First batch of fighters has arrived, says Pakistan Taliban commander
Next batch of 150 will arrive next week, commander says
Taliban commander: Al Qaeda in Syria will command fighters
Taliban fighters from Pakistan say they have united with al Qaeda forces in Syria to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The commander of the Pakistan Taliban, Abdul Rashid Abbasi, has told CNN that the first batch of fighters has arrived in Syria and established a command and control center to launch operational activities alongside Syrian rebel fighters. Abbasi, a close associate of Pakistan Taliban head Hakeemullah Mehsud, told CNN that 120 fighters are already in Syria.
The Taliban commander went on to say that another batch of fighters made up of 150 men will arrive in Syria this week.
“We shall be sending more volunteers, but cannot give exact numbers at this moment, but we will provide whatever support is needed by our Syrian brothers,” Abbasi told CNN.
CNN is unable to independently confirm that members of the Pakistan Taliban are inside Syria. CNN journalists have previously been inside Syria and seen foreign fighters participate in the country’s civil war, which sprang from unrest sparked in the spring of 2011.
Abbasi said the fighters were sent after the Pakistan Taliban received a request from the al Qaeda operational commander in Syria, Abu Omar Baghdadi.
Pakistan Taliban fighters will be under the command and control structure of al Qaeda in Syria, as it is leading the operation, he said.
The Pakistan Taliban said it has also asked its local chapters in the Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai and Waziristan agencies to recruit fresh fighters who are willing to go on their mission in Syria. The Pakistan Taliban says many young men are registering to go on their first foreign mission.
But the Pakistan Taliban said it will remain based in Pakistan.
“We have lots of fighters here and our central command will be operating from here, so there is no reason to stop operations in Pakistan,” Abbasi said. “They will go on as usual.”
Zahir Shah Sherazi reported for CNN from Peshawar, and CNN’s Saima Mohsin reported from Islamabad.