A top US general has expressed concern at the increasing reach of Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of US’s Pacific Command, was speaking to the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee on April 12. He said that the LeT “deliberately targets Westerners and specifically engages coalition forces in Afghanistan”. He went on to say that the terrorist group has become a global threat and is no longer focusing only on India or South Asia.

Admiral Willard also told the committee that the US Pacific Command was actively working with South Asian governments and its counter-terrorism agencies to enhance their capacities to counter this threat. He also said that there was evidence of LeT’s presence in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Participation of LeT has been observed in conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, and the Philippines too.

This is not the first time a top US official has expressed concern about the activities of LeT in South Asia and elsewhere. A host of US officials and strategic experts have time and again told the Senate committees about the global threat that LeT poses.

C Christine Fair, a political scientist and professor at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., in a testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee in March 2009 has said: “LeT threatens U.S. interests irrespective of its formal ties—or lack thereof—to al Qaeda. LeT has well-established linkages to international terrorism and it espouses goals that are similar to those of al Qaeda as the foregoing discussion illustrates.”

“LeT poses a number of concerns for the United States, not the least of which include ongoing operations against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, the likelihood of future attacks in India with the ever present possibility of prompting yet another Indo-Pakistan military crises, and ‘copy-cat’ attacks in the United States or elsewhere,” she added.

Although Admiral Willard said that the group has declared a jihad against the US and is attacking US forces in Afghanistan, its main target is India.

This statement suggests the US’s reluctance to come out openly against LeT and acknowledge that the organisation poses a direct threat not only to India but to the US too and decisive action needs to be taken against it to dismantle it.

Media reports in the past have revealed how LeT has recruited Westerners, especially Britons and Americans.

According to news reports in Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, Westerners who have passed through LeT’s training camps include Australian-born David Hicks, ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid, and the mastermind of a failed bombing in London, Dhiren Barot.

The serious threat that LeT poses to the US can be gauged from the involvement of David Coleman Headley in the Mumbai terror attacks and a series of LeT sleeper cells that were busted in the US since 2001.

Some of busted terror cells include:

  • Virginia Paintball Jihad Network: The US Justice Department announced in 2003 that it has rolled up the largest known US-based terror cell connected to LeT, also known as Virginia Paintball Jihad Network. According to an IPT Investigative Report on the rise of LeT, more than 12 conspirators were implicated in the case.
  • New York Jihad: “The LeT was also connected to another pair of American homegrown terrorists in the years following the 9/11 attacks,” the IPT report states. The investigation, which produced links not only to Lashkar, but the Virginia Paintball Jihad plot, was uncovered by agents of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2005, the report added. Four people were captured and prosecuted in the case.
  • Georgia Jihad: The ICT investigation reveals the busting of yet another domestic terror plot in mid-2000.  The plotters in the case, Ehsanul Sadequee and Syed Haris Ahmed, expressed interest in attending LeT training camps and provided the terrorist group with operational materials with which to carry out attacks within the United States, the report states.

The most recent and disconcerting involvement of a US national with the LeT is of David Headley. Headley’s involvement in the 26/11 terror attacks resulted in the killing of over 160 people including six Americans.

Headley’s involvement in the Mumbai terror attack also raises serious questions about the US ‘s own counter-terror efforts.

It is very surprising how Headley operated freely from the US with the law enforcement agencies having no clue of his activities. Details have already emerged that Headley worked for the US’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as an informant for a long time. Questions have also been raised about his links with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which may explain his many unhindered trips to Pakistan in the past decade. Details have also emerged that he was being used to penetrate Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Headley’s case is frighteningly similar to another US informant, which the US would never want to forget. Ali Mohamed—former Egyptian army officer turned CIA operative, Special Forces advisor, and an FBI informant—is one of the most dangerous intelligence operators who compromised the US intelligence community before the fateful September 11, 2001 attacks.

Mohamed, rightly referred as an al Qaeda sleeper agent, maintained smooth relations with al Qaeda and the US agencies simultaneously and gained access to the most sensitive details of the US counter-terrorism plans.

Despite such revelations the US authorities are under the impression that as long as LeT is primarily focused on India, there is no need for them to pressurize pressurise Pakistan, specially the ISI, to sever ties with the LeT and dismantle it.

Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in his testimony to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the United States House of Representatives on March 11, 2010 pointed towards ‘shadowy ISI connections’ with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Tellis also stated that “the management of the LeT detainees by the Pakistani state and the tortured progress of their trial demonstrates that, whatever the outcome of this charade, the ISI has simply no intention of eviscerating LeT (or any other anti-Indian jihadi groups) because of their perceived utility to Pakistan’s national strategy vis-à-vis India.

It is time the US government wakes up to the serious global threat this terror organisation poses. The Indian government, meanwhile, has to evolve a policy to take on the LeT on its own.

(This article first appeared on the website of Centre for Land Warfare Studies on April 16, 2011)