The mirage of success of Pak-Army operations in AFPAK


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Kandahar crossroads for NATO
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has threatened to attempt to delay or have cancelled the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's planned summer offensive against the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar, even as more than 10,000 American troops have poured in for the battle.

However, there may be a more compelling reason to delay the Kandahar offensive, which, after the recent operation in Marjah in Helmand province, would be the biggest in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001: across the border in Pakistan, the tribal areas are not, as had been planned, cleared of militants.

In Kabul on Sunday, Karzai met with Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and General David

Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, to discuss what NATO's International Security Assistance Force said were "shared challenges and opportunities ahead".

Karzai was expected to brief the officials on his recent visit to Kandahar, where he went to drum up support in the local community for the offensive against the Taliban. Instead, tribal elders forcefully argued that such an operation in the country's second-largest city would only bring trouble, not security, to the province.

The Kandahar operation is envisaged as a part of a broader NATO plan to secure all of Afghanistan's large urban centers in an attempt to deny the Taliban support bases.

To make this work, it is critical that the militants are also denied havens in Pakistan, where over the years they have established vital bases, especially in South Waziristan and North Waziristan, that have fed into the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The joint approach was agreed on after several meetings between McChrystal and Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, who assured the Americans that after a series of intensive operations over the past year the Pakistani military had fulfilled its part of the bargain. Kiani repeated these assurances at a recent meeting in Washington with senior US officials.

However, claims of victory in Pakistan appear premature, leaving NATO with the dilemma of whether to push on with what now appears to be a flawed plan.

The mirage of success
Apart from claiming success on the battlefield, Pakistan has trumpeted the arrest of several top Taliban commanders, claiming this as a major setback for the Taliban.

These were said to include Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Moulvi Abdul Kabir, a former Taliban governor of Nagarhar province in Afghanistan and now head of the Taliban's Peshawar shura, and Syed Tayyab Agha, Mullah Omar's political advisor.

However, as revealed by Asia Times Online (War and peace: A Taliban view March 26, 2010), Kabir and Agha were not arrested. Nor was Mullah Mustasim Jan Agha, another top official who was said to have been apprehended.

The only one who was seized was Baradar, who is being held in a safe house of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, and the Americans have been denied access to him. Baradar is now of little value anyway, as the Taliban have a strict policy of immediately dissociating themselves from anyone arrested, meaning that Baradar would be useless in any reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

Army chief Kiani has meanwhile urged thousands of refugees to return to South Waziristan, saying that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP - Pakistani Taliban) have been defeated. To further reinforce the magnificence of the victory, 20,000 troops from all arms and services are currently engaged in massive exercises - Azm-e-Nau (New Ambitions) - in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Asia Times Online contacts on the ground paint a different picture in South Waziristan. They claim that the army has suffered heavy casualties and mutinies and that the militants, including Chechens, Uzbeks and the local Mehsud tribes, have returned in strength. The army has confirmed that fighting still continues in the area.

At the same time, according to militant sources, the al-Qaeda leadership has moved from North Waziristan - due to persistent drone strikes - to an undisclosed region. The sources claim that a message has been sent to Kiani via a tribal jirga (council), essentially saying that all forces should be pulled out or "there will be music to face in the entire Pakistan".

A security official in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, told Asia Times Online that the aim of the recent suicide attack on the United States consulate in Peshawar was to take US officials hostage. Several people were killed in the incident in which militants entered the consulate's premises but were unable to go further after one of them prematurely detonated his explosive vest. The official believes that more such attacks can be expected targeting US officials.

Recently, 1,200 Frontier Corps personnel were sacked for defying orders to fight. The paramilitary force is made up largely of Pashtuns. It will be difficult to find sufficient numbers of non-Pashtuns and Shi'ites to confront the Sunni Pashtun insurgency.

All the same, under immense American pressures, the army has opened up fronts in Khyber Agency, Orakzai Agency, Mohmand Agency, Bajaur Agency and Kurram Agency.

The main battle ground is Orakzai Agency, a hub for militants who go from there to neighboring Khyber Agency to attack NATO's supply lines. Unofficial estimates claim that hundreds of soldiers have been killed, along with scores of militants. Brigadier Khalid Khan and Colonel Anwar Abbas, sent to the area because of their good track record in operations in the Swat Valley last year, have been confirmed as killed. Militants also captured the paramilitary forces' headquarters in Orakzai Agency for a few days before retreating.

In terms of unrest, the worst situation is in Khyber Agency, which was supposed to be the easiest operation for the army as al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not have local roots there - they depend on militants from neighboring tribal regions.

The agency was pacified last year, but operations included a crackdown on all Islamic groups, including those not aligned with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. One of these groups was commanded by Mangal Bagh, who has now sided fully with al-Qaeda-linked militants despite officials being convinced that he would never turn against Pakistan.

Over the past few months militants have re-established themselves in Khyber Agency, especially in the Tirah Valley, as confirmed in an official media release on April 11: "Militants have established their hideouts and training centers in different parts of Tirah Valley." The people of the valley have traditional linkages with other agencies, as well as in Afghanistan. It is a stronghold of the Lashkar-i-Islam militant group.

The stark fact is that militants continue to operate in strength in the tribal areas, and importantly they continue to operate bases to serve fighters in Afghanistan - and prepare for the NATO attack on Kandahar - if indeed it materializes.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
The suicide mission that went all wrong
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - The attack on the United States consulate in Pershawar, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), on April 5 was a combined operation of several militant groups with support from renegade elements of the lower cadre of the security apparatus, Asia Times Online's investigations reveal.

The attack, in which five people were killed, as well as the six attackers, could have been a bigger blow to the US Central Intelligence Agency than the operation in Khost in Afghanistan in December 2009 had it not been for two unforeseen incidents. (In the suicide attack on the CIA's forward operating base of Chapman in Khost seven agents were killed, including the station chief, with six people injured.)

The carefully planned operation in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP, involved several militant groups, including from Peshawar, the Pakistani tribal regions and southern Punjab. They were apparently in contact with cadre of the Frontier Constabulary (FC), a federal paramilitary force comprised mostly of people from the tribal areas, Asia Times Online has learned.

The security personnel passed on critical information on the presence of CIA officials inside the consulate, including maps of the consulate building and its approaches. They also arranged for the militants to receive a safe passage to enter the most-secured "red zone" area of the consulate.

The consulate is officially instrumental in dispersing millions of dollars in US aid into the tribal areas as a part of Washington's aim of eliminating support for the Taliban.

On Monday, April 5, six militants set off in a mini-van (known as "Suzuki carry") for the consulate, which is situated in a very secure zone. The first security cordon was in Hospital Road, comprising an armored personnel carrier (APC) blocking the road.
The second cordon was at Delta Barrier, about 50 meters from the APC cordon. The Pakistani Military Intelligence NWFP office is close to Delta Barrier, as is the military's Live Battle School barrack.

As the militants approached the first barrier, one of them got out of the vehicle and let off a suicide bomb. The blast cleared the way and the militants headed for the second barrier. This time they launched salvoes of rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and gun fire.

The plan now was to use a large ramp they were carrying with them to drive over the barrier and head for the office of the CIA's technical team, which they had pinpointed. They were to take them hostage, use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of other militants and then kill the Americans.

But things had already started to go wrong.

The suicide attack had destroyed the APC as planned, but a big chunk of the engine had been sent flying all the way to Delta Barrier, where it lodged in the security barrier. The suicide bomb also instantly killed two people on a passing motorcycle, which careened into the militants' vehicle. This caused them to lose value minutes before they set off for Delta Barrier.

Once they reached this second security check point and had cleared the guards with their assorted weapons fire, they were further delayed as they struggled to clear the heavy and hot engine chunk from their path.

By this time the internal security of the consulate was rushing to the scene. The militants began to confront them, but in the heat of the moment one of them detonated his suicide vest, killing all of the militants.

The goal of penetrating one of the most important CIA bases in the region was dramatically and abruptly brought to a bloody end.

Pakistani and American intelligence agencies are now trying to find out just how much inside help the militants received. Intercepts of communication point to lower cadre of possibly the FC and several arrests have already been made.

Initial inquiries show the militants took at least a month to plan the operation, which was overseen and financed by al-Qaeda. The foot soldiers were militants from southern Punjab and the tribal areas.

The abortive attack follows one on the Police Intelligence Department in Lahore; more are expected.

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