Via the Asia Times, we discover that it is probable Pakistani President Musharraf gave a green light to the American military to go into Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Provinces and take out the nearly 30 Taliban bases and severely curtail the incursions by enemy fighters into Afghanistan.
Alas, as has been the case many times it seems, we are too late:
The ongoing three-day peace jirga (council) involving hundreds of tribal leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan is aimed at identifying and rooting out Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy on both sides of the border.
This was to be followed up with military strikes at militant bases in Pakistan, either by the Pakistani armed forces in conjunction with the United States, or even by US forces alone.
The trouble is, the bases the US had meticulously identified no longer exist. The naive, rustic but battle-hardened Taliban still want a fight, but it will be fought on the Taliban’s chosen battlegrounds.
Twenty-nine bases in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan that were used to train militants have simply fallen off the radar.
The US had presented Islamabad with a dossier detailing the location of the bases as advance information on likely US targets. But Asia Times Online has learned that since early this month, neither the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led coalition in Afghanistan nor Pakistan intelligence has detected any movement in the camps.
The jirga involved the leaders of the Pashtun tribes in northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani and Afghan officials have been trying to convince the tribes to stop allying themselves with the Taliban who have used a combination of bribes, religious fervor, and terror to operate in their territory.
StrategyPage reports the effort is not going well:
With increasing amounts of drug cash pouring into southern Afghanistan, comes more government, NATO and American troops. And more Taliban as well. This has sharply increased the level of violence in the area, partly because over the last two years, there have been more government officials around to record it all. It’s all about tribal politics. The Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border form a population of some twenty million of the poorest, and most heavily armed, people in the region. Leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan are trying to convince the tribal chiefs that it’s time to pay more attention to education and economic development. Many of the chiefs are willing to listen, but many others are siding with the Taliban, and a return to a mythical past. Pakistan has admitted it has been the source of most Taliban activity, because Pakistan has been less successful taking on the Taliban in Pushtun tribal areas, than has the Afghan government.
Taking into account the way Afghan politics works, the U.S. is offering a new anti-drug strategy that would involve financial incentives to provincial governors who reduce drug activity. That would mean the drug lords would have to pay higher bribes as well.
Rivalry with the dominant Punjabs in Pakistan is one reason for the Pashtun’s reluctance to abandon the Taliban and join with Islamabad in forging stronger ties with the central government. But now that it appears President Musharraf is dead serious about going after the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies in the NWFP - including the Waziristans - the Pashtuns don’t want to be on the losing side and appear ready to deal.
So where have al-Qaeda and the Taliban gone to?
The al-Qaeda leadership (shura) has apparently now installed itself in Jani Khel village in the Bannu district of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). This includes Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Taliban leadership, most prominently Haqqani, is concentrated in the Afghan provinces of Khost and Gardez, where much fighting is expected to take place.
A spillover of al-Qaeda’s presence in Jani Khel is likely to spread to Karak, Kohat, Tank, Laki Marwat and Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan. Kohat in NWFP is tipped to become a central city in the upcoming battle, as the office of the Pakistani Garrison commanding officer is there and all operations will be directed through this area. In addition, Kohat is directly linked with a US airfield in Khost for supplies and logistics.
A second war corridor is expected to be in the Waziristans, the Khyber Agency, the Kurram Agency, Bajaur Agency, Dir, Mohmand Agency and Chitral in Pakistan and Nanagarhar, Kunar and Nooristan in Afghanistan.
The fiercest battleground, however, will be in Khost and Gardez, making the previous Taliban successes in Helmand and Kandahar during the spring offensive of 2006 a distant memory.
Here’s a link to a full page map showing the cities and provinces in question.
As has recently been reported, the Taliban has changed tactics thanks to successful strikes on their military leadership in the past few months. It appears that local Taliban commanders will be given much more autonomy to carry out attacks on NATO forces with more resources going to the most successful among them.
Will this make it harder to fight them? Not if we get more boots on the ground, as the excellent Canadian general Lewis Mackenzie says in this Op Ed:
Recent announcements indicate that Canada hopes to have 3,000 to 5,000 Afghan troops trained by the end of the year and that they will be able to conduct combat operations on their own. That is all well and good but it will not ensure victory, particularly with Taliban reinforcements readily available across the border in Pakistan and having easy access to unguarded border crossing points into Afghanistan.
If you add up the total regular army troops available to NATO, it comes to roughly 2.24 million soldiers. All we need in Afghanistan to reinforce the troops currently in theatre and win this thing is half of one per cent of that figure.
Where the hell are they?
Good question, general. I wrote about NATO’s lack of enthusiasm for putting their troops into harms way here. Basically, the NATO charter gives each country an “out” by allowing the individual governments to attach “caveats” to the use of their forces that would keep them out of combat zones. â€œHow many battalions does it take to protect Kabul airport?â€ asked Colonel Fred Lewis, the deputy contingent commander. Indeed, the International Crisis Group concluded that NATO simply must do more:
â€œOnly a handful of NATO members are prepared to go to the south and east and to go robustlyâ€”mainly the U.S., U.K., Canada, the Netherlands, Romania, Australia and Denmark,â€ the International Crisis Group concludes in a blunt report published this month.
â€œHard questions need to be asked of those such as Germany, Spain, France, Turkey and Italy who are not, and who sometimes appear to put force protection, not mission needs, at the fore.â€
This may be the crucial period in the Afghanistan War - or perhaps we should redefine that war to include Pakistan as well now that Musharraf has reluctantly concluded to accept the help of the Americans in trying to defeat the Taliban. Be prepared for growing conflict in the south of Afghanistan where the Canadians and Dutch are currently operating. One of the goals of the aborted 2007 Taliban spring offensive was to inflict large numbers of casualties on the Canadians in hopes that the Canadian people - already ambivalent at best about the commitment of their troops to Afghanistan - would demand the return of their soldiers thus knocking Canada out of the war. They didn’t succeed thanks to some brilliant pre-emptive strikes by US, Canadian, and NATO forces on Taliban positions in Afghanistan where they were massing for their offensive. But they have hardly given up the fight.
The New York Times says we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Even Michael Yon, pointing to this report about our bases being attacked, says we are “losing in Afghanistan.” General Mackenzie says we need 10,000 troops immediately to stabilize the south. And the Musharraf-Taliban showdown is taking place amidst immense political turmoil in Pakistan where it is not even clear that the Pakistani president is committed to the long haul of fighting Islamic radicals in his midst.
Time for NATO to crap or get off the pot in Afghanistan. Time for Musharraf to throw caution to the winds and call upon American help for his war in the tribal areas. And it is long past time for the press to start paying attention to this conflict and inform the American people of the seriousness of the situation so that we all don’t wake up one morning and find the Taliban re-ensconced in Kabul with al-Qaeda right on their heels.