RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne. The U.S. intelligence community is still piecing together the lessons of a suicide bombing in Khost, Afghanistan. It killed seven CIA employees a little over a month ago.
The attack raised questions about the loyalty of some spies working for the U.S. And it was troubling in another way. U.S. officials say it showed the different militant groups in the region are increasingly working together to target U.S. forces. NPRs Tom Gjelten reports.
TOM GJELTEN: The big question after the Khost attack was who did it - al-Qaida, the Afghan branch of the Taliban, the Pakistan branch, someone else? There were various suspects. The CIA operatives working at Khost had been responsible for choosing the targets of U.S. missiles strikes from unmanned aircraft or drones. So theyd made a lot of enemies in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
An answer came about two weeks later. Turned out that the suicide bomber just before carrying out the attack made a video in which he explained what he was about to do.
Mr. HAMMAM AL-BALAWI (Suicide Bomber): This (unintelligible) attack will be the first of the revenge operations against the Americans and their drone teams.
GJELTEN: The bomber, a Jordanian doctor named Hammam al-Balawi, said in English that his attack would be the first of the revenge operations against the Americans and their drone teams. Revenge in this case, he said, for a U.S. strike last August that killed the leader of the Pakistan branch of the Taliban.
And in the video Balawi was seated next to Hakimullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Pakistan Taliban. Hakimullah himself may have been subsequently targeted by a U.S. drone. So apparently it was the Pakistan Taliban that was behind the Khost attack.
Christine Fair of Georgetown University and other Pakistan experts took note.
Dr. CHRISTINE FAIR (Georgetown University): If it was the Pakistan Taliban that did it, this would be the first significant operation of any consequence that they executed outside of Pakistan's territory.
GJELTEN: And if Balawi was to be believed, there would be more. Listen to his final words on that scratchy video.
Mr. BALAWI: Against the Americans and their drone teams outside the Pakistani borders.
GJELTEN: Outside the Pakistani borders. Until now, only the Afghan Taliban has struck outside Pakistan, but here was someone saying the Pakistan Taliban were moving across the border.
U.S. officials have concluded that the various militant groups along Afghan-Pakistan border are now working together. Listen to this statement from Siraj Haqqani, an especially hard-line leader of the Afghan Taliban. He recently appeared on Al Jazeera television, with English translation, trumpeting what he called the increased coordination of the mujahideen.
Mr. SIRAJ HAQQANI (Aghan Taliban Leader): Thank God the mujahideen are getting more advanced. At the beginning of this war, the coordination between our fighters was useless. But now there are so many attacks that even we can't count them ourselves.
GJELTEN: The term mujahideen or holy warriors in this case would encompass all the militant Islamist groups active in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, from al-Qaida to the various branches of the Taliban. A senior U.S. intelligence official says his analysts now see that previously rival militant groups are, quote, connecting.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on his recent trip to Pakistan, highlighted what he called a syndicate of terrorist groups, including the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban.
Andrew Exum is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
Mr. ANDREW EXUM (Center for a New American Security): What we may have to come to realize is that the distinction between the two insurgent groups and the distinction between these insurgent groups and al-Qaida is much more flexible than perhaps we've described them from here in Washington.
GJELTEN: If all the militant groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region are working together, they should be capable of more deadly attacks. But this trend could also present Pakistani authorities with a new challenge. They have tried to divide the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban, targeting the Pakistan branch while accommodating the Afghan branch. But if those groups are now coming together, the Pakistani approach may have to change. Andrew Exum...
Mr. EXUM: If the Pakistanis start to see no difference between the Afghan insurgent groups and those insurgent groups which threaten the Pakistani state, that could be a positive thing.
GJELTEN: Positive because the United States and Pakistan would be facing a single enemy, meaning prospects for U.S.-Pakistani cooperation would improve.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.