NEW DELHI — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that al-Qaida was using proxy terrorist groups to orchestrate attacks in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a broader strategy to destabilize the region.
In a press conference after two days of meetings with Indian officials, the Pentagon chief said al-Qaida had formed a "syndicate" of terrorist groups with Taliban factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Kashmir separatist network blamed for the 2008 Mumbai hotel attacks that killed 165 people.
"What we see is that the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and a new reputation for all," Gates said. "A victory for one is a victory for all."
U.S. intelligence officials have said jihadi groups in the region are cooperating more closely than ever and that it has become increasingly difficult to sort out who, exactly, is responsible for many high-profile bombings, including the Dec. 30 suicide attack on a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan.
But Gates warned that it would be a mistake for the United States and its allies in South Asia to concentrate on eliminating a particular network while ignoring the others. "It's dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say if we could beat that group that will solve the problem," he said. "Because they are, in effect, a syndicate of terrorist operators."
Gates said all of the factions were working under the umbrella of al-Qaida, which he said was trying to provoke a conflict between India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear powers.