High Value Target Initiative in the North West Frontier Province

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 12 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has previously discussed the kinetic operations in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of the Pakistan tribal area, along with the stand down of these operations over Ramadan. It now appears that the entire effort was a high value target initiative.

The Pakistani military has halted operations in Bajaur Agency in the northwest of the country, saying “the back has been broken” of the militancy there.

A military spokesman said that in light of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Sunday, all action would stop, which would allow about 500,000 displaced people to return home. Officials claim that in three weeks of fighting 560 militants have been killed, with the loss of 20 members of the security forces.

The ground reality, though, is that the operation failed in its primary objective, to catch the big fish so wanted by the United States – al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. This would have been the perfect present for Islamabad to give the George W Bush administration in the run-up to the US presidential elections in November.

Pakistan said they had Zawahiri in their sights, but he evaded them. Zawahiri, who has a US$25 million bounty on his head, escaped a US missile strike in January 2006 near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The Bajaur operation was a comprehensive joint show of power by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Pakistan forces as they were convinced that the al-Qaeda leaders and other senior Taliban militants were in an area spanning Kunar and Nooristan provinces in Afghanistan and the Bajaur and Mohamad agencies immediately across the border in Pakistan.

NATO and the Pakistani military had hoped that a pincer operation would force their prey to move their base, thereby exposing them. The thinking was that the militants would seek refuge inside Pakistan, where they could be cornered.

The mission began disastrously, though. Two days before troops were ordered from the corps headquarters of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) early last month, news of the impending attack was leaked to the militants and the al-Qaeda leadership was hastily moved. The Pakistani forces also received an unwelcome – and unexpected – reception when they began operations in Bajaur; the militants were armed and waiting …

Pakistan and NATO had placed high store on a successful mission, launching the heaviest-ever aerial bombardment inside Pakistan’s tribal regions – hence the high level of displaced persons. The militants claim that many dozens of paramilitary troops were killed and many captured, along with their heavy weapons and tanks.

The assault continued for several more weeks, but on August 28 during a secret meeting on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and the chief of the Pakistani Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, it was agreed the Bajaur mission had failed. No key militants had been hit and they had now completely fallen off all radar screens.

The Asia Times can exaggerate the facts from time to time, but in this instance they seem to have gotten the facts basically correct. In fact, an official Pakistan government press release admits the failure of the operations.

Pakistani troops in the country’s tribal areas recently discovered the location of Al Qaeda’s number two but “missed” a chance to capture him, according to the politician who oversees Pakistan’s Frontier Corps.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior ministry chief, told a group of foreign journalists that the military obtained evidence Ayman al-Zawahiri’s wife was in the Mohmand agency, near the border with Afghanistan.

“We did raids and traces there,” said Malik, who manages the underfunded front-line forces fighting militants in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. “Certainly we had traced him in one place, but we missed him. Certainly he is moving in Mohmand Agency and Kunar, mostly in Kunar and Paktika,” referring to two areas across the border in Afghanistan. He did not give specific details of when the raids took place.

Publicly, U.S. officials will not comment on Malik’s claims, but privately senior officials tell ABC News they are skeptical and have seen no evidence that Zawahiri was narrowly missed.

Malik claimed that that “50-60″ foreign al Qaeda leaders were currently hiding in Pakistan, and admitted to some frustration over Pakistan’s inability to capture the most wanted terrorists in the world. “Whoever’s it is, his strategy is obviously better than ours,” he said.

Malik’s assertions come despite criticism by the Untied States and some in Pakistan that the military is not doing enough to combat militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This week the army announced it would temporarily and provisionally halt two campaigns against militants for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Historically, Ramadan has been peaceful, and Malik said the Pakistani military would be judged negatively by Pakistanis if it had not stopped the attacks.

If the operations continued, he said, “we will have a bad image as a Muslim state.”

So either the operations didn’t even succeed in coming close to killing Ayman al-Zawahiri (and U.S. intelligence doubts that it did), or they missed him entirely. In either case, they missed him, and the operations – insofar as they were primarily a high value target initiative – failed.

This last statement in the report (Ramadan and their reputation as an Muslim country) is a poor excuse for the stand down in operations in the NWFP, and the Taliban feel no such moral compunction, but the entire report points to a larger problem with the campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is being treated as a counterterrorism campaign rather than a counterinsurgency campaign. While there are new reports every day of a mid-level Taliban commander being killed, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t cover or provide commentary for hits to high value targets or other black operations. The targeting of individuals, while making for intriguing and interesting reading, adds little to the effort to win the population or destroy the enemy.

The Captain’s Journal has long been opposed to the overuse of special operations and the high value target program as an expensive and time consuming initiative that has yielded marginal benefits. Soviet General Gromov had 104,000 troops under his command in Afghanistan (and still lost), and General Petraeus has 32,500. At the moment, NATO and CENTCOM do not have the forces necessary to treat the campaign as a full-orbed counterinsurgency campaign.

This will change, or the campaign will be lost. The recent operations in the NWFP are exemplary of the kind of affects that are seen with repeated and halting starts to kinetic operations, and operations which target individuals: approximately one half million noncombatants are now displaced, and the next time the Pakistan Army needs to conduct operations in the NWFP it will be profoundly more difficult due to the knowledge by the people that it will not redound to success, if history is any indicator of the future.

Special operations cannot win counterinsurgency campaigns. COIN requires infantry in proportions outlined in FM 3-24, and above all, security for the population. Security for the population takes constant contact with both the population and the enemy, until there are no more enemy to cause the insecurity in the first place.


You are currently reading "High Value Target Initiative in the North West Frontier Province", entry #1288 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,al Qaeda,Counterinsurgency,Featured,Taliban,Tehrik-i-Taliban and was published September 6th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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