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.