Archive for the 'Pakistan' Category



Nuristan, Kunar, Pakistan and the Taliban: The Nexus

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 3 months ago

We’ve covered the Taliban strategy of using Nuristan as a safe haven, and a base from which to launch attacks against the government of Afghanistan.  Kunar is adjacent to Nuristan, and there may as well not be a border between provinces.  As stated by one Taliban commander, “Trouble here can break the central government,” said Qari Ziaur Rahman, a regional commander for the Taliban who is also a leader of the Punjab-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, in a 2008 interview. “Whoever has been defeated in Afghanistan, his defeat began from Kunar.”  For this reason I have insisted on aggressive U.S. troop presence and kinetic operations in both the Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and all along the Pech River Valley.

Thankfully, Tim Lynch of Free Range International could not completely desist from writing about Afghanistan, and he educates us with yet another good post on the current situation in Helmand.

A few months back as they were pushing south, the Marines would run into situations that, for guys like them, are a dream come true.  An ANP commander pointed out a village where his men have hit 3 IEDs in as many weeks and each time the villagers poured out with AK’s to start a firefight.  So, a few nights later the Marines blow a controlled det on the road to simulate an IED hit and when the villains rushed out with their flame sticks they met what we lovingly call the ‘L shaped ambush’.  No doubt (knowing the Lava Dogs) the villains also met Mr. Claymore, were introduced to the proper use of a machine gun section, and were treated to a 40mm grenade shower from those new and super deadly  M32’s.  Bad day.  Not many survived that textbook lesson on the proper use of an ambush squad, but those days are long gone.  Rarely now will somebody shoot at the Marines in southern Helmand, and when they do, it is from so far away that it is hard to notice anybody is even shooting at you.

So the Taliban has returned to doing what guerrillas do when they suck so bad at regular fighting – they rely on the indiscriminate use of  IED’s to fight.  And as everybody in the world (except President Karzai) knows, these IED’s kill and maim vast numbers of innocent Afghans, yet rarely inflict casualties on ISAF units.

Because of a long, flat narrow area, where the population is confined mostly to strips of land in close proximity to the Helmand River and its main canals, the Marines are able to spread out into COP’s (combat outposts) PB’s (Patrol Bases) and OP’s (observation posts) covering the entire AO.  These positions are manned by junior NCO’s and in one PB the senior Marine was a Lance Corporal.   They move positions frequently;  every time the Marines set up in a new one of any size,  local families immediately move as close to the positions as they are allowed and start building mud huts. For them a small band of Marines equals security and the implicit trust shown by this pattern of behavior is something in which the Marines rightly take great pride.

Read Tim’s entire post.  More forces are needed in order to maintain security, but as for the direct firefights, it’s over with the Taliban in Helmand.  They cannot match the U.S. Marines.  The Marines are currently needed elsewhere, specifically, Kunar and Nuristan.

The Taliban are still active there, and are still pursuing their strategy.

“Bullets rained on our house which was close to the site of the clash,” one resident told me. “We were so terrified that we didn’t step out of our house until the next day.”

Another resident said by launching an attack in Mehtar Lam, the insurgents wanted to show that they can still strike at will in any of the seven locations handed over by Nato to Afghan security forces.

In the past month insurgents have killed a judge, a prison guard and a local official in this strategic city known as the gateway to Kabul.

Security handovers like the one in Mehtar Lam are seen as the first step in a lengthy process ultimately aimed to put the Afghan army and police in control of their country by 2014, the deadline for complete withdrawal of Western forces from combat operations.

But judging by developments in Mehtar Lam, the road to transition appears to be far from smooth.

“People live in fear,” said Shah Gul, a barber. “People think that if the security forces can’t protect themselves, how will they protect the people?’”

Insurgents – mainly in the shape of the Taliban or the Hizb-e-Islami militia of former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – are active in many districts of this mountainous province.

Laghman borders the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar.

“This allows insurgents to carry out attacks in Laghman and then escape to Nuristan or Kunar,” said an Afghan intelligence officer.

“By targeting cities handed over to Afghans, the insurgents and their foreign backers intend to prove that Afghan security forces are not capable of protecting their people.”

Just like I predicted.  But in a twist that leverages this lawless area as the trouble-spot of the world, Pakistan is directly involved.

The Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), with the help of Taliban, has revived the Al-Huda outfit of Gulbuddin Hikmatyar to target Indians in Afghanistan.

As many as 350 persons have been trained so far particularly to target Indian business interests and development works being executed in the war-torn country.

India’s premier external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), recently reported the development to the Centre. Following the RAW report, security of Indian assets has been beefed up with a view to thwarting any misadventure by the ISI-backed militia.

According to the report, the ISI will provide funds, training and shelter besides intelligence on movement of Indians to the trained recruits of Al-Huda for anti-India operations.

Two training camps were organised recently by the ISI to train the recruits in southern Afghanistan at Chunar and mountainous regions of Nuristan in Afghanistan on Pakistan border, intelligence sources said.

Both — Chunar and Nuristan — are areas dominated by the Hikmatyar group and the NATO forces suffered heavy reverses in the recent past while carrying out operations in these regions. The Hikmatyar group is known for its mastery in ramming explosive-laden vehicles on targetted assets and executing landmine attacks.

India is funding over 300 developmental projects in Afghanistan, including construction of roads, bridges, hospitals, Government office complexes and also the Parliament building of that country. India is the biggest donor country extending aid in revival of the war-torn nation pledging a budget of over $2 billion.

Besides the construction engineers, supporting staff and the personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police guarding the work sites of the ongoing development projects there, the Indian assets in that country also include as many as 24 consulates across Afghanistan and the Indian embassy in Kabul.

Following the inputs, the Indian embassy and the consulates there have been alerted and a security audit of the installations are being carried out to further tighten the security measures, particularly the outer periphery of the office complexes so that any fidayeen attack or blast of an explosive-laden vehicle is checked at a reasonable distance from the perimeter of the buildings, the sources added.

The Taliban had attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul on October 8, 2009 killing 17 persons and injuring 63 others. The Taliban had in the past also targetted work sites maintained by the Indian companies.

The ISI move comes following reverses at the hands of the Americans amid talk of withdrawal of the US forces from the war-ravaged country.

The Pakistani sickness and obsession with India, its own importance in the world, and having access to things (e.g., nuclear weapons, the Taliban, etc.) way beyond their ability to control is working directly against the stability of Afghanistan, the security of U.S. troops, and in fact, the security and stability of the entire region.

Marines to Kunar.  It’s the move that should be made, and sooner rather than later.  If we need more Marines to Helmand in order to pull this off, then so be it.  Someone tell the Marine Corps Commandant to stop playing Iwo Jima, as if we are ever going to conduct a large scale amphibious assault against a near peer state again.  Without chasing and killing the Taliban in his safe haven, the campaign will be lost.

The Taliban And Al Qaeda Are The Same

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 3 months ago

The National Interest has an important account from the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The money quotes follow.

November 11, 2007—Veteran’s Day. I was a veteran waiting to meet the Taliban. I hated this, but I was here now. A young man, called Abu Hamza, a nom de guerre, entered the room and sat down, pointing his rifle low, but at me. He wore an infrared light on his turban. Someone was backing him. Why was he fighting? “We are fighting jihad,” he said. Who supported him? “Elders,” he replied. “Pakistan. We live in the mountains, but for training we go to Pakistan. Sometimes the army comes and trains us. “We know they are in the army, but they have gray beards, like you.”

[ ... ]

A month later, at midnight, I sat in the mountains south of Tora Bora. A Predator buzzed above us and I shivered in the cold. A Taliban commander, about forty years of age, quoted from the Koran before he answered each of my questions. Their support came from God, from the tribes and religious parties in Pakistan, he said. Jihad was jihad. They didn’t care about or look for support from the Pakistani army. He was from Waziristan. I asked about al-Qaeda. “The Taliban and al-Qaeda are the same,” he responded. “We fight under Mullah Muhammad Omar. He started on the mountain tops as we do now.” A dozen teenagers and young men in their early twenties sat with us. I asked how they trained. “They are the sons of the mujahideen,” he said proudly. “Fighting is in their blood, as it was in the blood of their ancestors.”

[ ... ]

The more the U.S. pushes into the east near the Pakistani border, where there are mountains and forests, places to hide and where men have been fighting outsiders for centuries, the more that Pakistan, and its proxy army, the Taliban, will fight back. “Not a shot would be fired in Afghanistan,” my jailer said, “without Pakistan’s approval.” It knows that the U.S. is pulling out of Afghanistan and is desperate to regain its influence there—and to sit at the negotiating table.

Encapsulated in this one account of a man who was kidnapped by the Taliban are two themes I have pressed before: the ideological alignment of the Taliban and AQ, and the duplicity and in fact even role of direct opposition that Pakistan plays in Afghanistan.

Can we please end the juvenile pretensions that we can play nice with the Taliban and re-engage them in the government?  The Taliban and al Qaeda are the same.  Those aren’t my words.  I just quoted them.

When It Comes to Pakistan, We Just Can’t Handle the Truth

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

Here is yet another example of the now infamous double-game being played by Pakistan, our so-called ally in the war against Islamic fundamentalism:

Twice in the last few weeks, US intelligence officials have provided the Pakistanis with the coordinates of bomb factories in the rugged tribal region of Waziristan, on the Afghan border — only to see the info leak to the enemy, who evacuated the sites before the Pakistani military arrived.

***

Incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Pakistan Friday to discuss “rebuilding” the Pakistan-US relationship, and reportedly confronted his hosts with the evidence that they’d tipped off the Taliban about the bomb sites.

This is just getting tiresome beyond words.

Is it even worth keeping score any longer?  Why does the U.S. continue to allow the Pakistanis to get away with this kind of thing?

There is only one reason I can find: we just can’t face the consequences of putting the screws to Pakistan.

The Obama Administration is afraid that even a hint or threat of even reduced aid will push the Pakistanis over the edge and into the arms of the Islamofascists.   Which is to say that Pakistan would openly embrace the terrorists rather than just discreetly.

As the Captain pointed out years ago, if the U.S. had any strategic sense, it would have developed alternative logistical routes to Afghanistan that did not depend upon Pakistan.   As it is, we are precariously reliant upon the Pakistanis keeping the land route open for the bulk of supplies coming into Afghanistan.

Other than having to find a new route to keep the campaign supplied, the other consequence of denying aid to Pakistan would be the loss of what little presence Pakistan still allows to CIA operatives who help to track down and target terrorists inside Pakistan.  Is this limited capability so vitally important that we are willing to fund a government that actively works against us as much as it does with us?  Given the increasing restrictions placed on operations within Pakistan, it is doubtful that the gains at this point are worth the losses.   Would a drone strike from a CIA base in Pakistan really have much of an effect on the Afghan Campaign?   If the death of Bin Laden made no impact, what would?

Then there is the benefit of clarity.   Having Pakistan as a declared enemy in the Afghan Campaign would certainly not be welcome, but at least the U.S. could take actions in the porous border areas that it cannot with an “ally” that acts like an enemy.   Clarity can be a wonderful thing.   Ambiguity in this regard has left us in strategic knots, knowing where the Taliban are getting re-supplied and trained but unable to effectively do anything about it.

Finally, the U.S. may have far more to gain by cutting Pakistan loose and allying closely with India.  As it is, the U.S. must temper its cooperation and policies with India due to Pakistani sensitivities.   If Pakistan is determined to act like a rogue state, then the U.S. is far better off developing closer ties to India, not only in regard to Afghanistan (where India could become a major player and partner) but also as a strategic counterweight to China and Russia.

It is high time for Pakistan to decide whether it belongs to civilization or to the barbarians.  By the same token, it is high time that the U.S. faced up to the hard truth:  Pakistan, for whatever reason, is not willing to remove the terror bases from their territory and must be treated accordingly.

Continuing Fallout from Bin Laden Raid: Growing Chinese Role in Pakistan?

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 6 months ago

The raid to kill Bin Laden in Abbatabad, Pakistan, like a nuclear blast, has fallout beyond the immediate event.

One of those effects is the apparent impetus for closer relations between Pakistan and China.

The Economist noted earlier this month that Pakistan made no secret of praising its relations with China in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid.

PAKISTAN’S ambassador to Beijing, Masood Kahn, was this week fully armed with metaphors to describe the robust friendship between the two countries. “We say it is higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey, and so on.”

The relationship is indeed a geopolitical keystone for both countries. Pakistan serves as China’s closest friend both in South Asia and among Islamic countries. So close, indeed, that many suspect China has asked Pakistan for the valuable remains of the American stealth helicopter abandoned during the bin Laden raid. Meanwhile, China can help counterbalance Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, including in Afghanistan.

Pakistan seems keen to foster the impression that new tensions with America might nudge it even closer towards China. In his blustery speech to parliament on May 9th Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani struck out on an odd tangent to praise China as an “all-weather friend”, providing Pakistan with strength and inspiration. Not to be outdone, President Asif Zardari issued an effusive statement of his own about a friendship “not matched by any other relationship between two sovereign countries”.

Others have noted the attempts by Pakistan to curry favor with China as well.   The Wall Street Journal Online has this:

BEIJING—Pakistan’s defense minister said China has agreed to take over operation of the strategically positioned but underused port of Gwadar, and that Islamabad would like the Chinese to build a base there for the Pakistani navy.

Ahmad Mukhtar gave no clear timetable on the possible change at Gwadar, on Pakistan’s western coast, which is currently managed by a Singaporean government company. But his statement Saturday is the latest illustration of how Pakistan is portraying China as a powerful alternative ally and aid source if the U.S. scales down military assistance for Islamabad in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s killing.

On the whole, given the duplicity of Pakistan and the inevitable conflict in the Pakistani tribal areas, putting some distance between the U.S. and Pakistan may be beneficial in the long run.   In other words:  if you want to jump into bed with China, good luck with their cold feet.

Both The Economist and The Wall Street Journal Online note the decidedly ambivalent feelings about Pakistan by the Chinese.  The Economist cautions:

But if Islamabad is worried about falling out with Washington and hopes to get more out of Beijing, it may be in for disappointment. According to Zhu Feng of Peking University, such calculations based on “the traditional mentality of power politics” are misplaced. China’s robust, longstanding ties with Pakistan stand on their own merits, he says, and owe nothing to America’s standing in Pakistan. Both China and America want a stable Pakistan.

For all that, China’s dealings with Pakistan have always been conducted with one eye on India. Last year Beijing chose to supply Pakistan with two new civilian nuclear reactors, even though the deal appeared to violate Chinese non-proliferation commitments. It was a boon not only for Pakistan’s energy-starved economy. It was, as Mr Zhu points out, also a way for China to counterbalance a controversial nuclear deal reached earlier between America and India.

China and Pakistan have a lustily growing trade relationship, worth almost $9 billion last year. China provides military gear, including fighter jets and frigates. Some Chinese infrastructure projects in Pakistan have strategic implications. They include ports on the Arabian Sea and a proposed rail project which has yet to be approved, but which would arouse controversy, and Indian ire, by running through contested territory in Kashmir.

Still, China’s commitment to Pakistan has its limits. After devastating floods last year, America gave Pakistan $690m, 28% of all international aid. China’s contribution was a mere $18m. According to Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund, an American policy institute, Pakistan may be “talking up the ‘China option’ beyond where the Chinese are willing to go.” China, he reckons, will be reluctant to tilt too far towards what might look like an anti-India alliance”. Despite border disagreements, China wants to keep its relations with India in reasonable order.

What is more, Pakistan’s chronic instability and its failure, whether by design or incompetence, to suppress extremism make Pakistan as hard a partner for China to trust as for America. “Sweeter than honey” may be plenty sweet enough.

The WSJ sounds a similar note:

China is eager to expand its influence in Pakistan over the long term, but is wary of the country’s chronic instability, which was highlighted late Sunday when a Pakistani naval base was attacked in the western port of Karachi, about 300 miles southeast of Gwadar.

Indeed.  In some ways, Pakistan and China are made for each other.  One is chronically unstable and in dire need of constant foreign aid while the other is infamously stingy and calculating in its foreign affairs.   May they enjoy each others’ company for many years.  We can certainly use the money wasted in foreign aid to Pakistan for better purposes such as freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil.

At the same time, there is no doubt that India feels the pressure of a nuclear Pakistan and nuclear China on its borders.   The U.S. has everything to gain by pursuing closer ties with India, the rising power of the Near East.   Trading Pakistan for India would be like trading Hillary Clinton for Sarah Palin.   I think we can live with that exchange.

But we should be under no illusions that, whatever happens to the American-Pakistani relationship, China is increasingly in the mood to flex its muscles in the region.   According to an article flagged at Hot Air, China has reportedly given the U.S. something of an ultimatum regarding any future border incursions into Pakistan:

Barack Obama says that if the US has another chance to get a high-value terrorist target like Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, he’ll make the same call as he did earlier this month.  Not so fast, says China.  According to a report from India a few days ago, China has warned that an “attack” on Pakistan will be taken as an attack on China (via Pundit Press):

In the wake of the US raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, China has “warned in unequivocal terms that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China”, a media report claimed today.

The warning was formally conveyed by the Chinese foreign minister at last week’s China-US strategic dialogue and economic talks in Washington, The News daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying. China also advised the USa to “respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity”, the report said.

Chinese Premier Mr Wen Jiabao informed his Pakistani counterpart Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani about the matters taken up with the US during their formal talks at the Great Hall of the People yesterday. The report said China “warned in unequivocal terms that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China”. The two premiers held a 45-minute one-on-one meeting before beginning talks with their delegations.

The Chinese leadership was “extremely forthcoming in assuring its unprecedented support to Pakistan for its national cause and security” and discussed all subjects of mutual interest with Mr Gilani, the report said. Mr Gilani described Pakistan-China relations and friendship as “unique”. Talking to Pakistani journalists accompanying him, he said that China had acknowledged his country’s contribution and sacrifices in the war against terrorism and supported its cause at the international level. “China supported Pakistan’s cause on its own accord,” Mr Gilani said with reference to the Sino-US strategic dialogue where the Chinese told the US that Pakistan should be helped and its national honour respected. Mr Gilani said China had asked the US to improve its relations with Pakistan, keeping in view the present scenario.

It it difficult to believe that China would truly be willing to go to war over, say, a Predator drone attack or even a SOF incursion into the FATA, but uncertainty over China’s reaction to any future missions of a similar nature will only add to the difficulty of having an ally with whom you are, in some measure, at war.

ISI Allows Taliban Free Run of Pakistan’s Baluchistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 6 months ago

From The Economic Times of India, citing mainly Newsweek:

Taliban has been given a free-run in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province bordering Afghanistan and its hardscrabble capital city of Quetta, which has been declared off-limits by Pakistani military to US predator strikes.

The outfit’s military chief Mulla Abdul Qayyum Zakir, ranked number two after Mullah Omar, and his men are operating with impunity in the high-desert landscape and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence ( ISI) seems to be giving them a free hand, ‘Newsweek’ reported.

“They are coming and going in groups without end,” says a senior Quetta politician, an ethnic Pashtun.

“Whatever the Taliban is doing is supervised and monitored by the [Pakistani] intelligence agencies”, he said.

Old hands among the insurgents say it reminds them of 1980s Peshawar, where anti-Soviet mujahedin operated openly with the ISI’s blessing and backing, the magazine reported.

[ ... ]

A local government councillor says the area’s mosques and madrassas are packed with insurgents in need of temporary lodging as they head back to Afghanistan. Way stations have been set up all over the region in rented houses, he says, and swarms of Taliban pass through town on motorbikes every day. Most carry Pakistani national identity cards. “They’re enjoying the hospitality of the ‘black legs’ [derogatory slang for the ISI],” he says. He worries that the local culture is being Talibanized.

Read the entire report.  The Taliban are said to  be stunned and despondent over the successful OBL raid.  But this fact appears not to be holding the tide of fighters in abeyance.  As for other parts of Pakistan which supply sanctuary for both the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, in a report at The Global Post (which I will be citing again in the future), Shafiq Ahmed, a former Pakistani army general, flatly says that “If America wants to stay in Afghanistan, or safeguard its interests in case of a proposed pull-out, it has to tame North Waziristan.”

It would appear that as I have observed, the Durand line is completely imaginary, and that a regional approach to the problem of Islamic militancy is necessary.  A pullout of U.S. forces, leaving the problem to the pitiful Afghan National Security Forces (ANA and ANP), doesn’t fit the bill.  So what else does the current administration have for us?

Ron Paul Predicts a U.S. Invasion of Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 6 months ago

From The Daily Caller:

Paul, in an appearance on Wednesday’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, voiced his frustration over the particular incident involving bin Laden’s death. However he blamed the entire U.S.-Pakistani relations as a whole for the way it had to be handled. He explained there had been some successes during the Bush administration and questioned why the Obama administration had abandoned that policy.

However, he made a bombshell prediction and said the United States will ultimately occupy Pakistan.

“I see the whole thing as a mess,” he said. “And I think that we are going to be in Pakistan. I think that’s the next occupation, and I fear it. I think it’s ridiculous, and I think our foreign policy is such we don’t need to be doing this. So when I talk about doing it differently, I talk about in the context of our foreign policy and not in the fact of whether or not we should have gotten him.

He later predicted that it would be an unsuccessful occupation.  Oh, to be sure, it would be unsuccessful.  Any attempt to occupy cities as large as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad all at the same time would result in 100,000 – 200,000 U.S. casualties, and we would have to kill one to two million people (given the customary kill ratio of 10:1 we have seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan), some of whom would be a uniformed army.  Of course, it isn’t going to happen in this universe (perhaps Paul is living in an alternate one?).

But there’s more.  If we are going to occupy Pakistan, then we’ll have to invade.

Later in the segment, “Morning Joe” co-host Willie Geist asked if Paul had any information an actual invasion was in the work. Paul said he didn’t but based it on the past four decades of American foreign policy.

So there you have it.  Because this is so jaw-dropping we should cover this ground again just so you’re clear on it.  Ron Paul forecasts a U.S. invasion and occupation of’ Pakistan.

Prior: Isolationist Fever: Ron Paul’s Delirious Statements on Bin Laden

Holding Terrain in Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part III

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

In response to U.S. Marine Corps Combat Action in Sangin, Old Warrior said:

… in my mind, if you go to war, go to war right. They are completely robbing most of these young men of the resources that are available to them. Also, as long as the Taliban is crossing over from Pakistan every minute, they will never cease to multiply and that blood vessel needs to be cut quickly. For every Taliban these men kill, another hundred cross the border to replace them. The fundamental strategy of this war is faulty, and it saddens me to see the young, brave men of the infantry, in particular, have to pay the price with their lives. -0311 Vietnam

Recall Lt. Col Allen West’s counsel regarding the difference between occupying terrain and chasing the enemy where he establishes himself.  Population-centric counterinsurgency isn’t any different than occupying physical terrain in time and space, except that the terrain is the mind and will of the population.  That’s why we have “human terrain teams” deployed in Afghanistan (and did in Iraq).

But just like the 80-100 foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border into Iraq for many months on end, and the Quds forces who came across the Iran-Iraq border (many even before the war began), Afghanistan is a theater in a larger, transnational insurgency.  In fact, the problem is even more pronounced in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq.  Iraq was a country.  It’s best not to think of Afghanistan as a country.  It’s also best not to think of the Taliban as a Pashtun insurgency.  It isn’t.  There are Uzbeks, Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis and others involved (even a smattering of Europeans).

In Games of Duplicity and the End of Tribe in Pakistan, and then again in Pakistan’s Games of Duplicity Part II, we discussed Pakistan’s gaming the system of largesse with U.S. lawmakers and various U.S. administrations.  There is an important intersecting issue here pertaining to a much-discussed Taliban and al Qaeda ideological alignments.  I previously observed that:

… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

Finally, recall our discussions of David Rohde’s remarkable captivity by the Taliban and his subsequent escape to Pakistani Army forces.  At the time I found it especially troubling and even somewhat amusing how little the presence of Pakistani forces mattered to Taliban sanctuary.  Now comes a report by The Nation that adds to our knowledge base of the events surrounding David’s captivity and escape, and the collusion of Pakistani ISI with the Taliban.  Extensive quoting is necessary.

On a Friday night in June 2009, New York Times reporter David Rohde and his translator made a dramatic escape from captivity in Pakistan, climbing over a wall while their Afghan Taliban guards slept. Rohde wore sandals and a traditional salwar kameez, and he had a long beard, grown during his seven-month imprisonment. The two men walked in the darkness of the city, a Taliban ministate, past mud-brick huts, and found their way to a Pakistani military base just minutes away.

Rohde had been a prisoner shared by two competing groups of Taliban fighters, both of which appear to have held him not as a political or military tool in their operations against the US and Afghan governments but for his monetary value as a hostage.

Rohde’s escape was an unexpectedly joyous ending to a harrowing episode for him, his wife, his colleagues and friends. But it was by no means the end of the story.

An Afghan who is well acquainted with several of the participants in the kidnapping has provided The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute with new details about the perpetrators, as well as new information about what happened after Rohde’s escape. This source’s account reveals how Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) serves as an arbiter for the various Taliban groups that compete with one another for influence, loot and profits. According to the source, the ISI, acting on behalf of one Taliban faction, took two of Rohde’s guards into custody to interrogate them about how he escaped. Then, despite its knowledge of the men’s role in the kidnapping, the ISI simply set them free.

Though this new information merely lends more substance to already strong suspicions about the ISI’s close relationship with the Taliban, it’s still an explosive allegation: rather than cooperating with US authorities, Pakistan’s intelligence agency essentially became an accessory after the fact to Rohde’s kidnapping.

[ ... ]

After capturing Rohde, Najibullah quickly saw dollar signs. Realizing that he might have to hold on to Rohde for a long time to shake loose real money in ransom, Najibullah brought him to Pakistan, where the American reporter, his translator and his driver were placed in the custody of the Haqqani network. Rohde, in his forthcoming book, explains how he had made a mistake his second night in captivity: desperate to stay alive, he told Najibullah that he could be traded for “prisoners and millions of dollars.”

The Haqqanis, a mujahedeen clan from Khost province, may be some of the most effective commanders battling US forces. They deploy terrorist tactics—waves of well-trained attackers wearing explosive vests deployed in operations such as the assault on the Kabul guesthouses, the assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a series of large-scale actions against US combat outposts on the border near Pakistan.

The Haqqanis were even more effective against the Soviets in the 1980s, when they worked closely with the CIA. The late former Congressman Charles Wilson famously referred to Jalaluddin Haqqani back then as “goodness personified.” A former agency official who used to know Jalaluddin said, “I really regret the fact that we are tangling with him, because he is not a guy to fuck around with.”

When the United States invaded Afghanistan, the Haqqanis sided with the Taliban, not Karzai. By 2002 the Haqqanis were almost on the ropes. Jalaluddin was injured in a US bombing raid. So the younger generation took over. Jalaluddin’s son Siraj, trained like his father in the twin arts of paramilitary warfare and charismatic religious leadership, was now in charge.

The Haqqanis are also known to live well. “They do business,” The Nation’s source said. “They’ve done business for years. They are involved in war, but if they find some business opportunity, they do it. They like buying houses and selling them and stuff like that. Now they have trucks and trucking equipment in Peshawar.”

Rohde’s kidnapping was in essence a business opportunity. Najibullah, the young commander who first captured Rohde, was not a subordinate of the Haqqanis; but by bringing Rohde to them, he would build up his reputation with the clan, giving him a safe base from which to conduct negotiations. Najibullah and his men brought Rohde across Afghanistan’s border to the Haqqanis to make it easier to hold him for an extended period, according to the source familiar with the kidnapping. In Pakistan, they figured, they were safe from American rescue efforts, since they understood that the Haqqanis had the protection of the ISI …

The Nation’s Afghan source said that guarding Rohde was a task shared by Najibullah and the Haqqanis, who provided the logistical support, housing and a secure environment in which to operate near Afghanistan. With so much money at stake, each faction was mistrustful of the other. Of Rohde’s three chief guards, one was a Haqqani loyalist and two were Najibullah’s men. So important was this operation to Najibullah that he had his brother Timor Shah act as a full-time guard for Rohde. (These details are corroborated in Rohde’s book.)

Not only were the Haqqanis and Najibullah eager to use Rohde for profit but the main Taliban Shura—the head council that oversees the Afghan Taliban—hoped to get involved as well, according to The Nation’s source …

Throughout his captivity, Rohde was well aware of the likely connections between the ISI and the Haqqanis who held him, though he said no ISI agents made themselves known during his captivity. “I didn’t witness any direct contact between the ISI and the Haqqanis.” That said, he was living proof, in a sense, that Pakistani authorities gave the Haqqanis full freedom to do as they liked. “What I did see,” he emphasized, “was that Pakistan forces never came off their bases, and the Haqqanis were allowed to operate their own Taliban ministate in North Waziristan.”

In Pakistan, Rohde’s escape was devastating for the Taliban. Not only had they lost their prize prisoner but the loss caused the Haqqanis and Najibullah to turn on each other. They were both convinced, in a case of mirror imaging, that the other one must have released Rohde as part of a secret arrangement in which they kept the ransom money for themselves. Instead of suspecting incompetence on the part of the guards, they believed someone was cheating and getting rich.

“There was a big problem between Siraj [Haqqani] and Najibullah,” the source familiar with the kidnappers told me. “A huge issue. Siraj was blaming Najibullah, that he’s the one who took money from the Americans and let the guy go. 
And [Najibullah] was blaming him, that he did it, because it was his compound.”

Even the Taliban Shura in Quetta got involved, the source said. They “thought that Siraj kept the money.”

To arbitrate the dispute about the kidnapping, the Haqqanis turned to the Pakistan government’s intelligence service, according to The Nation’s source. Siraj, the source said, turned over the two guards affiliated with Najibullah to the ISI for questioning. “One of them,” the source said, “was Najib’s brother Timor Shah.”

The guards were allegedly interrogated fiercely and tortured by the ISI. The interrogators demanded to know exactly how Rohde had escaped. Who had let him go, and why? Were the men paid a ransom they had not shared? In other words, the ISI was making sure that the relations between the Taliban factions weren’t destroyed by anyone’s betrayal.

Once the ISI was convinced that there had been no bribes and no ransom, Rohde’s guards were set free. Despite their role in the kidnapping, they were not charged in court or handed over to the Americans. After more than a month in custody, they were let go.

First, while this report ends with musings on civil war within the Taliban, there is no such war.  There might be individuals who battle each other for preeminence, but the various factions seem to me to get along remarkably well, from the Tehrik-i-Taliban to the Haqqani network, to the Quetta Shura, to al Qaeda.  Anyone who questions the religious and ideological underpinnings of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s fighters should make sure to watch this interview by the NEFA Foundation.  Regardless of the internecine battles, the Taliban factions are well connected.

Second, we have previously focused in on Matthew Hoh’s arguments to get out of Afghanistan because the enemy is in Pakistan.

Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis).  It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side.  Both suggestions are preposterous.

This isn’t about nation-states and imaginary boundaries.  When we think this way we do err in that we superimpose a Western model on a region of the world where it doesn’t apply.  This is about a transnational insurgency, and it’s never better to give the enemy more land, more latitude, more space, more people, more money, and more safety.  Any arguments to this effect are mistaken at a very fundamental level.

Seeing things in terms of Pakistan or Afghanistan is a category error.  We aren’t dealing with European nation-states, but dangerous waters in which rogue elements freely swim, where they exchange ideas and are increasingly becoming radicalized, and where elements of the Pakistani ISI collude with the enemy rather than fight them.

As we focus on physical and human terrain in Afghanistan, it has become painfully obvious that no amount of focus or effort will secure that terrain when the very insurgents we fight are supported by the Pakistani ISI and given both safe haven and free passage across the border.

Finally, the Durand line is imaginary, and unless we chase and kill the insurgents where they are, the campaign in Afghanistan is doomed.  The press is filled with positive reports lately about progress in Afghanistan, but wherever the ebb or flow of the war is, they enemy awaits our withdrawal to reclaim his own territory.  Pakistan is an enemy in this campaign, not an ally.  Unless we take clear-headed action in the coming months to address this problem, not only will the opportunity to win the campaign be lost, but the opportunity to use this theater to wage war on our enemy will have been relinquished.  We will not find a better theater than this one.

Operation Dragon Strike and the Taliban in Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

From NPR:

In an operation called Dragon Strike launched more than two months ago, the U.S. military has been hunting the Taliban in the fields and vineyards outside Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban.

The operation, now winding down, has included artillery barrages, strafing runs and helicopter assaults in the dead of night.

“The last couple of months after we started our clearance ops, it’s completely emptied out. And we haven’t seen any activity,” says Capt. Brant Auge, a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division operating just west of the city of Kandahar.

But there have been unintended consequences. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of refugees are fleeing into the city. Taliban fighters are streaming there, too, and now are stepping up a terrorism campaign.

A group of men standing in central Kandahar are among the displaced from Arghandab and Zhari districts outside the city. They refuse to share their names, but they tell stories of the war ruining their farmland and prompting them to flee.

One man says the Taliban filled the orchards and roads with land mines and booby traps. When an American convoy would hit one of the massive bombs, U.S. helicopters and jets would rocket the area. Explosions destroyed his vineyard and his water pump, he says. After he lost a son and nephew, the man packed up his family for the city.

Now, he says he takes work as a laborer when he can get it and is paid about $4 a day.

Others tell similar stories. They seem to fear the Americans and the Taliban equally. Reconstruction aid is going only to the cronies of the government, they say.

But these poor men looking for day work are not the only newcomers on Kandahar’s streets.

Taliban fighters are here, too.

The Taliban has found plenty of support in Kandahar, which allows its operatives to slip in amid the civilian population. Young men have been encouraged to wage jihad against foreign forces in Afghanistan by preachers in the mosques and via popular cell phone videos.

The sound of motorcycles has become more frightening with a wave of assassins on motorbikes. Abdulrizak Palwal, a Kandahari writer, says no one feels safe. “The writers do not express themselves quite openly because they are afraid. Even the religious people, they are shot in the mosques — inside — if they say anything against the Taliban,” he says.

[ ... ]

Now that the military operation outside the city is nearing an end, the U.S. military plans to spend the winter building up local governments and providing jobs and services to the people as a way to blunt the insurgency.

Analysis & Commentary

This is an interesting report on several levels.  First of all, it isn’t clear why the U.S. Army would be performing clearing operations anywhere – including outside the city – when the insurgency merely relocates to another place (in this case, down town Kandahar).  The tools we have learned via such hard and costly efforts in Iraq appear to have been learned to no avail.  In order to have made this push successful, heavy, around-the-clock, and ubiquitous patrolling, gated communities, census and biometrics should have been implemented.  The U.S. Army needs to know who everyone is in and around Kandahar.  The insurgency isn’t some amorphous, faceless entity.  It consists of people.  We need to know who they are.  A Battalion of Marines accomplished this in Fallujah in 2007.  Kandahar is larger than Fallujah – and the U.S. Army presence in Kandahar is much larger than a Battalion.  There is no reason that this approach cannot work.  None.

Second, it’s remarkable, isn’t it, how we still treat this as a classical insurgency, viz. Algeria and David Galula.  It’s all about providing jobs for the young folk, and given enough largesse and representation in local government, the insurgency will just evaporate.  Presto.

But it isn’t that simple when religious motivation is involved.  It’s also not that simple when a neighboring country harbors the very insurgency we seek to eliminate, all the while calling us friend.  Citing Michael O’Hanlon and others, Michael Hughes observes:

The Pakistan army consists of 500,000 active duty troops and another 500,000 on reserve. If Pakistan truly wanted to capture the Haqqani Network they would be able to drag them out of their caves by their beards within a few days.

Pakistan worries that President Barack Obama’s promise to start reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan come July will lead to anarchy and civil conflict next door, and it is retaining proxies that it can use to ensure that its top goal in Afghanistan — keeping India out — can be accomplished come what may.

Pakistan would rather have the Taliban and the Haqqanis back in power, especially in the country’s south and east, than any group like the former Northern Alliance, which it views as too close to New Delhi.

It is this strategic calculation, more than constrained Pakistani resources, that constitutes Obama’s main challenge in Afghanistan. And it could cost him the war.

Just to be clear, while I oppose almost every decision Mr. Obama has made since taking office, this isn’t Obama’s war.  This is America’s war.  If we lose it, it will be America’s loss.  We need to do a bit better than throwing jobs at the locals to even begin to make a serious dent in the problem.  Local tactics, techniques and procedures need to reflect what we learned in Iraq, while our regional approach needs to deal much more harshly with Pakistan.  Both of these changes require the will and motivation to win.  I don’t currently see that in this administration.

From the Front Lines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

An important and recent account of combat action from a friend and patriot currently in Afghanistan.

How can you not love and admire the American fighting man. Men who are sent perform pointless, thankless tasks in the service of their nation. Poorly lead, poorly supported; they still manage to perform with patience and valor. It is unfortunate that there are no words to describe the thoughts and actions of such men. I try to explain to the privileged 99% of American citizens who do not serve, just what this means. And fail miserably. They just look at me, disbelief on their faces and I’m sure, disgust on mine.

So the platoon is vehicle mounted, MRAPS and Hmmwv’s with ANA in Ford Rangers. The platoon negotiates a defile with high ground all around and the ambush is sprung when the lead and then trail vehicles are disabled with IED and RPG fire. Its a good size linear ambush; PKM’s and RPG’s. The platoon takes causalities immediately and all vehicular maneuver is initially destroyed under intense fire. The soldiers dismount to fight for their lives. Even the gunners are forced off their turrets.The Taliban forces have RPG 9′s and are trying to take the vehicles apart even as the PKM fire is pinning the dismounts and killing and wounding. C2 is a mess and the some of the ANA forces are trying to run away.

One soldier, armed with an old iron sighted M14 he found in a Conex container in a small outpost, targets three PKM gunners who have the main element pinned down. The Taliban forces intend to reduce this force to the point that they can conduct a ground assault across the ambush site and secure equipment and prisoners. Platoon leadership is massing fires and calling for Medivac and CAS, but it’s not going too well.

The RPG men are at 200-350 meters, close to their max range. They are popping up and down over various rocky berms that define the surrounding high ground above the kill zone. They know their business; target the vehicles and masses of men, hold them in place so that the machinegun fire and ground assault forces can finish the job. As they pop up and down they make lousy targets for the ambushed forces pinned down below. The RPG’s are fast and loud and leave an evil, snaking, brown smoke trail in their wake.

Its the PKM fire that is the real issue. Cleverly and with sound tactical acumen, they are positioned within their max range on a berm above and behind the RPG gunners. It is very difficult for the U.S. Forces on the valley floor to see them and fix them with their own fires. Here the M4 is not really in its element. Firing up slope from exposed positions at machine gunners with cover and concealment, the little 5.56mm round is no match for the  7.62mm rounds delivered at a high rate of fire. The soldiers are off their trucks, away from their own machine guns and heavy weapons which again are very limited due to the steeply sloping terrain. They are difficult to elevate to the point that effective fire can be delivered. The Taliban RPG and PKM gunners suffer no limitations.

The platoon leadership struggles to maintain their fires and a fighting force. Despite all the chaos they begin to get vehicles moving and their remaining heavy weapons on target. The Taliban is tightening the noose on this ambush. The balance of the U.S. forces are still dismounted, returning fire and treating casualties. The Taliban now has 360 degree fire on this tiny force. U.S. Forces are surrounded and need to get the heck out of there.

The M14 gunner has watched fire from 3 specific PKM’s who have the front, back and sides of the ambushed forces pinned down. With some assistance spotting fire, he is able to silence or slow them down. He then takes the initiative and with a fire team in tow; maneuvers on a ridge line and kills the assault commander, his body guard and other PKM gunners. This breaks the back of the assault force and the platoon is now able to take charge of their Alamo Vally and recover their tactical loses from the ambush. CAS is now on site but no one cares. It’s F15′s and they rarely drop anything for fear of civilian collateral damage. Besides, the Platoon FAC is mired in ROE as opposed to mission, concerns. He is removed from the platoon COP within 24 hours of this fight.

The ambush is defeated but the remains of the platoon have very little time to recover and remove their own dead and wounded and to police the Taliban dead. The remains of the Taliban force are quickly scrutinized. The U.S Forces need to get the heck out of this ambush site before they are counter attacked by a larger Taliban force.

The Taliban assault force commander is well dressed and equipped. His pockets are rifled to reveal papers identifying him as a Pakistani Intelligence official. Its difficult to match his identification papers to his person because he was shot in the face and not much remains. He is also caring a small black book that has identifying and contact information for all the ANA and ANP officials in this area. The platoon interpreter is on site and he suggests that the information in this black book demonstrates the complicity of all local Afghan officials.

The Platoon consolidates vehicles and equipment for evacuation. Dustoff arrives for the wounded and though full of complaints, hauls the combat dead as well. Some equipment is destroyed on site with Thermite and direct fire and the Platoon returns to their COP to debrief, refit and turn-in their hard earned combat intelligence. Its really just another day in Afghanistan.

There are many themes from previous discussions, from Pakistani duplicity in this campaign, to micromanagement of the enlisted men, to ANA cowardice and lack of discipline, to the need for additional training in marksmanship and the need to arm members of fire teams and squads with various weapons that enable them to engage in more long range fire and maneuver tactics (in Marine Corps terms, this would mean relying heavily on the DM, or Designated Marksman, or Scout Sniper for long range targeting).  It also means arming squads with M14s or some equivalent weapon.  There are tens of thousands of M14s still in armories in the U.S. waiting to be utilized.

But without rehearsing too much detail on the main themes of heroism, megalomaniacal staff level officers, weapons training and selection, and poor performance of our allies, this account takes its place among the great ones in this campaign.  God bless the U.S. warrior.

Pakistan Furious Over U.S. Cross-Border Taliban Raids

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

The U.S. has recently conducted air operations just across the Pakistani border.

NATO helicopters conducted a rare cross-border operation into Pakistan Saturday, killing dozens of militants, according to the alliance.

NATO in Afghanistan said the first cross-border strike came a day after rebels attacked an Afghan border outpost in eastern Khost province. In a second strike, two helicopters returned to the border area and came under fire before killing several more insurgents.

Dawn gives us a little more detail.

US military sources say that all 30 – killed during a hot pursuit on Friday – were Haqqani Network fighters.

The militants, the sources said, had attacked Combat Outpost Narizah, an Afghan base eight miles from the Pakistani border in Tani district of Khost.

US forces repelled the attack and pursued the militants to their post just across the border in North Waziristan.

“An air weapons team in the area observed the enemy fire, and following Inter-national Security Assistance Force rules of engagement, crossed into the area of enemy fire,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

It’s a positive development that rather than confining our combat operations to protecting the population we’re chasing the insurgents as I have observed needed to be done so many times before.  But in another development, Pakistan is not happy with the cross-border operations.

Pakistan reacted angrily today after Nato said US helicopters had crossed into its territory from Afghanistan to attack militants, claiming to have killed more than 50 Taliban fighters.

The admission that two incursions had taken place over the weekend by helicopters from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and possibly a further cross-border raid today, came after recent reports of a covert CIA military force in Afghanistan that crosses into Pakistan to kill Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the incursions as a “clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which Isaf operates”, saying it had made a formal protest to Nato. “In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options,” said Abdul Basit, the foreign ministry spokesman.

So Pakistan is doing a little saber-rattling of their own, still wanting to play both sides against the middle and protect it’s asset – the Taliban – in its neurotic, make-believe future war with India.

This will be a good test of our resolve to be successful in Afghanistan.  Either we offer up obsequious explanations, excuses and discussions about how this was within the rules of engagement, or we tell the Pakistanis that we did it, we’re proud of the results, and it’s going to happen again … and again … and again … until they get their own shop under control.  Stay tuned.


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