Archive for the 'Khyber' Category

Destroyed Khyber Bridge Shuts Down Afghan Logistics Route

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 4 months ago

Continuing with the strategy The Captain’s Journal outlined approximately one year ago, the Taliban continue to target lines of logistical supply in the Khyber pass region of Pakistan.

Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press (courtesy of NYT)

Local residents walk past a bridge destroyed by alleged Islamic militants Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009 in the Pakistani tribal area of Khyber, near Peshawar (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Supplies intended for NATO forces in Afghanistan were suspended Tuesday after Taliban militants blew up a highway bridge in the Khyber Pass region, a lawless northwestern tribal area straddling the border with Afghanistan.

Hidayatullah Khan, a government official in the region, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the 30-yard-long iron bridge was located 15 miles northwest of Peshawar, the capital of the restive North-West Frontier Province.

Pakistani officials said they were assessing the damage and teams had been sent to repair the bridge. But it was not immediately clear how soon the trucks carrying crucial supplies for NATO forces would be able to travel through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.

Apparently supplies are already moving again.  The top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan shrugged off any supply worries after Tuesday’s events, saying that traffic was already flowing again in Pakistan after the attack. “They made a bypass,” said Col. Greg Julian.

But amelioration of the temporary interdiction of supplies that occurred due to the bridge doesn’t change the overall strategic problem faced by NATO and the U.S.  We have strongly recommended creation of a supply route through the Caspian region, one that would surely be problematic but also one that would avoid the direct empowerment of Russia.

Myra MacDonald cites Stephen Blank, a professor at the U.S. Army War College who reached the conclusion that the United States will have to make concessions to win Russia’s cooperation on Afghanistan.  “Russia has the capability to exact a steep price for its cooperation, and it seems fairly certain that the Kremlin will strive to do just that,” he wrote. “One area in which it will likely try to exact that price is in the Caucasus and Black Sea regions, specifically in seeking NATO assurances that Georgia and Ukraine will not be offered membership in the alliance for the foreseeable future, if ever. It is a mark of the strategic malpractice of past U.S. policymakers in Central Asia and Afghanistan that Moscow now finds itself in position to potentially dictate conditions for participation in an endeavor that is clearly in Russia’s best interests.”

Russia knows just how important logistics was to their failed Afghan campaign.

The war was a contest by both sides to control the other’s logistics. The Soviet lines of communication (LOC) were a double lane highway network which wound through the Hindu Kush Mountains – some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. The Soviet presence depended on its ability to keep the roads open. Much of the Soviet combat in Afghanistan was a fight for control of the road network. The resistance destroyed over 11,000 Soviet trucks. The DRA truck losses were reportedly higher. The Mujahideen ability to interdict the LOC was a constant concern to the Soviet and prevented them from maintaining a larger occupation force in Afghanistan.

It certainly is strategic malpractice, one might even say strategic malfeasance, to have placed us in the position of strengthening Russia in order to prosecute the campaign in Afghanistan.  Hard work must be done in order to prevent this exigency.  It is for lack of vision that the enemy strategy can be pointed out months before put into place, and yet be ignored by the Pentagon.

Pakistan Redeploying Troops to Indian Border

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 5 months ago

Pakistan is beginning troops movement away from the North West Frontier Province towards the border with India.

Pakistan began moving thousands of troops from the Afghan border toward India, officials and witnesses said Friday, raising tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors and possibly undermining the U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The country also announced that it was canceling all military leave in the aftermath of last month’s terror attack on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.

Glenn Reynolds speculates that this is the effect that the Mumbaiattacks were intended to produce.  Most certainly so, and The Captain’s Journal forecast this effect one month ago.

While the new Pakistan administration sees the need for the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, the Pakistan Army mostly doesn’t and wishes not to be fighting their own people. The Army also has an almost pathological preoccupation with India, and the rumblings in India over the Mumbai attacks have given both the Pakistan Army and the Tehrik-i-Taliban the perfect cover to end their cooperation with the U.S. and NATO over the Taliban safe haven in the Pakistan FATA and NWFP.

This has long term ramifications for the campaign in Afghanistan, but the most serious ramification is a short term one having to do with lines of logistics.  Recent large scale attacks on NATO supply lines through Khyber (in Peshawar) were newsworthy for their magnitude and scope, but the chronic persistence and results of these attacks is the important story.

For NATO the most serious problem is not even the depots in Peshawar but the safety of the road that winds west to the 3,500-foot Khyber Pass. The route used to be relatively secure: Afriditribesman were paid by the government to safeguard it, and they were subject to severe penalties and collective tribal punishment for crimes against travelers.

But now the road is a death trap, truckers and some security officials say, with routine attacks like one on Sunday that burned a fuel tanker and another last Friday that killed three drivers returning from Afghanistan.

“The road is so unsafe that even the locals are reluctant to go back to their villages from Peshawar,” said Gul Naseem, who lives in Landi Kotal, near the border.

The largest truckers’ association here has gone on strike to protest the lack of security, saying that the job action has sidelined 60 percent of the trucks that normally haul military goods. An American official denied that the drop-off had been that severe.

“Not a single day passes when something doesn’t happen,” said Shakir Afridi, leader of the truckers’ group, the Khyber Transport Association. He said at least 25 trucks and six oil tankers were destroyed this month. “Attacks have become a daily affair,” he said.

This means that the potential logistical supply via Georgia being pursued by the Pentagon takes on urgent importance.  The upcoming Obama administration might have to make some tough decisions regarding Georgia.  “Georgia is the center of gravity in this plan, and our willingness to defend her and come to her aid might just be the one thing that … saves Georgia as a supply route.”

Russia has thrown down the gauntlet regarding her intended future and what she considers to be her near-abroad.  “In the latest of a series of combative moves by the Kremlin, a senior government official in Moscow said the Russian military would commission 70 strategic missiles over the next three years, as part of a massive rearmament programme which will also include short-range missiles, 300 tanks, 14 warships and 50 planes.”

The nexus of Vladimir Putin’s aspirations, the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, and the future of the Russian near-abroad has been all but ensured by the Taliban program to interdict supplies in Khyber, and more specifically by less than a platoon of well-trained teenagers who inflicted terror on Mumbai for three days in late 2008.


U.S-Georgia Strategic Partnership

The Logistical Battle: New Lines of Supply to Afghanistan

The Search for Alternate Supply Routes to Afghanistan

Large Scale Taliban Operations to Interdict Supply Lines

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan

Taliban Control of Supply Routes to Kabul

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

The Torkham Crossing

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Logistical Battle: New Lines of Supply to Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

Following up on the recent attack on NATO supply lines through Khyber, another attack was recently launched, only this time the attackers didn’t need the winding passes of Khyber to conduct the mission.

Suspected Taliban militants early Saturday staged another attack against cargo terminals in northwestern Pakistan in the country’s restive tribal areas, destroying NATO supplies bound for neighboring Afghanistan, police said.

Military vehicles and food in 13 containers were thought to have been destroyed in the attacks outside the frontier city of Peshawar.

It follows at least five other attacks against NATO and U.S. supply lines in recent weeks.

Militants threw petrol bombs into the city’s World Logistic Terminal and the Al Faisal Terminal, police said. The terminal holds hundreds of supply containers as well as Hummer transport vehicles bound for Afghanistan.

Several containers were still burning by Saturday afternoon.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban have claimed credit for the attack and warned of more to come.  The recent work to find another line of supply into Afghanistan has yielded some significant fruit.

Nato plans to open a new supply route to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia in the next eight weeks following a spate of attacks on its main lifeline through Pakistan this year, Nato and Russian sources have told The Times.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the former Soviet Central Asian states that lie between Russia and Afghanistan, have agreed in principle to the railway route and are working out the small print with Nato, the sources said.

“It’ll be weeks rather than months,” said one Nato official. “Two months max.”

The “Northern Corridor” is expected to be discussed at an informal meeting next week between Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to Nato, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato’s Secretary-General.

The breakthrough reflects Nato and US commanders’ growing concern about the attacks on their main supply line, which runs from the Pakistani port of Karachi via the Khyber Pass to Kabul and brings in 70 per cent of their supplies. The rest is either driven from Karachi via the border town of Chaman to southern Afghanistan – the Taleban’s heartland – or flown in at enormous expense in transport planes that are in short supply.

“We’re all increasingly concerned,” Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Wednesday. “But in that concern, we’ve worked pretty hard to develop options.”

The opening of the Northern Corridor also mirrors a gradual thaw in relations between Moscow and Nato, which plunged to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War after Russia’s brief war with Georgia in August.

However, Nato and the United States are simultaneously in talks on opening a third supply route through the secretive Central Asian state of Turkmenistan to prevent Russia from gaining a stranglehold on supplies to Afghanistan, the sources said. Non-lethal supplies, including fuel, would be shipped across the Black Sea to Georgia, driven to neighbouring Azerbaijan, shipped across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and then driven to the Afghan border.

The week-long journey along this “central route” would be longer and more expensive than those through Pakistan or Russia and would leave supplies vulnerable to political volatility in the Caucasus and Turkmenistan.

Yet, this alternative to direct reliance on Russia is smart and may prove to be quite attractive in the future should these “relations” we now have with Russia again turn sour.  Vladimir Putin and Dimitri Medvedev likely intend to push forward with engagement of what they consider to be their “near abroad,” including Georgia, the Ukraine, and other regional countries.

However, interestingly, this leaves us vulnerable yet again to Russian dispositions, even with the alternative supply route.  Georgia is the center of gravity in this plan, and our willingness to defend her and come to her aid might just be the one thing that a) kills the option of Russia as a logistical supply into Afghanistan, and b) saves Georgia as a supply route.  Thus far, we have maneuvered ourselves into the position of reliance on Russian good will.  These “thawed relations” might just turn critical should Russia decide again to flex its muscle in the region, making the U.S. decisions concerning Georgia determinative concerning our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

Are we willing to turn over Georgia (and maybe the Ukraine) to Russia in exchange for a line of supply into Afghanistan, or are we willing to defend and support Georgia for the preservation of democracy in the region and – paradoxically – the preservation of a line of supply to Afghanistan?  The upcoming administration has some hard choices, and it’s unlikely that negotiations will make much difference.  The burden will rest on decisions rather than talks.


The Search for Alternate Supply Routes to Afghanistan

Large Scale Taliban Operations to Interdict Supply Lines

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Logistical Difficulties in Afghanistan

Taliban Control of Supply Routes to Kabul

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

The Torkham Crossing

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

More on Lines of Logistics for Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

Three days ago The Captain’s Journal published How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?, and since Glenn Reynolds linked it at Instapundit, it got plenty of web traffic. As of that date, although we had been covering Torkham, Khyber, Karachi, Chaman and the lines of logistical supply to troops in Afghanistan, we had not seen any American main stream media reports detailing the logistical difficulties and issues.

Enter the Washington Post, which today published an article entitled U.S. Seeks New Supply Routes Into Afghanistan. The same themes we discussed appear in this Washington Post report, although they also detail some new action to create other routes of supply.

TORKHAM, Afghanistan, Nov. 18 — A rise in Taliban attacks along the length of a vital NATO supply route that runs through this border town in the shadow of the Khyber Pass has U.S. officials seeking alternatives, including the prospect of beginning deliveries by a tortuous overland journey from Europe.

Supplying troops in landlocked Afghanistan has long been the Achilles’ heel of foreign armies here, most recently the Soviets, whose forces were nearly crippled by Islamist insurgent attacks on vulnerable supply lines.

About 75 percent of NATO and U.S. supplies bound for Afghanistan — including gas, food and military equipment — are transported over land through Pakistan. The journey begins in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi and continues north through Pakistan’s volatile North-West Frontier Province and tribal areas before supplies arrive at the Afghan border. The convoys then press forward along mountain hairpin turns through areas of Afghanistan that are known as havens for insurgents.

Drivers at this busy border crossing say death threats from the Taliban arrive almost daily. Sometimes they come in the form of a letter taped to the windshield of a truck late at night. Occasionally, a dispatcher receives an early-morning phone call before a convoy sets off from Pakistan. More often, the threats are delivered at the end of a gun barrel.

“The Taliban, they tell us, ‘These goods belong to the Americans. Don’t bring them to the Americans. If you do, we’ll kill you,’ ” said Rahmanullah, a truck driver from the Pakistani tribal town of Landikotal. “From Karachi to Kabul there is trouble. The whole route is insecure.”

The growing danger has forced the Pentagon to seek far longer, but possibly safer, alternate routes through Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to Defense Department documents. A notice to potential contractors by the U.S. Transportation Command in September said that “strikes, border delays, accidents and pilferage” in Pakistan and the risk of “attacks and armed hijackings” in Afghanistan posed “a significant risk” to supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan …

The United States has already begun negotiations with countries along what the Pentagon has called a new northern route. An agreement with Georgia has been reached and talks are ongoing with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to an Oct. 31 Pentagon document. “We do not expect transit agreements with Iran or Uzbekistan,” the Transportation Command told potential contractors.

Whichever company gets the contract will have to provide security forces to protect the convoys. Port World Logistics, the transport company currently handling supplies going from Pakistan to Afghanistan, uses a Pakistani service, Dogma Security, and has also had some assistance from the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps, according to a statement from the public affairs office of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

The new contractor will also be required to have intrusion detection devices and a real-time satellite tracking and tracing system that reports the location of each vehicle every 30 minutes.

Although it’s disappointing that it took approximately one year of harping on this subject, it’s good to see that it is getting the attention it deserves. The Captain’s Journal is glad to provide the best analysis well before it can be obtained open source.

How Many Troops Can We Logistically Support in Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

Glenn Reynolds links the Small Wars Journal on a potential surge in Afghanistan, and Michael Yon weighed in saying that in his opinion the proposed 25-40K troops won’t be enough.  Then Glenn asks a salient and insightful question: How many troops can we support, logistically, in Afghanistan?  Glenn has been carefully examining the reports.

The Captain’s Journal has a right to weigh in on this subject because first of all, we have been advocating a surge for Afghanistan for at least one year, manned partly by an expeditious withdrawal of Marines from the Anbar Province as recommended by Commandant Conway (we are, after all, a Marine blog).  Second, we make very few forecasts,  but when we do, we have good track record of accuracy.  When Army intelligence was claiming that there wouldn’t be a spring offensive in Afghanistan, we said that there would be a two-front Taliban offensive, one by the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan and the other in Afghanistan by the followers of Mullah Omar.

We also described the strategy of interdiction of NATO supplies into Afghanistan many months before it began to occur.  Afghanistan is land-locked, and transportation of supplies and ordnance to U.S. and NATO troops occurs basically in three ways.  Ten percent comes into Afghanistan via air supply.  The other ninety percent comes in through the port city of Karachi, of which the vast majority goes to the Torkham Crossing (and then to Kabul) via the Khyber pass, with some minor portion going to Kandahar through Chaman.

This interdiction of supply routes by the Taliban is an integral part of their offensive.  The Taliban have been successful in stopping and confiscating some of the supplies, and Pakistan officials have temporarily stopped transit of sealed containers through Khyber.

A Pakistani driver sits beside parked trucks loaded with supplies for American and NATO forces, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan has temporarily suspended oil tankers and trucks carrying sealed containers from using a key passage to Afghanistan, an official said Sunday, a move that will likely impact supplies heading to U.S. and NATO troops. (AP Photo/Muhammad Iqbal)

So returning to the question of logistical support of U.S. troops, there has been an impact from insecurity thus far, and assuming a closing of the transit routes by Taliban fighters, no logistics would be sustainable.  But ironically, an increase in force projection in Afghanistan will bring its own logistical rewards and unintended [good] consequences.

We tend to see the struggle through Western eyes, and where we see territorial borders, the Taliban and al Qaeda see nothing.  It is we who see the phantom, not the Taliban.  The enemy is a transnational insurgency and knows no borders, and operations against them in Afghanistan will cause pressure in Pakistan as well.  Fighters from Pakistan have been sent to assist fighters in Afghanistan on a regular basis, and Baitullah Mehsud has made it one of his duties to support the anti-government efforts in Afghanistan.  Logistics and the degree to which supply routes remain operational will be a function of pressure on the Taliban, and the coupling of these two variables is inversely related.

Does this analysis not sound convincing because it is open source and proferred by a non-professional?  Very well.  Listen to a jihadi say it: “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban, its only real allies in the region.”

While analysis at The Captain’s Journal relies mainly upon open source information from jihadist web sites, Pakistani, Afghan and other news sources, 95% of which can be Taliban propaganda on any given day, we were right on the danger in Khyber based on these sources, as well as the fact that there would be a two-front spring offensive.  The trick is to know when it’s propaganda and when it’s not.

The U.S. should continue to work on alternative means of supply, as well as pressure the Pakistan Army to continue operations against the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Khyber and in and around Peshawar.  But the surest way to put pressure on the Taliban is to conduct kinetic operations against them in Afghanistan.  Pressure on the Taliban anywhere will redound to open supply routes.

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn for the interest.

Interdiction of U.S. Supplies in Khyber Pass

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has been very specific, detailed and insistent in our coverage and analysis of the Khyber pass and Torkham Crossing and the need to maintain lines of supply from the port city of Karachi through to Afghanistan. See:

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Khyber Pass (category)

Torkham Crossing (category)

The situation is devolving into one of complete control by the Taliban in the Khyber region, and a recent hijacking of supply trucks has been carried out by Baitullah Mehsud’s forces.

Militants in northwest Pakistan hijacked 13 trucks carrying supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan on Monday as they passed through the Khyber Pass, a government official said.

Most supplies, including fuel, for U.S. and other Western forces battling a Taliban insurgency in landlocked Afghanistan are trucked through neighboring Pakistan, which is also facing growing militant violence.

Security along the road leading to the border has deteriorated this year and soldiers carried out a sweep in part of the Khyber region in June to push militants back from the outskirts of Peshawar, the main city in the northwest.

The trucks were seized at four places along a 35 km (20 mile) stretch of the road, said a senior government administrator in the Khyber region.

“About 60 masked gunmen popped up on the road and took away the trucks with their drivers. Not a single shot was fired anywhere,” the official, Bakhtiar Mohmand, told Reuters.

Mohmand said the trucks were not carrying weapons or ammunition but he was not sure what goods they were taking.

He said he believed militants loyal to Pashtun Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud were responsible.

“Baitullah’s men are behind this as they’re very well-equiped and trained,” he said.

But it’s really worse than this report indicates. The Taliban are driving around in stolen HMMWVs.

Taliban militants were driving around in captured US army Humvee armoured vehicles in Pakistan’s tribal region close to the historic Khyber Pass last night after hijacking more than a dozen supply trucks travelling along the vital land route that supplies coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The capture of the Humvees – these days the symbol of US intervention in Iraq and elsewhere – is a serious embarrassment to US commanders of the coalition forces.

Pakistani reporters in the area said the militants unloaded the Humvees from shipping containers on the backs of the trucks and drove off in them, after decorating them with flags and banners of the banned umbrella organisation Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is led by Baitullah Mehsud. Mehsud is closely allied to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

The reporters said the hijackings had taken place “in clear view of (Pakistani) paramilitary personnel” deployed at the nearby Jamrud Fort, who “did not take any action”.

“All this happened on the international highway (linking Pakistan with Afghanistan) and you can imagine the implications this can have for us,” an official told Pakistan newspaper Dawn.

Indeed. If there was any additional indication needed as to the capabilities and intent of the Pakistani forces, this should be sufficient. The Pakistani military took no action, and likely will not in the future.

Targeting of NATO Supply Lines Through Pakistan Expands

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 8 months ago

Seven months ago The Captain’s Journal published Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan in which we outlined a major prong of the coming strategy to cut off supplies to NATO forces through Pakistan. We followed this up with a discussion of the importance of the Khyber Pass and the Torkham Crossing, the Northern border crossing through which supplies flow, and which has been the target of attacks against fuel tankers and other traffic.

We’ve also discussed the Talibanization of Karachi, Karachi being the only port through which supplies flow. Thousands of Taliban fighters have entered Karachi in a sign of the increased enemy interest in controlling this vital hub of transit. From Karachi the supplies go to the Southwestern Pakistan city of Chaman to cross into Afghanistan or to the Northwestern province of Khyber and then to the Torkham Crossing, eventually arriving in Kabul unless interdicted by the Taliban. The Taliban have worked to close both of these supply routes. But recently they have moved their targeting South of the the city of Peshawar and the Khyber Pass. In other words, they are expanding – not moving – their points of interdiction. They are now targeting the supplies as they come North from Karachi to Kohat.

The Pakistani army is locked in a fierce battle to stop fuel and arms supply routes to British and American forces in Afghanistan falling under Taliban control.

Last week Pakistani troops launched a series of raids on villages around Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province, in pursuit of a Taliban commander blamed for bomb attacks that have destroyed more than 40 fuel tankers supplying Nato troops in Afghanistan.

They claim that Mohammad Tariq Alfridi, the commander, has seized terrain around the mile-long Kohat tunnel, south of Peshawar, three times since January. He has coordinated suicide bomb attacks and rocket strikes against convoys emerging from it.

The Taliban attacks stretch all the way south from the Afghan border to Karachi, where weapons, ammunition, food and oil supplies arrive at the docks before being transported by road.

Last week western diplomats in Karachi said there had been an alarming increase in Taliban activity in the city. Local politicians said they had been warned by intelligence officials that 60 Taliban families had fled to Karachi from tribal areas close to the Afghan border and had begun to impose strict Islamic law. They had recently posted notices throughout the city forbidding girls from going to school.

The army’s antiTaliban offensive in the tribal areas appears to be hitting the militants hard. Last week Maulvi Omar, a Taliban spokesman, said that his fighters would lay down their arms if the army ceased fire. His offer was ignored.

The battle for the tunnel began at the start of the year when Taliban fighters seized five trucks carrying weapons and ammunition. They held the tunnel for a week before they were driven out in fierce fighting. Since then Tariq and his men have returned several times to attack convoys. The army launched its latest onslaught after a suicide bomb attack at one of its bases near the tunnel six weeks ago. Five people were killed and 45 were injured, including 35 soldiers, when a pickup truck packed with explosives was driven into a checkpoint.

When The Sunday Times visited the approaches to the tunnel last week, several bridges along the road bore the signs of explosive damage and bullet holes. Villagers said the Taliban had not fled but had melted into the background to wait out the army assault.

Pakistan is not just strategically important for U.S. interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan is quite literally in a fight for its continued existence. The Pakistan army’s juvenile preoccupation with expansion and war with India will become deadly if not relinquished in favor of a realistic view towards self preservation from internal threats.

Intensive negotiations (and eventually, pressure) must be brought to bear to secure the supply lines into Afghanistan, and eventually to obtain permissions for U.S. operations. Currently, 90% of NATO supplies enter through Karachi, while a total of 80% go to Torkham through Khyber, with the remaining 10% going to Chaman and finally to Kandahar. Only 10% come into Afghanistan via air routes. The 10% that comes in via air supply is about to become very important, and unless Pakistan can secure the supply routes, the amount coming into Afghanistan via air supply must increase (e.g., through India over Pakistani Kashmir or other routes).

Taliban Cross-Border Operations

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 11 months ago

As we have discussed before, nationalism is out of accord with both the tenets and goals of radical militant Islamism.  Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Salafists and Wahhabists worldwide have no recognition of the legitimacy of borders.  This characteristic of being a transnational insurgency coupled with Pakistan’s capitulation to them has caused problems for the so-called border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Recently The Captain’s Journal said that the most recent deals with the Taliban made Afghanistan the sacrificial lamb while intending to maintain Pakistan’s stability.  Almost as if on cue, a report comes to us on current Taliban freedom to roam to and fro about the border region.

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – In early June, about 300 fighters from jihadist groups came together for a secret gathering here, in the same city that serves as headquarters to the Pakistani army.

The groups were launched long ago with the army’s clandestine support to fight against India in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. But at the meeting, they agreed to resolve their differences and commit more fighters to another front instead: Afghanistan.

“The message was that the jihad in Kashmir is still continuing but it is not the most important right now. Afghanistan is the fighting ground, against the Americans there,” said Toor Gul, a leader of the militant group Hezb-ul Mujahedeen. The groups included the al-Qaida-linked Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, banned by Pakistan and branded terrorists by the U.S., he said …

Militants say they operate with minimal interference, and sometimes tacit cooperation, from Pakistani authorities, while diplomats say the country’s new government has until now been ineffectual in dealing with a looming threat.

“Where there were embers seven years ago we are now fighting flames,” a serving Western general told The Associated Press, referring to both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border regions. He agreed to be interviewed on condition his identity and nationality were not revealed …

Pakistan’s Mohmand and Bajaur tribal areas are emerging as increasingly strong insurgent centers, according to Gul, the militant. His information was corroborated by Pakistani and Western officials. Both those tribal areas are right next door to Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

“Before there were special, hidden places for training. But now they are all over Bajaur and Mohmand,” he said. “Even in houses there is training going on.”

A former minister in President Pervez Musharraf’s ousted government, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said insurgents were being paid between 6,000 and 8,000 rupees — the equivalent of $90 and $120 — a month in Mohmand and grain was being collected to feed them. He did not identify the source of the donations but said Pakistan’s army and intelligence were aware of them.

Maulvi Abdul Rahman, a Taliban militant and former police officer under the ousted hardline regime, said jihadistsympathizers in the Middle East are sending money to support the insurgents and more Central Asians are coming to fight. Rahman said under a tacit understanding with authorities, militants were free to cross to fight in Afghanistan so long as they do not stage attacks inside Pakistan, which has been assailed by an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks in the past year.

“It is easy for me now. I just go and come. There are army checkposts and now we pass and they don’t say anything. Pakistan now understands that the U.S. is dangerous for them,” he said. “There is not an article in any agreement that says go to Afghanistan, but it is understood if we want to go to Afghanistan, OK, but leave Pakistan alone.'”

Again, just as we had pointed out, the Pakistani deal with the Taliban has as its sole purpose to save Pakistan.  It will ultimately lead to the strengthening of the Taliban and the destabilization of Pakistan as well, but given the Pashtun rejection of the war on terror and the malaise of the Pakistani Army, The Captain’s Journal expected the deals to occur.

Note that the Kunar Province mentioned above is the location of 50% casualty rate for U.S. forces in recent combat operations.  As the reader might have suspected, The Captain’s Journal says if the Taliban want to fight us in the tribal region, saddle up!  Send the Marines after them, border or no border.  If Pakistan won’t do the job, then the U.S. can.

Sons of the Soil or Deal with the Devil?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 11 months ago

The important and always interesting MEMRI has an article on current Pakistani military operations in the North West Frontier Province.

On June 28, 2008, the Pakistani government ordered a military operation against Islamist fighters in the tribal district of Khyber Agency, which borders on the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The next day, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said at a hurriedly-called press conference in Lahore that this military operation was aimed at the Taliban and was launched as a last resort. He explained that his government’s policy vis-à-vis the Islamist militants was based on three components: launching a dialogue with the Taliban; offering a development package to the regions in which it is active; and ordering military action as a last resort.

Prime Minister Gilani criticized the Taliban’s actions in the areas under their control, such as burning down girls’ schools, beheading alleged criminals, closing down barbershops that do shaving of beards, disregarding the peace agreements with the NWFP government, and undermining the government’s authority in the federally administered tribal areas (FATAs) and in the NWFP.

It should be noted that the Islamist groups targeted by the military operation in Khyber Agency – namely Lashkar-e-Islam and its rival, Ansarul Islam – are not formally part of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban Movement). However, their objectives and actions are identical to those of the Taliban. These groups also constitute a good example of how small groups of criminals develop muscle over the years and acquire a set of ideological objectives, depending on the social context in which they evolve.

But this was not the main reason that prompted the Pakistani government to launch a military operation in the tribal district of Khyber. This district, which borders Afghanistan on one side and the NWFP on the other, is important not only because the main supply route of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan passes through it, but also because of its proximity to Peshawar, the NWFP capital. In fact, the operation focused on the town of Bara, just five km from Peshawar, where Lashkar-e-Islam headquarters are located. The immediate reason for the military operation is the Taliban’s gradual encroachment on this city.

Military operations are not targeting Baitullah Mehsud’s organization.  They are targeting some very specific non-aligned groups that immediately threaten Peshawar.  But if the disposition and ideology of these groups is identical to those of the Tehrik-i-Taliban, what is the expected disposition of the balance of the threats?  After all, one might surmise that if the radicals in the Khyber Agency have the same goals as the Tehrik-i-Taliban, and Peshawar is under current threat, then the Tehrik-i-Taliban would be the next logical target.

We have long ago noted that the Pashtun rejected the global war on terror, and that the Pakistani Army believes that the war against the Taliban is American-made, and one in which Pakistan should not be engaged.  So who, then, is the enemy?  The Asia Times (“Sons of the Soil”) gives us a glimpse into the make-believe world of the Pakistani military leadership at the present.

The resilient Taliban have proved unshakeable across Afghanistan over the past few months, making the chances of a coalition military victory against the popular tide of the insurgency in the majority Pashtun belt increasingly slim.

The alternative, though, of negotiating with radical Taliban leaders is not acceptable to the Western political leadership.

This stalemate suits Pakistan perfectly as it gives Islamabad the opportunity to once again step in to take a leading role in shaping the course of events in its neighboring country.

Pakistan’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi are thrilled with the Taliban’s sweeping military successes which have reduced President Hamid Karzai’s American-backed government to a figurehead decorating the presidential palace of Kabul; he and his functionaries dare not even cross the street to take evening tea at the Serena Hotel.

June (28 US combat deaths) was the deadliest month for coalition troops since they invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and fatalities have increased steadily since 2004, when 58 soldiers were killed that year. The total more than doubled to 130 killed in 2005, 191 in 2006 and 232 in 2007. One hundred and twenty-seven have died so far this year.

Pakistan’s planners now see their objective as isolating radicals within the Taliban and cultivating tribal, rustic, even simplistic, “Taliban boys” – just as they did in the mid-1990s in the leadup to the Taliban taking control of the country in 1996. It is envisaged that this new “acceptable” tribal-inspired Taliban leadership will displace Taliban and al-Qaeda radicalism.

This process has already begun in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

A leading Pakistani Taliban leader, Haji Nazeer from South Waziristan, who runs the largest Pakistani Taliban network against coalition troops in Afghanistan, recently convened a large meeting at which it was resolved to once again drive out radical Uzbeks from South Waziristan. This happened once before, early last year.

In particular, Nazeer will take action against the Uzbeks’ main backer, Pakistani Taliban hardliner Baitullah Mehsud, if he tries to intervene. Nazeer openly shows his loyalty towards the Pakistani security forces and has reached out to other powerful Pakistani Taliban leaders, including Moulvi Faqir from Bajaur Agency, Shah Khalid from Mohmand Agency and Haji Namdar in Khyber Agency. Nazeer also announced the appointment of the powerful commander of North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, as the head of the Pakistani Taliban for all Pakistan.

The bulk of the Pakistani Taliban has always been pro-Pakistan and opposed to radical forces like Baitullah Mehsud and his foreign allies, but this is the first time they have set up a formal organization and appointed an amir (chief) as a direct challenge to the radicals.

There it is in a nutshell – the Pakistan strategy for the war on terror.  The Pakistani military isn’t concerned about Nazeer’s military actions against the coalition in Afghanistan.  They are siding with one Taliban faction against another in the hopes of the stability of the Pakistani government.  Afghanistan is the sacrificial lamb in this deal.

As for the brave Nazeer’s first actions in this deal?  Yes, it’s driving out those powerful Uzbeks from Pakistan!  Without them the landscape takes a turn for the idyllic according the Pakistani military strategy.  As for Baitullah Mehsud who has around 20,000 fighters, he will likely have none of this.  Nazeer’s life will be in serious danger very soon if he pursues this plan.  It’s more likely that it isn’t the plan at all.   It’s more likely that Nazeer is playing the Pakistani military for fools.

As for the military actions near Peshawar, exactly what have they accomplished?  MEMRI fills in the blanks.

The operation yielded the arrest of several civilians and low-ranking fighters. Pakistan’s mass-circulation Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jang wondered who wrote the script for the Operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem, stating that it targeted nothing more than “empty buildings [used by] the banned organizations Lashkar-e-Islam, Ansarul Islam and Amr bil Maroof wa Nahi al-Munkar,” and that “not one of the leaders or fighters [of these organizations] was captured.”

The heart for the struggle is gone.  Military operations are conducted against pretend targets, deals are struck with local warlords who haven’t the power to really challenge the Tehrik-i-Taliban (and probably would’nt if they could), and the Uzbeks are bullied as if they constitute the real problem in Pakistan.  When the Pakistani military and current political leadership awakens from this dangerous slumber and realizes that it has made a deal with the devil, it may be too late for at least large parts of Pakistan.  Afghanistan will then be directly in the sights.

The Right Prescription for the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 11 months ago

Admonitions to spin off factions of the Taliban or Taliban-sympathizers against the so-called “hard core” Taliban are becoming commonplace.  But who are the Taliban?  We have already discussed the disaggregation of the Taliban into drug runners, war lords, petty former anti-Soviet commanders, criminals, Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, al Qaeda, and other rogue elements in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Drug runners, local war lords and other criminals can be dealt with differently than the Taliban.  Drug runners will likely not have strong inclinations to Islamic fundamentalism and certainly not the global expansion of the same.  On the other hand, the religiously motivated fighters within Afghanistan likely number as many as ten thousand fighters, including 3000 or so full time insurgents.

Then there is the Afghan Taliban who are not located within Afghanistan but who are indigenous to Afghanistan, under the leadership of Mohammed Omar who is probably in or around Quetta, Pakistan.  They continually resupply Taliban fighters and give them rest and sanctuary within Pakistan.  Quetta is a revolving door of support for Afghan fighters.

This group is organizationally disconnected with the Tehrik-i-Taliban, or Pakistan Taliban.  These are groups of Taliban who are led by various commanders, the most powerful of whom are Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, and Mullah Fazlullah in the SWAT valley.  The Tehrik-i-Taliban number tens of thousands more fighters.  It is estimated that Mehsud alone owns 20,000 fighters.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban are different than the Afghan Taliban in that they have brought a hard core global expansionist focus to their radical religious views.  It is what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban.

Some Afghan Taliban have laid down their weapons and taken up the Taliban cause in politics.  They have not changed their belief system – the same one that allied itself with the Taliban fighters and al Qaeda prior to 9/11.  The Afghan fighters who remain active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have not laid down their weapons and still harbor hopes of regaining the leadership of Afghanistan.  The Tehrik-i-Taliban are hard core radicals, and shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.

Not a single group or subgroup listed above can be violently turned against the active Taliban fighters, mostly because their are ideologically aligned.  In Anbar, Iraq, the more secular Sunni tribes had the religiously motivated al Qaeda thrust on them from the outside with all of the oppressive violence, and it didn’t take long for them to rebel.  The same is not true of either Afghanistan or Pakistan.  The proof is pre-9/11 history in Afghanistan where the hard core fighters – including al Qaeda – had safe haven.

There are repeated instances of misdiagnosis of the problem.

Given this state of affairs, Karzai and his foreign allies will not be in a position to do much against the Taliban and its supporters unless they work on three main objectives simultaneously. One is to address their political and strategic vulnerabilities; another is to widen and speed up reconstruction. A third is to re-establish a stable Afghan-Pakistan border by pressuring Pakistan  to halt all support for the Taliban.

True enough for potential future Taliban fighters whom we wish to keep in the fold, this prescription is wrong for the existing Taliban because the ailment has been misdiagnosed (and besides, pressure has already been put on Pakistan, to no avail).  For the Taliban, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum has the right suggestion: “NATO forces must be united in their commitment to wage war against the Taliban.”  No single group can be spun off to fight the Taliban in lieu of Western military operations against them.

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