Peshawar, Pakistan - Egyptian fighters are increasingly aiding Islamic extremists in the badlands of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, providing training, financing and weapons, said the top Pakistani commander here.
In an exclusive interview with The Washington Examiner, 11th Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Muhammad Masood Aslam said fighters from Algeria and the Sudan are also joining the Taliban insurgency. Aslam led two campaigns against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and Southern Waziristan. "Evidence discovered during the battles shows their involvement," he said.
"Although the common fighters are from the local areas, we were able to obtain evidence that they are increasingly being trained by outside factions," Aslam added. "Al Qaeda is providing the ideological incentive, and they are receiving considerable financial support from the drug trade and donors in the Middle East. However, in the field of communications and explosives, the Egyptians are the experts in this area."
Aslam said evidence of "Algerian and Sudanese expertise in weapons training has also been discovered."
A U.S. counterterrorism expert supported Aslam's findings. "Evidence of African extremists in the region is visible," he said. "Mainly, these are trainers that work closely with al Qaeda and other terrorist factions."
Aslam, who lost his only son when militants attacked a mosque in Rawalpindi in December, also warned that a major operation in Northern Waziristan is "very much a possibility if the tribesmen in the region don't start asserting their authority on the militants."
He said Washington has aided the Pakistani military with weapons, including artillery, helicopters and other equipment, but more is still needed and his military "is stretched thin."
During the past year White House and Defense Department officials have pressured Pakistan to conduct a large-scale military offensive in North Waziristan against the militants, who they say use the region to initiate attacks against the U.S.-led coalition.
Aslam, who meets frequently with top U.S. commanders, said that al Qaeda's ideological base provides a "nexus" for other militant groups "terrorizing Pakistan and the rest of the world," and provides a link that allows them to aid each other in training and financing.
The Pakistani military will continue to hold Southern Waziristan for the next 18 months, he said.
During a rare trip to Northern Waziristan with the Pakistani military last week, a top field commander, Maj. Lt. Col. Nisar Mughal, said, "The terrorists are nowhere and everywhere."
He said that the Pakistani military is "hunting" and "killing" the enemy and that "the fight is far from over."
While his men were fighting insurgents in the surrounding hillsides near the abandoned village of Makeen, once home to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Messud, he said evidence of outside involvement by Egyptian and other foreign factions was found.
"We discovered caches of weapons and explosives that had evidence of outside involvement," Mughal said. "The evidence has already been sent for more analysis."