Pakistani Taliban says sent hundreds to fight alongside Syrian rebels

As part of strategy to cement ties with al-Qaida leadership, Taliban leaders say joining cause alongside "Mujahedeen friends".

By REUTERS
July 14, 2013 13:17
3 minute read.
Syrian oppositionists fighting the Assad regime

Syrian oppositionists fighting the Assad regime370. (photo credit: Reuters)

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

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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-QAIDA 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-Qaida 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-Qaida and other jihahist 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-Qaida allies.

"The Pakistani Taliban have remained a sort surrogate of al-Qaida. 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-Qaida has got. This is a way, I suppose, to cement relationships with the Syrian militant groups ... and to enlarge their sphere of influence."


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