up camps in Syria, join anti-Assad war

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Pakistan Sun Jul 14, 2013 6:46am EDT

1 of 6. A Free Syrian Army fighter (2nd R) reads the Koran as his fellow fighter monitors the area through a hole in a wall in Deir al-Zor July 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

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ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani Taliban have set up camps and sent hundreds of men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, militants said on Sunday, in a strategy aimed at cementing ties with al Qaeda's central leadership.

More than two years since the start of the anti-Assad rebellion, Syria has become a magnet for foreign Sunni fighters who have flocked to the Middle Eastern nation to join what they see as a holy war against Shi'ite oppressors.

Operating alongside militant groups such as the al Nusra Front, described by the United States as a branch of al Qaeda, they mainly come from nearby countries such as Libya and Tunisia riven by similar conflict as a result of the Arab Spring.

On Sunday, Taliban commanders in Pakistan said they had also decided to join the cause, saying hundreds of fighters had gone to Syria to fight alongside their "Mujahedeen friends".

"When our brothers needed our help, we sent hundreds of fighters along with our Arab friends," one senior commander told Reuters, adding that the group would soon issue videos of what he described as their victories in Syria.

The announcement further complicates the picture on the ground in Syria, where rivalries have already been on the boil between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamists.

Islamists operate a smaller, more effective force which now controls most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria. Tensions erupted again on Thursday when an al-Qaeda linked militant group assassinated one of Free Syrian Army's top commanders after a dispute in the port city of Latakia.

It also comes at a time when Assad's forces, with backing from Shi'ite fighters from Hezbollah and Iran, have been making gains on the Syrian battlefield.

Another Taliban commander in Pakistan, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to send fighters to Syria came at the request of "Arab friends".

"Since our Arab brothers have come here for our support, we are bound to help them in their respective countries and that is what we did in Syria," he told Reuters.

"We have established our own camps in Syria. Some of our people go and then return after spending some time fighting there."

AL QAEDA LOYALTIES

Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban operate mainly from Pakistan's insurgency-plagued ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border - a long-standing stronghold for militants including the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.

Taliban militants in Pakistan, who are linked to their Afghan counterparts, are mainly fighting to topple Pakistan's government and to impose their radical version of Islam, targeting the military, security forces and civilians.

But they also enjoy close ties with al Qaeda and other jihadist groups who have, in turn, deployed their own fighters to Pakistan's volatile tribal region on the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

In the latest sign of this trend, at least two suspected foreign militants were killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan, local security officials said.

Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Pakistani author and expert on the Taliban, said sending Taliban fighters to Syria was likely to be appreciated as an act of loyalty towards their al Qaeda allies.

"The Pakistani Taliban have remained a sort surrogate of al Qaeda. We've got all these foreigners up there in FATA who are being looked after or trained by the Pakistani Taliban," said Rashid, who is based in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

"They are acting like global jihadists, precisely with the agenda that al Qaeda has got. This is a way, I suppose, to cement relationships with the Syrian militant groups ... and to enlarge their sphere of influence."

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Writing by Maria Golovnina in Islamabad; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Comments (12)
tmc wrote:
And we are supporting the “rebels”?? This is why the USCA has lost influence and so many just plain hate us. John McCain and his war machine don’t care who they support as long as they pay.
We the people need to change the people in charge. That means all congressmen. PLEASE support a referendum on Term Limits for Congress and SOTUS. And just one more referendum on campaign finance reform for ALL politicians, municipal, State, and Federal.

Jul 14, 2013 6:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BanglaFirst wrote:
Let these Taliban thugs die in Syria fighting other thugs so we will have less thugs back in Pakistan.Perfect no need to drone them in Pakistan!

Jul 14, 2013 7:38am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BuckWheat2 wrote:
This is news, Pakistan Taliban has been the main recipient of money from those Wahhabi Sunni Terrorist funding Islamist in Saudi Arabia for over 40 years. In fact Saudi Arabia paid for the transport and supplies for these Islamist terrorist invaders. Wake up people our governments are lying to us all, the Saudi’s have bought and paid for the vast majority of politicians in the US and Western Europe. The Saudi’s sent in there Al-Qaida army to over throw Qaddafi and now they are pulling out all stops to take out Assad and replace him with an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood RADICAL !

Jul 14, 2013 9:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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