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Manhunt For Bin Laden By: Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 19, 2008

The surge to find Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda has begun.

A report on
National Public Radio this week stated President George Bush had personally approved a plan to attack al Qaeda in its Pakistani border sanctuaries, from which it organized the 9/11 attack against America. The increased use of missile-armed Predator drones, the deployment of more CIA personnel “from around the world”, and cross-border raids by American forces to decapitate the al Qaeda leadership and locate bin Laden are major parts of the new strategy. Another account claims Bush gave the secret approval last July.   


But the first raid into Pakistan by American special forces last September 3, in which about 20 people were killed, encountered a problem. Pakistanis were angry their borders had been violated by the helicopter-borne attack. The media-savvy Taliban also inflated this anger, as it usually does after military actions involving Western forces, by claiming innocent civilians were killed. A New York Times story stated, however, that the commando force spent several hours on the ground, battling al-Qaeda fighters that had been attacking an American forward base.  


In reaction to this anger, Pakistan’s government briefly suspended fuel shipments across Pakistani territory from its port of Karachi to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousef Giliani also protested the raid, saying military action against extremists “inside our territory” is the right of the government alone. The army supported the government’s stand and ordered its field commanders on Monday to oppose any further cross-border incursions.


“The orders are clear,” said Major General Abbas, an army spokesman. “In case it happens again in this form…: open fire.”


But the new Pakistani civilian government and military are just posturing for their home audience. Pakistan has received billions of dollars in American aid since the War on Terror began and obviously would not want the well to dry up. So when Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates leave Pakistan this week after security talks, one can expect the raids to continue with some form of Pakistani collaboration. A drone missile attack even occurred in a tribal agency shortly after Mullen had met with Pakistani leaders.


Despite the diplomatic drawback, the American government is pleased with the Pakistani army’s six-week old offensive against the jihadists in Pakistan’s border regions. About 100,000 soldiers of Pakistan’s 600,000 man army are engaged in the conflict. An estimated 700 enemy fighters have been killed against a loss of 40 government soldiers.


The offensive represents Pakistan’s largest and most determined attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Taliban fighters are experiencing serious difficulties standing up to the heavy weaponry of a disciplined, modern army and are slowly retreating. Government forces killed dozens of jihadists last Thursday in the Bajuar tribal agency, an al Qaeda and Taliban stronghold, and captured 50 this week, of which half were foreign fighters. Heavy government attacks also forced the Taliban to announce yesterday it was leaving the Swat Valley, another extremist bastion. A year ago, the Taliban leader, Maulana Fazlullah, who negotiated the retreat, had declared jihad against the government for the destruction of the Red Mosque.


Due to such successes, the Pakistani army does not believe American cross-border raids are necessary.


But the army’s progress is slow. One reason is the rugged, mountainous terrain of the battlefield. Another is that the Taliban and al Qaeda, due to former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s lukewarm attitude in confronting them, have had seven, mostly uninterrupted years to dig in and form supportive alliances with the local tribes. Like the war in Iraq, it will probably take several years for the Pakistani government to bring the border areas under its control.


However, with the September 3 cross-border attack, the American military has shown its long and frustrating wait is over and will now attack al Qaeda’s sanctuaries in Pakistan with bin Laden as a major objective. Up until now, American intelligence had to inform the Pakistanis about al Qaeda targets and allow the Pakistanis to conduct the raids themselves. The results, however, were frequently disappointing.


The problem was the enemy had often been tipped off about the coming attacks by Islamist sympathizers in the Pakistani military or intelligence agency. This had also occurred during the Vietnam War when South Vietnamese fifth columnists would inform communist forces about upcoming military operations. Facing the same intelligence sabotage, American forces are almost forced to act unilaterally against al Qaeda and Taliban targets.


The same security reasons also apply concerning the Predator flights. The Predators, which fire 100 pound Hellfire missiles, are regarded as a major weapon for disabling al Qaeda in Pakistan’s border areas, as they were credited with “crippling the insurgency in Iraq.” So there have been five Predator attacks in ten days in Pakistan’s tribal areas.    


But the main reason why cross-border ground and air attacks will continue is the unsettling situation in Afghanistan. While the Afghan war is still a low-intensity conflict, 113 American soldiers have been killed there so far this year. Military commanders have also noticed an increased sophistication in enemy attacks as well as in number. This is owed to the Taliban having had years to develop “mature” havens in Pakistan to train and organize their attacks.


Military strategists have long known the situation in Afghanistan is the consequence of what is happening in Pakistan. President Bush had this in mind when, for the first time, he included Pakistan with Afghanistan and Iraq as a “major ‘war on terror’ battleground” and authorized the unilateral raids. But Bush’s authorization is also fitting since the Pakistani border regions are where the War on Terror started and also where he now wants bin Laden to meet his end.

Stephen Brown is a contributing editor at Frontpagemag.com. He has a graduate degree in Russian and Eastern European history. Email him at alsolzh@hotmail.com.

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