Rival militant groups join hands along Afghan border

New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like "a syndicate", joining forces in ways not seen before, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

After one recent attack on a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, a check of the dead insurgents found evidence that the fighters were from three different factions, military officials said.

In the past, these insurgent groups have been seen as sharing ideology and inspiration.
Now the intelligence assessments offer evidence of a worrisome new trend in which extremist commanders and their insurgent organisations are coordinating attacks and even combining their foot soldiers into patchwork patrols sent to carry out specific raids.

The change shows the resilience and flexibility of the militant groups. But at the same time, officials say, the unusual and expanding alliances suggest that the factions are feeling new military pressure.

US and NATO officials say these decisions of insurgent leaders are the result of operations by American, Afghan and allied forces on one side of the border, and by the Pakistani military -- and American drone strikes -- on the other.

One official said it was "a wake-up call" to find evidence, after the attack on the forward operating base, that the fighters were partisans from three factions with long histories of feuding: the Quetta Shura Taliban of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the network commanded by the Haqqani family; and fighters loyal to the Hekmatyar clan.

According to the report, these extremist groups have begun granting one another safe passage through their areas of control in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sharing new recruits and coordinating their propaganda responses to American and allied actions on the ground, officials said.

US military officials sought to cast these recent developments as a reaction to changes in the American and allied strategies in the past year.

"They have been forced to cooperate due to the effect our collective efforts have had on them," said Lt. Col. Patrick R. Seiber, a spokesman for American and coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Seiber said insurgent commanders recognised that as the number of American forces increased this year in Afghanistan, "they would need to surge as well".

Veteran militant leaders, many with a long history of open warfare against one another, have "put aside differences when they see a common threat", Seiber said.

Increased cooperation among insurgent factions also is being reported inside Pakistan, where many of the extremist organisations are based or where their leaders have found a haven, the report said.

American and NATO officials said they had seen evidence of loose cooperation among other insurgent groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tehreek-i-Taliban.
Lashkar is a Punjabi group and is considered one of the most serious long-term threats
inside Pakistan.

According to the report, the Punjabi groups, many of which were created by Pakistani intelligence to fight against India's interests in Kashmir, now appear to be teaming up with Pashtun groups like the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to fight their creators, the Pakistani intelligence and security services.

Pentagon and military officials who routinely engage with their Pakistani counterparts said officials in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, agreed with the new US and NATO assessments.

"This is actually a syndicate of related and associated militant groups and networks," said one American officer, summarizing the emerging view of Pakistani officials.

The role of senior leaders of Al Qaeda, who are believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan, remains important as well, officials said.
While these expanding relationships among insurgent groups are foremost a response to increased US and allied attacks, another motivation is eliminating the need for each group to guard its physical territory and money-generating interests from the other extremist organisations.

"They do not want to have to defend that against each other," a NATO officer said.

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