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Pakistani Taliban joins anti-Assad war

The move is aimed at cementing ties with Al-Qaeda's central leadership.

FILE:A group of rebels on a tank in Darkoush, Syria. Picture: Rahima Essop/EWN.

PAKISTAN - The Pakistani Taliban have set up camps and sent hundreds of men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad as part of a strategy aimed at cementing ties with Al-Qaeda's central leadership.

More than two years since the start of the anti-Assad rebellion, Syria has become a magnet for foreign Sunni fighters who have flocked to the Middle Eastern nation to join what they see as a holy war against Shiite oppressors.

Operating alongside militant groups such as the al-Nusra Front, described by the United States as a branch of Al-Qaeda, they mainly come from nearby countries such as Libya and Tunisia who are affected by similar conflict as a result of the Arab Spring.

On Sunday, Taliban commanders in Pakistan said they had also decided to join the cause, saying hundreds of fighters had gone to Syria to fight alongside their "Mujahideen friends".

The announcement further complicates the picture on the ground in Syria, where rivalries have already been on the boil between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamists.

Islamists operate a smaller, more effective force which now controls most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria. Tensions erupted again on Thursday when an Al-Qaeda linked militant group assassinated one of the Free Syrian Army's top commanders after a dispute in the port city of Latakia.

It also comes at a time when Assad's forces, with backing from Shiite fighters from Hezbollah and Iran, have been making gains on the Syrian battlefield.

A Taliban commander in Pakistan, who 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."

AL- QAEDA LOYALTIES

The Pakistani Taliban operates 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda and other Jihadist 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 (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-Qaeda allies.

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