Pakistani Taliban says its fighters are in Syria, more on the way
Syrian rebels head to the town of Bsankol in the northwestern province of Idlib to join comrades fighting regime forces for the control of the highway that connects Idlib with Latakia on July 11, 2013. (Source: AFP/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS)
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The Pakistani Taliban says more than 100 of its fighters have reached Syria to join local rebels in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Speaking to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper on telephone, Abdul Rashid Abbasi, a top commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan which is linked to al-Qaida, confirmed reports the first batch of its TTP fighters has set up a center in Syria and that "another batch of 120 to 150 fighters is on its way from different routes and will reach Syrian cities this week to join the force."
"We will provide whatever support is needed by our Syrian brothers," Abbasi said.
CNN quoted Abbasi that the TTP fighters were sent on the request of Abu Omar Baghdadi, al-Qaida's operational commander in Syria, adding his group's fighters would be under the command and control structure of al-Qaida in Syria.
The TTP also said it has asked several of its Pakistani chapters to recruit new fighters willing to go to Syria.
Dawn quoted a close associate of TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud as saying: "Yes, the TTP has a global agenda of fighting jihad against the infidels and this movement of sending fighters is part of that spirit. The Arabs had been here to support us against the Russians and the Americans and now we are going there to support them."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington is seeking more details on the claims by the TTP, which the United States has designated as a foreign terrorist organization, the department reported on its website.
"We've been very clear about our longstanding concerns over the influx of foreign fighters into Syria who seek to capitalize on the situation in Syria and foment violence for their own benefit," she said, adding, "We're looking into the reports and determining the facts on the ground."
Asked if the latest development would change the policy about arming the rebels and opposition forces in Syria, Psaki said: "We'll take a closer look at that as we have more information. But all options remain on the table, aside from boots on the ground. That's something the President has been clear about and the Secretary certainly supports."
NBC News reported Pakistani government and military authorities questioned the TTP's claims, with one military official saying the group is only seeking international attention.