Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lashkar-e-Taiba Capable of Threatening U.S. Homeland


Lashkar-e-Taiba Capable of Threatening U.S. Homeland

Stephen Tankel Testimony June 12, 2013 House Homeland Security Committee


Lashkar-e-Taiba is clearly capable of posing a threat to the United States,

but one that must be kept in perspective.


Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is one of Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful militant

groups, says Stephen Tankel. In testimony before the House Homeland Security

Committee, he explains the group’s operational capabilities and assesses the

prospects for an attack on the American homeland.

Policy Recommendations


    Reallocate intelligence resources: With the decimation of al-Qaeda’s

central leadership, Washington should increase the number of intelligence

officers and analysts focused on LeT and other emerging terrorist threats.


    Degrade overseas networks: The United States should deepen

counterterrorism cooperation with India, Saudi Arabia, and the United

Kingdom to disrupt LeT’s overseas financing and recruitment.


    Target Western trainees: Washington should increase pressure on Pakistan

to identify, arrest, and extradite any Westerners training or attempting to

train with LeT.


    Warn Pakistan: The United States should signal to Pakistan’s military

and intelligence services the severe repercussions that would result if LeT,

or elements within it, mounted an attack on American soil.


Tankel concludes, “LeT is clearly capable of posing a threat to the United

States, but one that must be kept in perspective. . . . The United States

must remain attentive to the evolving threat and vigilant in taking steps to

degrade the group.”


Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Army of the Pure or LeT) is one of Pakistan’s oldest

and most powerful militant groups. India has been its primary enemy since

the early 1990s and the group has never considered itself to be an al-Qaeda

affiliate, but the U.S. is clearly on its enemies list. Since 9/11, the

group’s anti-American rhetoric has turned into action. LeT has been actively

attacking U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan since 2004-2005, its

presence there increased in the last several years and it deployed a small

number of fighters to Iraq following the U.S. invasion of that country. LeT

has also killed Americans and other Westerners in terrorist attacks in India

and contributed to other plots targeting them as well. The group has the

capabilities to launch terrorist attacks outside of South Asia, including

against the U.S., and is likely working to augment those capabilities.

However, the question of LeT’s intent to engage in a unilateral attack

against the U.S. homeland remains hotly debated.


Before turning to LeT’s capabilities and intent, it is important to

recognize why Pakistan is unlikely to attempt dismantling the group in the

near term. First, the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence

Directorate (ISI) have long considered LeT to be the country’s most reliable

proxy against India and the group still provides utility in this regard.

Second, Pakistan is facing a serious jihadist insurgency. LeT remains one of

the few militant outfits whose policy is to refrain from launching attacks

against the Pakistani state. Fearing LeT’s capability to execute or assist

with terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s heartland, the security establishment

does not want to take any action to change this calculus. LeT has built a

robust social welfare apparatus via its above-ground wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa

(JuD), and assorted other legitimate relief organizations. As a result,

concerns also exist regarding its capability to provoke social unrest in

strongholds such as Lahore. Moreover, LeT actually provides assistance at

times against some of the groups involved in anti-state violence. This

assistance includes challenging the ideological underpinnings of waging

jihad against a Muslim government, providing intelligence regarding

anti-state militants’ activities, and in some instances even targeting

anti-state militants directly.1 LeT has provided similar intelligence and

direct action assistance against separatists in Balochistan as well. In

short, the group has utility both externally and internally. Third, some of

LeT’s members enjoy strong personal relationships with members of Pakistan’s

armed forces.2


The safe haven LeT enjoys within Pakistan has provided it the freedom of

movement necessary to develop capabilities and capacity that enable it to

threaten the United States. At the same time, its integration with the

Pakistani state raises questions as to whether LeT leaders would risk their

group’s position to execute such an attack. The following focuses on a

LeT-led operation against the U.S. homeland. It is important to note,

however, that the primary threat to U.S. citizens from LeT terrorist attacks

remains in South Asia, either unilaterally as was the case with the 2008

Mumbai attacks or via operations executed in concert with the Indian

Mujahideen.3 Further, LeT could act as part of a consortium, meaning it need

not take the lead role in an attack in order for its capabilities to be used

against the U.S. homeland.

Capabilities to Launch an LeT-led Attack Against the U.S.


LeT’s training camps in Pakistan remain open and the group boasts a stable

of men who can provide instruction in small-unit commando tactics,

reconnaissance, counter-intelligence and the construction and use of

explosive devices. The group has transnational networks stretching across

South Asia, the Persian Gulf and Europe, with a particularly strong

connection to the United Kingdom, and reach into the U.S. and Canada. LeT

operates a robust above-ground infrastructure that, combined with

investments in legitimate enterprises in Pakistan and fundraising networks

abroad, has enabled it to operate independent of direct ISI financial

support. While it continues to enjoy reach-back capability into the

Pakistani military and ISI, LeT also has leveraged its financial resources

and operational freedom to develop an educated cadre among its membership.

Collectively, these individuals amplify technical, training, and planning


Training Apparatus


Soldiers on secondment from the military trained many of LeT’s trainers, and

some of them took early retirement to join the group. As a result, LeT

militants and trainers are considered to be among the most tactically adept

and its bomb-makers to be among the best in the region.4 Its own camps

continue to operate in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Mansehra, and

elsewhere in Pakistan. As LeT has deepened its collaboration with other

outfits, cross-pollination among trainers and trainees has occurred. At the

same time, LeT does not enjoy historically strong ties with other groups in

the region and actually suffers from a deficit of trust with some of them.

This should not discount the possibility that LeT trainers or camps might be

used to prepare militants from another group for attacks against the U.S.

However, the focus here is on the group’s capabilities to plan, prepare, and

execute a unilateral terrorist attack.


LeT’s own training traditionally begins with the Daura-e-Suffa, which

focuses on imbuing religious principles, including the obligatory nature of

jihad, as well as proselytizing. It lasts approximately three weeks, is

often conducted at the group’s compound in Muridke and includes lectures by

senior leaders. This is followed by the Daura-e-Aama, which consists of

lectures, additional religious indoctrination and prayer, physical training,

and some introductory weapons drills. It also lasts about three weeks and is

typically conducted in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. A small number of

those who go through the Daura-e-Suffa and Daura-e-Aama advance to the

Daura-e-Khasa, which takes place at a higher elevation in Mansehra. This

lasts approximately two to three months and includes physical training,

guerrilla warfare tactics, survival techniques, firing different types of

light weapons, and instruction on the use of hand grenades, rocket

launchers, and mortars. These time frames are not fixed and militants may

train for considerably longer as well as skipping the initial Daura-e-Suffa

and Daura-e-Amma in some instances.5


LeT also runs a bevy of specialized programs providing instruction on a

range of skills. In addition to maritime training for those who operate at

sea and commando training for individuals who will undertake fidayeen

attacks, these include instruction on counter-intelligence, IED

construction, sabotage and surveillance, conducting reconnaissance,

communicating in code, and the use of sophisticated communication

technologies.6 The focus on support activities such as reconnaissance and

communication is crucial to LeT’s capability to execute complex operations

abroad, as evidenced by the 2008 Mumbai attacks.7

Attack Planning Capabilities


LeT is a patient organization, known to perform surveillance of targets for

the purpose of creating target packages that it could use in the future. For

example, the 2008 Mumbai attacks began with surveillance of the Taj Mahal

Hotel conducted two years prior and with no immediate attack in mind. David

Headley, the Pakistani-American who undertook reconnaissance for the

attacks, made multiple trips to Mumbai, conducting extensive surveillance of

multiple targets. This included taking photographs and making video

recordings. He was taught how to use a GPS and plotted out the future

terrorists’ movements around Mumbai, bringing that GPS with the coordinates

back to Pakistan so the attackers could practice. LeT’s close relationship

with the Pakistani military enabled it to pull in a member of the navy to

help plan the maritime insertion.8 The final operation also revealed several

smart tactical decisions. Splitting the attackers into small teams made it

more difficult to intercept all of them and also created the sense of a

larger attack force. Exploding IED’s away from the attack sites contributed

to the confusion.


LeT used Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) during the Mumbai attacks and

this made it more difficult (though clearly not impossible) to intercept its

communications.9 According to Indian officials, LeT operatives based there

now communicate almost exclusively with their handlers in Pakistan via VoIP

or other technological means that are difficult to monitor. Notably, the

group historically has focused significant resources on building up its

technological capabilities, including sending members for graduate work in

the field of Information Technology. This raises questions about LeT’s

capability to engage in clandestine communications with transnational

operatives. Its significant financial assets likely enable the group to

invest in sophisticated programs and to experiment with various


Transnational Networks


LeT’s transnational networks stretch across South Asia, the Gulf and into

Europe and North America. These are used primarily for fundraising and to

support its regional operations, including attacks against India. However,

LeT operatives have been known to operate in a number of European countries

that participate in the Visa Waiver Program.11 Thus, it is believed to be

capable of talent-spotting, recruiting, and vetting radicalized Westerners.

LeT’s use of social media geared toward English-speaking audiences suggest

the group also is attempting to position itself as a destination of choice

for Westerners, especially members of the Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. and

Europe, interested in associating with jihadist groups.12


It must be noted that LeT historically has used Western operatives to

support its own operations in South Asia. Nevertheless, networks or

operatives used for support purposes can be re-directed to support terrorist

attacks. There are several notable examples of LeT foreign operatives

suspected of supporting al-Qaeda-led attacks, though it is unclear whether

the Pakistan-based LeT leadership sanctioned these activities.13 The one

example of the group using one of its operatives to launch an attack against

a Western country occurred in 2002-2003. Sajid Mir, who is responsible for

managing LeT’s overseas operatives and oversaw the planning and execution of

the 2008 Mumbai attacks, directed a French convert to Islam based in Paris

to travel to Australia, where he was to assist an LeT-trained local to

execute a terrorist attack.14 It is unclear from the open source whether the

LeT-trained local in Australia was directed to execute the attack by LeT

leaders or if he germinated the idea and reached out to the organization for

assistance. If the latter, it is also not clear if the entire LeT leadership

sanctioned deploying the Paris-based operative to assist or if Sajid Mir was

acting independently or on behalf of a faction within the group. Thus, the

operation illustrates not only LeT’s capacity to project power far beyond

South Asia, but also the difficulty of determining the dynamics behind the

decision to do so.

Training Westerners


Pakistanis constitute the majority of those trained in LeT camps, but the

group has a history of training foreigners too.15 After the U.S.

counterattack against Afghanistan destroyed the training infrastructure

there, LeT stepped in to train local militants as well as foreigners who

pre-9/11 would have trained in al-Qaeda camps, but now were looking for

other avenues of instruction.16 Since the mid-1990s, LeT has provided

training to Indian Muslims for attacks against their own country, a practice

that continues today. Some of these men have executed attacks on LeT’s

behalf, providing the group with plausible deniability, while others have

proffered logistical support to Pakistani members of LeT who infiltrated

India to carry out operations. Still others are associated with various

indigenous jihadist networks, most notably the Indian Mujahideen, or have

settled into life in India, essentially becoming sleeper agents the

authorities fear could be activated at another time.17


LeT has long had a policy of training Westerners. The majority of them are

members of the Pakistani and Kashmir diasporas in the U.K., but the group

has been training Americans since 2000.18 The first Americans known to have

trained with LeT were from Virginia and were part of a coterie of would-be

jihadists that ultimately became known as the Virginia Jihad Network. Sajid

Mir, the commander in charge of overseas operatives, arranged for several of

them to provide assistance to a British Let operative who traveled to the

U.S. on multiple occasions from 2002-2003 to procure military gear for the

group. Although the men clearly were used in a support capacity, one concern

about such networks is that their purpose can change over time. Indeed,

Sajid Mir also asked two of the trainees to undertake missions involving

information gathering as well as the dissemination of propaganda.19 One of

them told the FBI in 2004 that he was asked specifically to perform

surveillance on a chemical plant in Maryland.20 Precisely what LeT or

elements within it planned to do with this information is unknown, though

they clearly were interested in both surveillance and expanding the group’s

networks in the U.S.


In 2005, two men from Atlanta Georgia with ties to the ‘Toronto 18’ as well

as to a British Pakistani who acted as a talent spotter for LeT identified

possible targets for a terrorist attack in the U.S. 21 A month later the duo

traveled to Washington, DC, where they shot video recordings of possible

targets, including the U.S. Capitol; the headquarters building of the World

Bank; the Masonic Temple in Alexandria, Virginia; and a group of large fuel

storage tanks near a highway in northern Virginia.22 One of the men traveled

to Pakistan later that year intending to study in a madrasa and then train

with LeT.23 He arrived the week after the London Underground bombings that

occurred on July 7th and was unable to realize his ambitions, possibly owing

to the heightened security environment in Pakistan where two of the London

bombers had trained. Notably, at least one of them is believed to have spent

a night at Muridke, though there is no open source evidence suggesting LeT

had any direct involvement in the 7/7 attacks.24


LeT has trained others living in America since then, none more famous than

Daood Gilani, who took the name David Coleman Headley in 2006 to help

facilitate his reconnaissance trips in Mumbai and elsewhere for the group.

He joined LeT in February 2002, participating in the Daura-e-Suffa that

month. In August 2002 he went through the Daura-e-Aama and then in April

2003 the Daura-e-Khasa, LeT’s three-month guerrilla warfare training

program. More specialized trainings followed, and in 2006 he began

conducting reconnaissance in India that ultimately led to the 2008 Mumbai

attacks. Headley was trained and handled jointly by LeT and Pakistani

intelligence, and used in a support capacity. However, without his

contributions in terms of reconnaissance, it is unlikely the 2008 Mumbai

attacks would have been as operationally successful. Notably, despite his

access to America and Americans, LeT used Headley overwhelming for

operations against India. (Headley’s involvement in an aborted plot against

Denmark is discussed below.)


Given the benefits Headley provided to the group, it is reasonable to assume

LeT may have increased its efforts to recruit and train other Westerners or

to find ways for Pakistani members to acquire citizenship or residency in

Western countries. For example, in September 2011, the Federal Bureau of

Investigation arrested Jubair Ahmad, a 24 year-old Pakistani immigrant

living in Woodbridge, Virginia. Ahmed received religious training from LeT

as a teenager, and later attended its basic training camp while living in

Pakistan, before entering the U.S. in 2007 with other members of his family.

After moving to the U.S. he provided material support to LeT, producing and

distributing propaganda.25




As should be clear, LeT has all of the tools necessary to strike the

homeland. The group’s instructors are very proficient for a non-state actor,

it has developed an array of sophisticated training programs and it enjoys

significantly more freedom to conduct those programs than other groups in

the region. LeT’s transnational networks enable it to identify and vet

possible Western recruits, including Americans or citizens from visa waiver

countries in Europe. The group also has the operational space as well as the

organizational wherewithal to build relationships in the Pakistani diaspora

community. A cautious and calculating organization, LeT primarily has used

its overseas operatives to support operations in South Asia. The danger of

LeT’s training apparatus and transnational networks, however, is that they

can be redirected toward international attacks. As the 2008 Mumbai attacks

demonstrated, given enough time and space to plan, LeT is capable of

inflicting significant and spectacular damage once it decides to do so.

Intent to Launch an LeT-led Attack Against the U.S.


LeT is a pan-Islamist group committed to defending the umma and avenging

what it perceives to be the oppression of or violence against Muslims. The

U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the use of unmanned aerial

vehicles (drones) to launch missile strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere make

it an obvious ideological target. India remains the group’s main enemy and

if the group could only attack one country then that likely would remain its

target, but LeT is a robust enough organization to launch attacks against

multiple countries. And it added America to its enemies list long ago. LeT

has killed U.S. citizens in Mumbai in 2008, though they were not the main

targets of the attack. The group has also deployed fighters to Afghanistan,

where they directly confront U.S. forces, and previously to Iraq. Yet there

is no evidence LeT has ever attempted an attack against the U.S. homeland,

despite access to some of its citizens and residents. So what’s stopping it?


LeT’s leadership retains an element of nationalism that is distinctly at

odds with al-Qaeda and still finds common ground, as it has since the 1990s,

with elements in the Pakistani military and ISI. LeT and its backers remain

co-dependent: each afraid of the repercussions that might stem from

splitting with the other. Furthermore, unlike al-Qaeda Central, which

confronts a challenging security environment, LeT controls a robust social

welfare infrastructure and its leaders value the influence that comes with

it. In the 1990s the group needed the state to build up its infrastructure,

whereas now it is reliant on the state not to tear it down. It is worth

highlighting the leadership’s devotion to dawa through the delivering of

social services and the fact that protecting its domestic infrastructure has

at times limited its military adventurism. This leadership operates openly

in Pakistan’s settled areas, not from a hidden redoubt.


This freedom of movement carries with it a number of benefits, but also

serves as another leverage point that can be used to constrain LeT’s

activity. As a result, significant elements within the group are still

“tamed by the ISI” as one former member observed.26 Pakistan’s security

services are believed to use this and other means of leverage to put

pressure on LeT to refrain from striking Western interests abroad. Unless

the Pakistani security establishment wants a showdown with the United

States, this is unlikely to change. At the same time, cracking down on LeT

is not the top U.S. demand made on Pakistan. The group does not want that to

change, nor does it wish to invite greater unilateral American action

against it.


In short, LeT’s restraint has more to do with strategic calculation than

ideological inclination. If Pakistan were to crack down sincerely on LeT,

then the group’s cost-benefit calculus could change. However, key LeT

leaders also might authorize a strike against the U.S. if they believed the

group could avoid retribution or that it could withstand the costs and that

these were outweighed by the benefits. It is also important to note LeT’s

history of using false names to claim its attacks and, in some instances, of

training radicalized actors indigenous to their target country to carry them

out. In other words, unlike al-Qaeda, the group is likely to do everything

possible to hide its hand in any attack on the American homeland. It is

impossible to predict with certainty whether the day will come when LeT

changes its calculus or, if so, what the tipping point might be. A number of

variables could inform such a shift. Two of the most important are

inter-related: ISI situational awareness of and influence on LeT; and

organizational dynamics within LeT.

ISI Situational Awareness and Influence


The level of Pakistani control over LeT is hotly debated and it is arguably

more useful to think in terms of situational awareness and influence. The

ISI reportedly retains a liaison relationship with LeT, meaning that there

are designated go-betweens, with senior leaders also having specific

handlers.27 Local interlocutors in Pakistan, including one former and one

current LeT member both of mid-rank, assert that the security services have

informants within the organization and also engage in other forms of

intelligence collection regarding its activities.28 This provides a

significant level of situational awareness. However, given the uncertainties

associated with most principal-agent relationships of this nature, it is

also reasonable to assume that LeT has taken countermeasures to enable some

clandestine activities. In terms of influence and guidance, the ISI

leadership generally provides descriptive rather than detailed instruction.

This means it sets broad guidelines and leaves implementation up to

line-level ISI officers and, in some cases, LeT militants themselves.


According to David Headley, his handler, known to him as Major Iqbal, was

aware of all the targets chosen for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Moreover, Major

Iqbal reportedly was the person who recommended LeT target the Chabbad

House, believing (wrongly) that it was a front for the Israeli Mossad.29

Given the nature of relationships between LeT leaders and the ISI, it is

reasonable to assume others were also aware of the operational details. This

is reinforced by the fact that at times Headley met with Iqbal to brief him

on information, which the latter already had.30 It is unclear whether the

ISI leadership was aware of the scope and scale of the attacks. If not, this

may have resulted from LeT’s handlers not passing information all the way up

the chain of command or from the turnover that was taking place in the ISI

at the time.31 In October 2008, one month before the Mumbai attacks, LeT

began plotting a terrorist attack in Denmark. Major Iqbal was present for

the initial discussions that took place between Sajid Mir and David

Headley.32 Several months later, in the wake of the fallout from the 2008

Mumbai attacks, Sajid postponed the operation indefinitely as a result of

what he told Headley was ISI pressure to do so.33


In summation, regardless of what the ISI leadership may or may not have

known about Mumbai, from LeT’s perspective it was a sanctioned operation.

And when the group allegedly was told to put an attack against a Western

country on hold, its leaders apparently submitted. This suggests a

reasonably high level of ISI situational awareness and influence. Yet with

the 2014 drawdown of U.S. and Coalition forces from Afghanistan, there is

cause for concern about how this might impact the LeT-ISI relationship.


First, LeT is likely to attempt to keep a small presence in Northeast

Afghanistan, where its members have worked to carve out territory. If it

succeeds, then access to safe haven in Afghanistan for LeT conceivably could

reduce ISI situational awareness of what its members there are doing. At the

very least, it could increase plausible deniability for LeT and, thus, for

the Pakistani state itself. Each could conceivably claim they did not

sanction plots orchestrated from across the border, even if planned in

Pakistan, with the result being to heighten the likelihood such attacks

might occur.


Second, LeT is likely to agitate for regenerating the jihad directly against

India, both in the form of terrorist attacks against the mainland and

increased activity in India-administered Kashmir. The latter has been torpid

since the late 2000s. Several LeT-led attacks there this year suggest

attempts to regenerate the conflict, but it is highly unlikely to succeed in

spurring violence on the order of magnitude of that which existed before the

conflict began to ebb. If the Pakistani security establishment is not deemed

supportive enough of these efforts and they fail to bear fruit, this could

heighten the chance that LeT or factions within it undertake unsanctioned

attacks either against India or Western targets.


Third, if the situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate, key LeT

leaders could make the determination that the security establishment is in

no position to severely punish the group or those individuals in it who are

considered essential to keeping the rank-and-file in line. They may also

assume—rightly or wrongly—that as the American presence in the region

shrinks, Washington will have less leverage over Pakistan and thus fewer

options for responding to an attack against the U.S. homeland.


Hence, these leaders could surmise that they, as individuals, and the group

collectively were well enough positioned to withstand the consequences of an

attack against the U.S. At the same time, a deterioration of the situation

in Pakistan could mean that those anti-state jihadist groups with which LeT

competes were going from strength to strength. Thus, attacking the U.S.

homeland could bring significant prestige within the jihadist universe at a

time when some LeT leaders felt the group needed a win. Such a decision

would be inextricably linked to dynamics within the organization, discussed


Organizational Dynamics


LeT remains more coherent than most groups in Pakistan, but internal

tensions exist regarding where the group should focus its energies and how

close it should remain to the state. The most obvious point of tension

concerns whether to remain regionally focused (i.e. primarily fighting

against India and in Afghanistan) or to expand the group’s involvement in

the global jihad. David Headley’s account suggests there was debate over the

decision to include targets such as the Chabbad House for the Mumbai

attacks.34 Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the Operational Commander of LeT, and

Sajid Mir, the man responsible for overseeing transnational operatives, were

in favor and clearly won the day. In short, two of the group’s most

important militant leaders promoted expanding LeT’s target set.


Even those LeT leaders who favor a growing involvement in the global jihad

against America do not believe this should come at the expense of war

against India. However, this policy of attempting to have it both ways opens

the group up to additional factionalism, which could be exacerbated if LeT

is unable to regenerate its jihad against India post-2014 or it were to lose

one or several of its founding members. LeT’s involvement in Afghanistan has

been a formative experience for some of those who comprise the next

generation and possibly a transformative experience for some of the current

crop of leaders. Just as more than two decades spent waging war against

India hallowed that cause, almost ten years spent fighting against U.S.

forces in Afghanistan may have influenced the preference structure for some

of the group’s members. The rise of new leaders who cut their teeth in the

post 9/11 world could have important implications in terms of LeT’s future



Another important point of tension concerns the degree to which LeT should

sublimate its jihadist impulses in order to pursue a reformist agenda via

its above-ground infrastructure. LeT and JuD are two sides of the same coin,

but they also represent different sets of priorities. Hafiz Saeed may lead a

militant organization, but he does so from his position as a cleric who

lives comfortably in Lahore and values spreading his interpretation of the

Ahl-e-Hadith faith and promoting reformism in Pakistan. Zaki-ur Rehman

Lakhvi is a militant’s militant. He has fought in Afghanistan and

Indian-administered Kashmir, lost a son to jihad, and is currently on trial

for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. It is reasonable to assess that he

is more committed to militancy than missionary outreach. Notably, these

debates are about more than just ideological preferences. They are also

about power within the organization.


Additional variables could inform whether these tensions inflame or abate,

as well as how that process impacts LeT’s behavior. First, fighting in

Afghanistan has not only provided an opportunity to confront U.S. forces

directly, but also necessitated collaboration with an array of other

militant actors including al-Qaeda. This has the potential to create

conditions in which other actors with more extreme agendas can influence LeT

members. It also means the group is competing with those other actors for

credibility.35 Second, and related, LeT’s close ties to the Pakistani state

open up its leaders to criticism from the rank-and-file as well as other

militant groups seeking to poach some of its members. Although

organizationally opposed to attacks in Pakistan, it is a myth that no LeT

member has ever been involved in violence there. Some occasionally get out

of line.36 Others have left to join other militant groups engaged in

violence against the state.37 The desire to reset the narrative that the

group is fighting the ISI’s jihad and not Allah’s jihad, which striking the

U.S. would help to do, is unlikely to change LeT’s calculus on its own. Nor

should one expect the group to cross the strategic Rubicon and launch a

unilateral attack against the U.S. homeland out of concern that some

members, no matter how valuable, are breaking away. However, these could be

among a number of factors that influence LeT leaders or factions within the

group when they are considering whether or not to expand the group’s

operational footprint.



Any attempt made to disarm and demobilize LeT without Pakistani support,

specifically from the military and ISI, is destined to fail. Without host

country support, the U.S. would have to employ direct military action to

target LeT’s infrastructure, which is based in the settled areas of Pakistan

near to population centers. Similarly, U.S. efforts to convince the

Pakistani security establishment to break with its historical policy of

supporting irregular outfits in general or LeT specifically are also

unlikely to succeed in the short term. Nevertheless, there are steps the

U.S. can continue to take to degrade LeT and areas where it could increase

its efforts.


First, barring a resurgent al-Qaeda, the drawdown of U.S. forces from

Afghanistan could create space for Washington to focus more on LeT. Resource

allocation should be realigned away from al-Qaeda Central and Afghan-centric

militants, especially intelligence officers and analysts whose expertise

will be essential for identifying emerging and evolving jihadist threats

from LeT and other regional actors. This does not mean flooding Pakistan

with clandestine officers focused on LeT. The Raymond Davis episode

highlighted the dangers inherent in such activities. Rather, the U.S. could

augment collection efforts in LeT’s near abroad as well as increase

analytical capacity further for intelligence collected. This might include

commissioning a reassessment of LeT’s historical involvement in

international attacks in light of new information that has surely been

gathered since the intelligence community enhanced its focus on the group

post-Mumbai. Even this seemingly minor effort, could reveal important

lessons about LeT’s calculus at critical times in its evolution.

Additionally, LeT has had the same leaders since the group was founded and

these men are not getting any younger. It would be worthwhile to explore the

scenarios that might eventuate were a battle for succession to occur.

Finally, the United States should develop a response plan in the event of a

LeT-led attack against the homeland that includes a mix of inducements,

rewards, retributive measures, and unilateral actions vis-à-vis Pakistan.

The United States should be prepared for a phased escalation in the event of

Pakistani reticence and should develop oversight mechanisms to ensure

Pakistan keeps any commitments it makes.


Second, the U.S. should continue to pursue actions necessary to degrade

LeT’s international networks and contain its operations outside Pakistan.

The U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism is more than a decade

old, but counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries really

accelerated immediately after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.38 However, engagement

on counterterrorism has since leveled off. Regenerating this engagement and

enhancing counterterrorism cooperation is in both countries’ interest, and

efforts to do so should be supported. In the last several years, the United

States, India, and the United Kingdom all took steps to facilitate

counterterrorism efforts in Bangladesh. As a result, the LeT presence is

reduced, and maintaining vigilance on that front remains important. The

Persian Gulf is still fertile soil in terms of a support base for South

Asian militancy. U.S. counterterrorism efforts vis-à-vis the Gulf

historically focused primarily on terrorist threat financing. The arrest and

deportation by Saudi Arabia of two Indian LeT operatives suggests a greater

focus has been given to monitoring and infiltrating Gulf-based networks that

could be used to recruit operatives or provide logistical support for

terrorist attacks.39 The Gulf has not suddenly become a no-go area for LeT

militants, but reducing their confidence that it is a guaranteed safe space

for operations could have an impact on how militants conduct activities

there. The U.S. should continue to press Gulf allies, especially Saudi

Arabia, on these issues and to encourage their cooperation on

counterterrorism efforts with India. Finally, the U.S. is already engaging

in counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing vis-à-vis LeT with

allies in Europe. Some Western allies place a higher premium on these

efforts than others, suggesting there is room for improvement.


Third, the LeT threat must be taken seriously, but should not drive U.S.

policy toward Pakistan. At the same time, Washington’s objectives vis-à-vis

Pakistan need to expand. When tough choices have had to be made,

Washington’s priority has been killing al-Qaeda and countering

Pakistan-based insurgents fighting in Afghanistan. The 2014 drawdown in

Afghanistan and success degrading al-Qaeda Central create an opportunity to

elevate the priority given to LeT. They also demand revising the U.S.

counterterrorism architecture in South Asia in line with the decreasing

threat from al-Qaeda and evolving threats from regional actors like LeT

against which unilateral direct action has less utility.40 Any policies

regarding LeT or counterterrorism more broadly must nest within a wider

approach geared toward encouraging, enabling, and compelling Pakistan to

address its myriad infirmities. Such an approach includes, but is not

limited to, redressing the current civil-military imbalance and creating

conditions for action against militancy that could bear fruit down the road.

In the short term, this means gearing an overall approach toward maintaining

a level of engagement and influence that allows Washington to execute

transactions on narrow security issues, exploit opportunities to reinforce

positive structural change within Pakistan when possible, and remain

prepared to engage in crisis management should the need arise.


Laying the groundwork for future action against LeT is complicated and does

not promise satisfaction. However, Washington is unlikely to have success

attempting to force strategic steps Pakistan is not yet ready or able to

take. Given the ground reality, the U.S. should remain focused on containing

LeT in the short-term, but also mindful of opportunities that can be

exploited to weaken it or separate the group from its support base. This

means continuing to signal to the Pakistani security establishment the

severe repercussions that would result were LeT, or elements within it, to

attack the homeland. Additionally, Washington should increase pressure on

Pakistan to identify, arrest, and extradite any Westerners training or

attempting to train with LeT. While being mindful of the need to protect

sources and methods of intelligence collection, U.S. officials should seize

opportunities to enlighten their counterparts in Pakistan about the

involvement of any current or former LeT militants in anti-state violence as

well as about activities the group attempts to keep hidden from the ISI. The

U.S. should also explore the viability and potential consequences of efforts

to exploit aforementioned fissures within the group. Finally, the U.S.

should prepare for the possibility, albeit unlikely in the near-term, that

Pakistan attempts to mainstream LeT or elements of it. This includes

exploring how the U.S. might assist, overtly or covertly in such an

enterprise, the costs and benefits of doing so, and the possible outcomes

that might eventuate.




LeT is clearly capable of posing a threat to the United States, but one that

must be kept in perspective. The group is not the proverbial shark in the

water that must keep moving in order not to die. It has practiced a

significant degree of strategic restraint given its capabilities, suggesting

it can be deterred. This is not cause for indifference. LeT is also a

patient organization and one for which the current strategic calculus is not

fixed indefinitely. The U.S. must remain attentive to the evolving threat

and vigilant in taking steps to degrade the group.



1  Regarding LeT’s ideological utility see, for example, Sermon by LeT

cleric Mubashir Ahmad Rabbani entitled “The Schism of Excommunication,”

undated. Al-Qaeda refuted points from “The Schism of Excommunication,” in a

book entitled, Knowledgeable Judgment on the Mujrites of the (Present) Age.

C. Christine Fair, “Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Pakistani State,” Survival 53,

no. 4, 2011. Information regarding LeT’s intelligence gathering is based on

field interviews in Pakistan. Regarding LeT direct action against anti-state

actors see, for example, Stephen Tankel, Storming the World Stage: The Story

of Lashkar-e-Taiba (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), pp. 196,

200-201. Tahir Khan, “Mohmand Agency: TTP accuses rival groups of plotting

attacks on its bases,” The Express Tribune, June 9, 2013.


2  For a detailed analysis of LeT recruiting patterns and overlaps with

those of Pakistan’s military see, Anirban Ghosh et al, The Fighters of

Lashkar-e-Taiba: Recruitment, Training, Deployment and Death (West Point,

NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2013).



3  Networks associated with LeT were suspected of supplying the

military-grade RDX used in the 2010 bombing of the German Bakery in Pune and

an LeT commander (Mirza Himayat Baig) cooperated with the Indian Mujahideen

to execute the attack. Praveen Swami, “Lashkar-linked terror charity raises

fears,” The Hindu, September 2, 2011. Chandan Haygunde, “Aspiring teacher to

terror accused,” Indian Express, April 19, 2013.


4  The latter are reportedly responsible for building some of the improvised

explosive devices used in Afghanistan as well as instructing others on how

to do so.  Tankel, Storming the World Stage, pp. 198-199.


5  For a detailed assessment of LeT’s training infrastructure and programs

see, Ibid, pp. 74-79.


6  “Testimony of David Coleman Headley to the Indian National Investigative

Agency,” 3-9 June 2010.


7  The Mumbai attacks were several years in the making and benefited from

extensive surveillance by David Headley.


8  At one meeting, the men examined nautical charts and discussed various

landing options. The naval frogman directed Headley to explore the position

of Indian naval vessels in order to avoid a gunfight before entering Indian

waters, which Headley did upon his trip to Mumbai. Ibid.


9  Transnational operatives were used to set up the VoIP, which also was

intended to make it more difficult to trace.


10  The group reportedly purchased para-gliders and commissioned an expert

in their use to train a small cadre of members. “Chinese training LeT men in

paragliding: Abu Jundal,” DNA India, July 3, 2012.


11  Tankel, Storming the World Stage, pp. 96-102, 164-167.'


12 The group is active through its above-ground organization, JuD, on

Twitter and Facebook. JuD previously had a youtube page that featured

various LeT attacks in India and Pakistan.


13  For example, activists in Paris associated with the group are suspected

of providing some logistical support to the “shoebomber” Richard Reid. LeT

operatives in the U.K. are also suspected of providing money to those

involved in the 2006 attempt to bomb transatlantic flights from the United

Kingdom using liquid explosives. Regarding assistance to Richard Reid see,

Judgment in Republic of France vs. Rama et. al., Magistrates' Court of

Paris, June 16, 2005. Regarding the 2006 bomb plot see, Dexter Filkins and

Souad Mekhennet, "Pakistani Charity Under Scrutiny In Financing of Airline

Bomb Plot," New York Times, Aug. 13, 2006. Joshua Partlow and Kamran Khan,

"Charity Funds Said to Provide Clues to Alleged Terrorist Plot," Washington

Post, Aug. 15, 2006. Henry Chu and Sebastian Rotella, "Three Britons

convicted of plot to blow up planes," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 8, 2009. John

Burns, "3 Sentenced in London for Airline Plot," New York Times, July 12,



14   Sajid Mir arranged for members of the group’s network in Paris to

provide money for the trip. Australian security

officials said the men intended to select a suitable target and purchase the

chemicals necessary to build a large bomb,

though it remains unclear whether they intended to assemble it or LeT was

planning to deploy another foreign explosives expert for that purpose.

Regarding the role of LeT’s French networks see, Jean-Louise Bruguière, Ce

que je n'ai pas pu dire  (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2009), pp. 469-472.

"Committal Hearing of Faheem Khalid Lodhi,"  Downing Centre Local Court,

Sydney, Australia, Dec. 17, 2004. Natasha Wallace, "Court Battle Over Secret

Evidence," Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 18,  2004. Judgment in "Republic of

France vs. Rama, et. al." Appeal Judgement in "Fahim Khalid Lodhi vs.

Regina," New  South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, Dec. 20, 2007.

"Frenchman Played ‘Major’ Role in Australia Terror Plot, Court  Hears,"

Agence France-Presse, Feb. 8, 2007. Information regarding activities in

Australia from, Australian security officials  said the two men intended to

select a suitable target and purchase the chemicals necessary to build a

large bomb, though it  remains unclear whether they intended to assemble it

or LeT was planning to deploy another foreign explosives expert for that

purpose.  Interview with former member of the Australian security services.

Appeal  Judgement in "Fahim Khalid Lodhi vs. Regina." Martin Chulov,

Australian Jihad: The Battle Against Terrorism from  Within and Without,

(Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2006), p. 143. Liz Jackson, "Program Transcript:

Willie Brigitte,"  ABC, Feb. 9, 2004.


15  It claims to have trained recruits during the 1990s for combat in

Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya, Kosovo, the southern Philippines,

and, of course, Indian-administered Kashmir. MDI website, “A Brief

Introduction to the Markaz and the Group X,” undated.


16  Chulov, Australian Jihad, p. 151. Mariam Abou Zahab, ‘Salafism in

Pakistan: The Ahl-e Hadith Movement,’

in Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement, ed. Roel Meijer (London:

Hurst, 2009),p. 140.  Amir Mir, The

True Face of Jehadists (Lahore: Mashal Press, 2004), p. 70. Josh Meyer,

‘Extremist group works in the open in

Pakistan,’ LA Times 18 Dec. 2007.


17  Regarding the Indian jihadist movement see, Stephen Tankel, The Indian

Jihadist Movement: Evolution and Dynamics, Washington, DC: National Defense

University, forthcoming (provisional title).


18  Indictment in “United States vs. Randall Todd Royer,” The United States

District Court for the Eastern-District of Virginia, Alexandria Division

June 2003


19  Memorandum Opinion in “United States vs. Masoud Khan et al.,” The United

States District Court for the Eastern-District of Virginia, Alexandria

Division 4 March 2004


20  United States Attorney's Office Eastern District of Virginia, “Virginia

Jihad Member Convicted of Perjury, Obstruction, ” Feb. 5, 2007.


21 United States Attorney's Office Northern District of Georgia, “Terrorism

Defendants Sentenced: Ehsanul Islam Sadequee Receives 17 Years in Prison;

Co-defendant Syed Haris Ahmed Receives 13 Years,” Dec. 14, 2009.


22  Indictment in “United States of America vs. Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul

Islam Sadequee," United States District Court for the Northern District of

Georgia, July 19, 2006.


23  Ibid.


24  Tankel, Storming the World Stage, p. 163.


25  Stephen Tankel, “Lashkar-e-Taiba’s American Connections,” Foreign

Policy, Sept. 6, 2011.


26   Author interview with former Lashkar-e-Taiba member, Jan. 2009 in



27  “Testimony of David Coleman Headley to the Indian National Investigative



28  David Headley’s testimony supports this contention. See, Ibid.


29   Sebastian Rotella, “Witness: Pakistani Intel Officer Ordered Hit on

Mumbai Jews,” ProPublica, May 24, 2011.


30  Superceding Indictment in “United States of America vs. Ilyas Kashmiri,

Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed [a/k/a ‘Major Abdur Rehman,’ a/k/a ‘Pasha’], David

Coleman Headley [a/k/a ‘Daood Gilani], Tahawwur Hussain Rana.” “Testimony of

David Coleman Headley to the Indian National Investigative Agency.”


31  Ahmad Shuja Pasha became Director General of the ISI in October 2008, a

month after the Mumbai attacks were originally scheduled to take place. He

reportedly visited LeT’s Operational Commander, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, in

jail following the latter’s detention in the wake of the attacks in order to

“understand the Mumbai attack conspiracy.” “Testimony of David Coleman

Headley to the Indian National Investigative Agency.”


32  Ibid.


33  Plea Agreement in “United States vs. David Coleman Headley [a/k/a ‘Daood

Gilani],” The United States District Court for the Northern District of

Illinois, Eastern Division, Mar. 18, 2010.


34 “Testimony of David Coleman Headley to the Indian National Investigative



35 For example, after LeT acceded to ISI demands to delay the Danish plot,

David Headley began working with al-Qaeda to execute the operation.


36 See for example, Amir Mir, “ Lahore episode further blemishes Punjab

govt’s record,” The News, Mar. 11, 2013. Tankel, Storming the World Stage,”

p. 202.


37  See, for example, Tankel, Storming the World Stage,” pp. 130-131.


38   The two countries also launched a Homeland Security Dialogue

Ministerial in May 2011.


39  U.S. intelligence is believed to have played an important role in the

capture and handover of at least one of the men. Stephen Tankel, “Sharing is

Caring: Containing terrorism in South Asia,” Foreign Policy, June 20, 2012.


40 While the U.S. should not abandon the option of drone strikes, it should

use them in coordination with U.S. diplomats attuned to their impact on the

broader political and security environment.



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