Pakistan’s Failure to Hit Militant Sanctuary Has Positive Side for U.S.

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by ejazr, Jan 20, 2011.

  1. ejazr

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/world/asia/18terror.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

    WASHINGTON — Pakistan’s refusal to attack militants in a notorious sanctuary on its northwest border may have created a magnet there for hundreds of Islamic fighters seeking a safe haven where they can train and organize attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan. But theirs is a congregation in the cross hairs.

    A growing number of senior United States intelligence and counterinsurgency officials say that by bunching up there, insurgents are ultimately making it easier for American drone strikes to hit them from afar.

    American officials are loath to talk about this silver lining to the storm cloud that they have long described building up in the tribal area of North Waziristan, where the insurgents run a virtual mini-state the size of Rhode Island. This is because they do not want to undermine the Obama administration’s urgent public pleas for Pakistan to order troops into the area, or to give Pakistan an excuse for inaction.

    “We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without shutting down those safe havens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week, underscoring a major conclusion of the White House’s strategic review of Afghanistan policy last month.

    But as long as the safe havens exist, they provide a rich hunting ground, however inadvertent it may be.

    Pakistani Army operations in the other six of seven tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan have helped drive fighters from Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militant groups into North Waziristan, the one tribal area that Pakistan has not yet assaulted.

    With several hundred insurgents largely bottled up there, and with few worries about accidentally hitting Pakistani soldiers battling militants or civilians fleeing a combat zone, the Central Intelligence Agency’s drones have attacked targets in North Waziristan with increasing effectiveness and have degraded Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out a major attack against the United States, the senior officials said.

    The number of strikes in North Waziristan grew to 104 in 2010 from 22 in 2009, according to the Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been five strikes in North Waziristan so far this year.

    While the overall effectiveness of the strikes is impossible to ascertain, there are many accounts to confirm that insurgent fighters and leaders have indeed been killed.

    To be sure, a wide array of administration officials have acknowledged the limitations of drone strikes and emphasized the need for Pakistan to use ground troops to clear out militants who have used the refuge in North Waziristan to rest and rearm, a point Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made to Pakistani civilian leaders and ranking generals on a visit to Pakistan last week.

    A senior counterterrorism official concurred, saying: “We’ve seen in the past what happens when terrorists are given a de facto safe haven. It tends to turn out ugly for both Pakistan and the United States. It’s absolutely critical that Pakistan stay focused on rooting out militants in North Waziristan.”

    The C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, discussed counterterrorism issues with the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and the head of Pakistan’s main spy agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, in a meeting in Washington on Friday, a C.I.A. spokesman said.

    But half a dozen senior intelligence, counterterrorism and military officials interviewed in the past several days said a bright side had unexpectedly emerged from Pakistan’s delay. Pounding the militants consolidated in the North Waziristan enclave with airstrikes will leave the insurgents in a weakened state if the Pakistani offensive comes later this year, the officials said.

    “In some ways, it’s to our benefit to keep them bottled up, mostly in North Waziristan,” said a senior intelligence official, who like others interviewed agreed to speak candidly about the Pakistan strategy if he was not identified. “This is not intentional. That wasn’t the design to bottle them up. That’s just where they are, and they’re there for a reason. They don’t have a lot of options.”

    Another senior administration official added, “We’d still prefer the Pakistani Army to operate in North Waziristan, but consolidating the insurgents in one place is not such a bad thing.”

    Senior Pakistani politicians and commanders, including Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, say their troops are already stretched thin and will carry out an offensive in North Waziristan on their timetable, not Washington’s. Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, the main Pakistan commander in the northwest, said in October that it would take at least six months to clear militants from two other restive tribal areas, called agencies, before considering an offensive in North Waziristan.

    “It’s only a matter of how, when and in what manner do we conduct operations there,” Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement. He said Pakistan had 38,000 military and paramilitary troops in North Waziristan.

    Senior United States officials praise Pakistan for carrying out operations in the rugged tribal areas, but many of these officials say they are not convinced that the Pakistani Army is willing or able to clear North Waziristan.

    Counterterrorism specialists say that attacking militants in North Waziristan would be a much more difficult campaign than previous operations in Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan. The region has mountainous terrain as well as urban centers, like Miram Shah, that if attacked could result in many civilian casualties or produce hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting, as happened in previous clearing operations.

    Moreover, no effective civilian police force exists to take over security duties after military operations. The Pakistani Army still remains in Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan, months after major campaigns.

    And to be truly effective, American officials say, a North Waziristan offensive would have to single out not just Qaeda and Taliban fighters, but also militants in the Haqqani network. That group has long enjoyed support from Pakistan’s military and intelligence services because it represents a strategic hedge against what Pakistan views as encroachment by its archrival, India, in Afghanistan.

    “There may be an offensive in North Waziristan, but I think it’ll be very carefully orchestrated to preserve Pakistan’s assets in the region,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led President Obama’s first Afghanistan policy review.

    American intelligence officials say that pressure from the airstrikes has forced small numbers of Haqqani fighters and other militants to slip into other tribal areas, including Kurram and South Waziristan. “The Haqqanis aren’t stupid,” one counterterrorism official said. “They’re feeling some serious pressure in North Waziristan, so it should come as no surprise that they’re looking for places they might think are safer.”

    All the more reason proponents of Pakistani action say time is of the essence. “I’ve been very clear in my conversations with General Kayani over the last year or so that there needs to be a focus, from my perspective, on North Waziristan,” Admiral Mullen told reporters in Islamabad last month. “That’s where Al Qaeda leadership resides, that’s where the Haqqani network, in particular, is headquartered, and the Haqqanis are leading the way and coming across the border and killing American and allied forces. And that has got to cease.”
     
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