Archive for the 'Tehrik-i-Taliban' Category

Baitullah Mehsud Targets Punjab

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

More than one month ago we observed that Punjabi militants under the authority of Tehrik-i-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud had begun to target the Punjab province, the most populous province in Pakistan.  Today, Tehrik-i-Taliban spokesmen claimed credit for the most recent terrorist attack in Lahore as well as others throughout the North West Frontier Province.

Four bombs exploded at separate locations in Pakistan’s north-west on Thursday shortly after the Taliban warned that they were beginning a broader bombing campaign in retaliation for the army’s offensive in Swat.

Two of the bombs went off in a market in the old quarter of Peshawar, the northern frontier city, killing at least seven people and injuring 40.

Shortly after the Peshawar blasts, a suicide bomber attacked a paramilitary checkpost in another part of Peshawar, in which at least five people were killed. Police later said that two gunmen had been killed and two suspects detained after gunmen opened fire from a rooftop following the attack.

Later, a bomb blast in the city of Dera Ismail Khan killed at least two people while five more were hurt. A senior security official in Islamabad said: “These attacks strongly indicate a new terrorist campaign.”

The violence came after the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s suicide car-bomb and gun attack in the eastern city of Lahore that killed up to 35 people, saying it was in revenge for an offensive in the Swat region.

Speaking before the Peshawar blasts, Hakimullah Mehsud, a militant commander loyal to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, warned of more violence.

“We plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days and weeks,” he told Reuters by telephone. The government has ordered cities to be on alert.

Baitullah Mehsud was the prime suspect for the bomb blasts in the Peshawar, a senior government official said on Thursday.

“We had already concluded that Baitullah Mehsud was behind this attack (in Lahore) but now he is claiming responsibility,” said another Pakistani senior intelligence official. “I believe the attack in Peshawar also bears the hand prints of Mehsud.”

This isn’t some disjointed campaign, but one which is correlated to the ongoing Taliban and al Qaeda operations throughout the region.  Said one al Qaeda spokesman:

“The Pakistan army could then have launched an all-out war in the tribal areas, and we could have retaliated with equal strength. In that process, Pakistan would have become a battleground and enemies like India and the US would have received the chance to intervene. Although in our files Pakistan does not exist, we of course don’t want enemies of Islam to take advantage of any situation.”

The battle against Pakistani forces isn’t one in which either the Taliban or al Qaeda want to engage.  But there is a strategic reason for doing so.

Al-Qaeda’s main priority is to use natural landmarks as boundaries against the security forces. The first success has been in securing an area all along the Hindu Kush mountains from Terah Valley in Khyber Agency up to the Turban district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province bordering Iran.

The second target is to push Pakistani forces back beyond the Indus River. The source of the Indus is in Tibet; it begins at the confluence of the Sengge and Gar rivers that drain the Nganglong Kangri and Gangdise Shan mountain ranges. The Indus then flows northwest through Ladakh and Baltistan into Gilgit, just south of the Karakoram range. The Shyok River, Shigar and Gilgit streams carry glacial waters into the main river. It gradually bends to the south, coming out of the hills between Peshawar and Rawalpindi in Pakistan.

It essentially means that militants would allow the writ of the state up to Punjab and Sindh provinces, but they want complete control in parts of NWFP and parts of Balochistan …

Al-Qaeda repeated that its goal was to make the Pakistani security forces neutral in the “war on terror”. The overall object is to win the war in Afghanistan. To this end, al-Qaeda will continue to engage the security forces in the Swat area.

The simple reason is that al-Qaeda fears that the military, under US pressure, has plans in place to move into North and South Waziristan, where al-Qaeda and the Taliban have key resources vital to their struggle in Afghanistan. So it is better to keep the military pinned down in Swat.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban is an arm of al Qaeda, or actually, the two are so joined in ideology now that both are global in their import, and Mehsud, the man whom The Captain’s Journal loves to hate, may be the most powerful of all Taliban with more fighters at his disposal than any other leader, whether Taliban or al Qaeda.

The goal is first to retake Afghanistan, and insofar as Pakistan is in the way, it is seen as coupled with the “enemy” and is to be at least kept at bay.  Later, their globalist ideology would manifest itself in larger geographical campaign against the West, the sanctuaries not being limited to Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.  After recent threats by Baitullah Mehsud to attack Washington, various analysts went on record saying that he was basically a regional threat but that he lacked the capabilities or resources to attack outside his area of influence.

That assessment is profoundly shortsighted.  We have seen from the Hamburg cell that a successful attack against the West requires money, ideology, weapons and tactics training and language training.  Mehsud’s organization currently has three out of the four prerequisites (and may have all four), and language training doesn’t take long.  Do not underestimate Baitullah Mehsud.

Taliban in Swat Slip Away, Live to Fight Another Day

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

One month ago at the beginning of the Pakistan offensive against the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province, the Pakistan Army claimed that the offensive would take approximately one week.  We responded that the Pakistan Army, regardless of whether they had the will to conduct counterinsurgency operations, didn’t understand how to, adding that:

The Taliban would simply melt away, wait for the Pakistan Army to leave, and then re-enter the area and kill anyone who cooperated with the Army.  Or if they stand and fight, the history of the Pakistan Army indicates that they will simply pull back and sign a new peace deal.

No concept of clear, hold and build.  No concept of staying in the area and providing security.  No concept of intelligence driven raids, learning the population and enabling them to resist the Taliban, no concept at all of modern counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures.

As a matter of fact, the Tehrik-i-Taliban have slipped away.

The Pakistani military warned today that the house-to-house combat its troops are fighting in the Swat Valley’s capital would not be a decisive battle against the Taliban insurgency in the area, saying militants had slipped out of the city to fight another day.

The army has secured more than 50 percent of Mingora, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the military’s chief spokesman, told ABC News, but he said fighters are “withdrawing from the city.” “The fighting is not as stiff as it could be. It appears that the last ditch battle will not be there,” Abbas said.

Pakistani officials say the fighting in Swat and across three districts in the volatile northwest is for Pakistan’s very “existence.” The military has failed to finish this same battle twice before, and there is a widespread sense that if it fails again, and if the administration fails to fill the governance vacuums that helped the Taliban spread, they will never again enjoy the level of popular support that this operation has.

But that support will be tested in the next few weeks and months as more than 2 million internally displaced Pakistanis from the northwest begin to get anxious to return to their homes, aid workers say.

The fighting has created the largest population exodus since Rwanda in 1994, and with the vast majority of the displaced living in friends’ or families’ homes, aid workers warn that their patience will begin to fade. Many of them are already losing their only source of income: crops, which are supposed to be harvested this month and are rotting as the fighting prevents many people from returning to their farms.

“People are really getting frustrated. The support they’re getting is not what they should be getting,” says Amjad Jamal, who works with the World Food Program in Islamabad.

Another aid worker, who declined to be identified, said too much of the relief was going to camps and not enough was going to homes where the displaced are often straining already cramped quarters and pinched pocketbooks.

“The villages outside of the camps have received almost zero aid from anyone,” the aid worker said. “Some people are saying they’re going to throw strikes in the street.”

So if the Pakistan Army never intended to stay and conduct stability operations and provide security from the Taliban for the population in Swat, based on the ill feelings from the rotting of the crops, the displacement of two million residents, and loss of income, it would have been better had the operation never been conducted.

But if the Pakistan Army can snap out of its neurotic preoccupation with India to see the real threat and stay to conduct counterinsurgency in Swat, something may still be gained out of this campaign after all.  Time will tell, but the answer will depend upon the will of the Army and administration to do what needs to be done.

Taliban Cleared in North West Frontier Province – Or Not

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

There have been recent reports of fierce clashes between Pakistan Army and Taliban fighters There are even glowing reports that much of the North West Frontier Province has been cleared of Taliban.

Eighty percent areas of Bajaur, Lower Dir and Buner have been cleared of the Taliban and displaced population has started returning to their native areas, Benazir Income Support Programme Chairwoman Farzana Raja said on Wednesday. Those who were returning to their homes were being facilitated and the situation would improve in the days to come, Farzana told a private television channel. She said accommodating 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) was a difficult task but efforts were underway to provide all basic necessities to the IDPs living in the relief camps. Farzana said rehabilitation would be the next phase and the government would undertake it in a befittingly manner. She said international assistance had also started to pour in and hoped the matter would be dealt with effectively.

But is this report accurate?  Other sources say not.

Mehmood had to climb to a hilltop to get a signal for his cell phone. He sounded angry at both the Taliban and the army, but was especially critical of the security forces.
Thousands of people are still trapped here due to the fighting between the Taliban and the army.

They are in a state of virtual confinement due to the curfew.

The government spokesmen, sitting in Islamabad or Peshawar, are making false claims about the situation in Swat, saying they have taken control of the situation, or captured that place, or killed so many Taliban.

I swear upon God that it’s nothing like that.

Except for some parts of the GT (Grand Trunk) road, some mountain tops and the circuit house in Mingora, all of Swat is under the control of the Taliban.

If the government really has cleared and taken control of the region, it should bring in the media and let the whole world see it for themselves.

I keep moving around, and in several places I have seen army checkpoints with a Taliban checkpoint nearby.

However, neither side engages the other, and even helicopters and jets are not called in to attack the Taliban positions.

A few days ago I tried to speak to a masked Taliban militant in Pashto, and then in Urdu, and he could not understand me.

Then another militant told me that his comrade was an Arab and did not speak Pashto or Urdu.

I then asked him ‘how are you’ in Arabic, and they all laughed.

This raises doubts over the government’s claims that they have blocked all routes into the valley.

How could he get in, when all roads are blocked?

I also don’t understand who the operation is aimed against.

A majority of the people who have been killed here are civilians.

This is not an operation, it is a drama. Swat’s people cannot be made fools of.”

In order to understand this, we must remember that the Pakistan Army is not skilled in counterinsurgency strategy or tactics.  But as we discussed eight months ago, and as reported by Dexter Filkins, there is something deeper.

“Pakistan is dependent on the American money that these games with the Taliban generate,” the official told me. “The Pakistani economy would collapse without it. This is how the game works.”

As an example, he cited the Pakistan Army’s first invasion of the tribal areas — of South Waziristan in 2004. Called Operation Shakai, the offensive was ostensibly aimed at ridding the area of Taliban militants. From an American perspective, the operation was a total failure. The army invaded, fought and then made a deal with one of the militant commanders, Nek Mohammed. The agreement was capped by a dramatic meeting between Mohammed and Safdar Hussein, one of the most senior officers in the Pakistan Army.

“The corps commander was flown in on a helicopter,” the former official said. “They had this big ceremony, and they embraced. They called each other mujahids. ”

“Mujahid” is the Arabic word for “holy warrior.” The ceremony, in fact, was captured on videotape, and the tape has been widely distributed.

“The army agreed to compensate the locals for collateral damage,” the official said. “Where do you think that money went? It went to the Taliban. Who do you think paid the bill? The Americans. This is the way the game works. The Taliban is attacked, but it is never destroyed.

“It’s a game,” the official said, wrapping up our conversation. “The U.S. is being taken for a ride.”

Have the rules of the game changed enough for the Pakistan Army to clear the North West Frontier Province of Taliban for good, and stay and perform peace-keeping and stability operations?  Time will tell, but we’ve heard this song before.  If history is any indication, at some point the Pakistan Army will retreat and call it victory, while the Taliban who have slipped away into the hills return to enforce Sharia law and collect “taxes” to fund their military campaign.

Pakistan’s Future: An Interview with Mullah Nazir Ahmad

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

The Jamestown Foundation recently provided us with the main contents of an important interview of Taliban Mullah Nazir Ahmad.  The entire interview is worth study, but two paragraphs will be repeated here.

When asked why the mujahideen fight the democratic and Islamic government of Pakistan, Maulvi Nazir said Pakistan is run by an infidel government equivalent to Christian and Jewish governments, corroborating his claim by quoting a verse from the Quran that forbids Muslims from allying themselves with Christians and Jews. In typical Salafi fashion, Maulvi Nazir considers democracy a defective and mundane system devised by Western infidels. “Any system resulting from counting the votes of Shiites, Christians and alcoholic electors is a blasphemous and defunct system.” On the legitimacy of the mujahideen drive to implement Shari’a, Mullah Nazir said the religious scholars and shaykhs that support Shari’a had either been arrested or killed by the regime. The mujahideen consider Islamabad’s approval of Shari’a in some areas in Pakistan a hoax to manipulate the Mujahideen into laying down their arms.  The mujahideen will only do this when Shari’a is applied across all of Pakistan.

Mullah Nazir is sure the rocket attacks that have killed many mujahideen are perpetrated by the Pakistani army with the help of U.S. forces and not solely by the Americans, as the Islamabad government claims. According to the Mullah, Pakistani spies use SIM tracking systems to pinpoint mujahideen locations for attack. Mullah Nazir promised no amnesty for government agents captured by the mujahideen, threatening to kill them immediately.  He also pledged to shoot down Pakistani spy planes, such as the two planes shot down by anti-aircraft guns near the city of Angur Adda a few months ago. On suicide bombings, Mullah Nazir denied mujahideen involvement in the bombings of mosques and crowded places and accused the ISI of carrying out the attacks to undermine the mujahideen. In spite of the war waged by the Pakistani government against the mujahideen, Mullah Nazir claims that mujahideen morale is very high and they will continue their jihad until they reach Islamabad.

This couldn’t be clearer.  They intend to go right to the doorsteps of Parliament.  Pakistan will be theirs before they stop, or at least, so they say.  The Taliban, the invention of the Pakistan ISI, became a monster too violent to tame, and yet the Pakistan Army ISI and Army are still the problem – the ISI because of their continued support of them, the Army because of its continued preoccupation with India.

But the problems in Pakistan run somewhat deeper than this, all the way to institutional recalcitrance.

Put simply, the Taliban, murderous as it is, is not the problem. The problem is the Pakistani military and the stubborn refusal of Washington to comprehend this basic reality. We need to remind ourselves that Pakistan is not a sovereign state with a military, but a sovereign military with a state at its disposal to use as it sees fit. And it has been that way almost from the beginning of Pakistan’s existence, despite an occasional short interlude of civilian rule. To maintain its undisputed dominance and its claims to a huge chunk of the national treasure, the military needed the specter of a powerful enemy and an ideology capable of mobilizing the largely illiterate masses behind its self-image as savior of the nation. It found the former in India, the latter in radical Islam …

… what needs to be done without delay is to start the process of transforming the Pakistani military back into an instrument of the state from its current status as a state within the state. The military must be denied once and for all the role of political kingmaker it has long exercised, as well as the inordinate influence it has in the economy. Further, the ISI must be either closed down or put under strict civilian control. Islamabad must also seriously consider doing away with the special status of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which has contributed to the prevailing lawlessness that the Taliban has exploited. A reconciliation with India is an essential precondition to the success of all of these measures and is very doable; a reconciliation with the Islamist thugs is not. This is the only kind of Washington agenda that would offer real hope of stabilization in Pakistan and the eventual defeat of the Taliban across the border. Unless some progress is made along these lines, Congress should refuse to provide even one more penny in aid, regardless of what Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promises.

But time is of the essence. The Taliban may not be at the gates of Islamabad yet but the ongoing radical Islamization of the country may be reaching the tipping point. The North-West Frontier Province is, for the most part, no longer controlled by the government. The greatest immediate danger lies in the huge inroads made by the fanatics in the Punjab heartland, especially southern Punjab and the key urban areas (Lahore, Multan, and Karachi). If the Punjab becomes ungovernable, Pakistan will not survive long as a unitary state.

We’ve documented the difficulties that Punjan will soon face, as well as the ongoing Talibanization of Karachi.  Noted one well-connected Pakistani politician, “Karachi is the jugular vein of Pakistan,” said Farooq Sattar, head of the MQM, as he sipped an iced yogurt drink on one of Karachi’s main streets, surrounded by guards carrying AK-47s. “If Karachi is destabilized, the whole country is dead.”

The Taliban have told us of their intentions, and the pieces are falling into place in large cities in Punjab.  The only question is how long it will take for Pakistan to wake and denude the dangerous ISI and turn the Army loose on the real state enemy, the Taliban?

Drones, ROE, Raids, Fathers and Sons, Diamonds and Goats

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

I thought I would give you a lot of loosely correlated things to think about for the weekend.  First of all, Bird Dog at the FORVM says call off the drones in Pakistan.  They have been a tactical success, he notes, but in the same breath, points out that they have been a political failure.  I think that this is about right.  I am not opposed to the drones; nor do I believe that the unfortunate noncombatant souls who get in the way should be reason enough to call a halt to the program.  I just don’t believe that it works considered holistically.  As regular readers already know, we don’t cover high value target hits.  The HVT program doesn’t impress us as a replacement for counterinsurgency with boots on the ground.

Concerning drones, Victor Davis Hanson mentions that “at some point, Obama must answer why waterboarding mass-murderers and beheaders like Khalid Sheik Mohammed is wrong, while executing by missile attack (no writs, habeas corpus, Miranda rights, etc.) suspected terrorists and anyone caught in their general vicinity in Waziristan — or pirates negotiating extortion — is legitimate.”

I think that this is correct, except that I have one better than Hanson.  We’ve covered the rules of engagement fairly extensively, and linked and and provided commentary on the standing rules of engagement, the Iraq-specific ROE, and the rules for the use of force.  Hold that thought for a moment for us to consider the tactical generals.

An amazing revolution is taking place in the history of war, and even perhaps of humanity. The U.S. military went into Iraq with just a handful of drones in the air and zero unmanned systems on the ground, none of them armed. Today, there are more than 5,300 drones in the U.S. inventory and another roughly 12,000 on the ground.

And these are just the first generation, the Model T Fords compared with the smarter, more autonomous and more lethal machines already in the prototype stage. And we won’t be the only ones using them. Forty-two other countries have military robotics programs, as well as a host of non-state actors …

But like any major change in war, the robots revolution is not turning out to be the frictionless triumph of technology that some would describe it. Unmanned systems are raising all sorts of questions about not only what is possible, but also what is proper in our politics, ethics, law and other fields. And these questions are already rippling into all aspects of the military endeavor, well before we get to any world of machines making decisions on their own.

Our technologies are making it very easy, perhaps too easy, for leaders at the highest level of command not only to peer into, but even to take control of, the lowest level operations. One four-star general, for example, talked about how he once spent a full two hours watching drone footage of an enemy target and then personally decided what size bomb to drop on it.

Similarly, a Special Operations Forces captain talked about a one-star, watching a raid on a terrorist hideout via a Predator, radioing in to tell him where to move not merely his unit in the midst of battle, but where to position an individual soldier.

Besides being absurd, can anyone outline how a four star general sitting behind a desk and deciding to drop a bomb on a person who isn’t currently a threat to him doesn’t violate the ROE?  Remember, the ROE doesn’t have any discussion whatsoever of offensive operations.  The entire document is built around self defense, which is why General Kearney wanted to charge two snipers with murder because they shot a Taliban commander who didn’t happen to be pointing a weapon at them.  Not that the ROE is pristine in this failure to address offensive operations – it happens to be ridiculous in this omission.  But the point is that we aren’t holding Generals and drones to the same ROE as we hold the Soldier and Marine in the field.  Not quite fair, huh?

Bird Dog also links The Captain’s Journal and mentions that we point out the obvious similarities between drone attacks and Special Operations Forces that swoop in conducting raids in the middle of the night leaving carnage everywhere, expecting the infantry to clean up their mess the next day – and week – and months.

This brings up a testy exchange between me and Andrew Exum over SOF, where I exchanged e-mail and posts over time (for the last one, see here), charging him with being obsessed with SOF.  Andrew responded that in fact he wasn’t, and that “the so-called “general purpose” forces are the ones responsible for carrying out the main effort.”  He also missed the point – the point being that when piracy has led to a hostage situation it has gone too far.  Sending SEALs into every hostage situation is not logistically sustainable.  But let’s go with the flow here for a minute.

Nuance is in order here.  To be sure, there are qualifications – e.g., HALO jumps, use of underwater rebreathers, etc. – that are unique to some and not all.  When you need those billets, there is no replacement for having those billets.  But Andrew goes further.  He said: ” … an average platoon of Marines or Army light infantry does not have the capabilities or the training to carry out the missions executed by Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and other SOF (to include the SMUs).”  He went further in previous posts to extend this to the “cool boys” doing what amounted to direct action kinetics in counterinsurgency campaigns as “the way we play offense.”

Indeed.  I have discussed this with other active duty officers who found this silly.  The offensive part of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved more than just SOF.  From my perspective, having a son deployed to Fallujah, I know that he knows how to fast rope, that he conducted direct action kinetics, that he cleared rooms (not just trained to do it, but did it under fire), and he did it with a SAW (so much for those who complain that a short barrel carbine is needed for small doorways – my son used a SAW and led the way at times).  They used all of the infantry tactics used by SOF, but they weren’t just trained to do it.  They actually did it under fire.

So I have concluded that I simply don’t understand what Exum is talking about.  This notion of the SOF being the ones to conduct direct action kinetics while the General Purpose Forces do the softer side of COIN is an Army brainchild.  It’s foreign to me.  Some brainchild.  I think that the child is braindead.  The problems associated with this thinking could fill a book.

And this is the perfect segue into what I believe fathers ought to be doing with their sons.  Fastroping?  Harumph.  My son knew how to rappel before he ever entered the Marines.  How about the hard work to learn horsemanship that the original SOF guys did when they went into Afghanistan (the Horse Soldiers)?  My Marine son knew how to ride horses before he ever entered the Corps, and my other two sons and I have ridden the trails as well.  In fact, my Marine has broken and trained horses up to and including showing them in the ring for judges.

In fact, all three of my boys were humping a backpack at 6000 feet elevation about as soon as their bones were developed enough to take it.  They have all ridden horses on treacherous trails, they have all rappelled, and they have all pitched camp in dangerously cold weather at a very young age.  I have lifted weights with all of them, and always wanted each one of them to know that if they ever gave their mother a hassle, I would be happy to throw down with them at any place, any time.  As a father, if your time is being spent watching football on the weekends instead of teaching your son(s) to do algebra, analyze the Scriptures, lift weights, start a fire, neck rein a horse, belay a rope or hump a pack, then your priorities need to be re-evaluated and adjusted accordingly.  You’re not locked in on the important things.  You’ve lost focus, and expect other “special” people to do the hard work for you.

Without any segue whatsoever, I’ll leave you with Tim Lynch of Free Range International.  He linked my Analysis of the Battle of Wanat (the category is still second on Google).  At any rate, Tim argues for ignoring the isolated battle spaces such as in the Nuristan and Kunar Provinces and focusing instead on the population.  This parallels the argument of David Kilcullen, but runs counter to my own counsel and that of Joshua Foust.  I will weigh in on this later.

In the mean time, he makes this tantalizing statement: “The Taliban will not come back in power here – not in a million years.  Even if they did they would not be stupid enough to provide shelter or assistance to Al Qaeda.  We have reduced Osama and his surviving leaders into walking dead men who freak anytime someone gets near them with a cell phone or a plane flies overhead.  They could no more pull off another 9/11 than I could pull a diamond out of a goats ass.”

Well, I have spent some time studying the Hamburg cell, financing for the Tehrik-i-Taliban, al Qaeda strategies and tactics, and so forth, and I’m not sure it’s that simple.  Money, language training and willingness to die.  They have all three.  But while I wanted to discuss this with Tim over e-mail, what do you know?  Tim has no e-mail address.  Apparently, he doesn’t correspond via e-mail, doesn’t own a computer, or doesn’t know how to use one.  At least, he provides no such address over his site.

Calling Tim?  Drop me a note?

Nicholas Schmidle on How to Save Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

Nick Schmidle has written an essay in Slate on How to Save Pakistan.  Nick, with whom I have exchanged e-mail, is not only a first rate Pakistan and Taliban scholar (see his work on Next-Gen Taliban), but an all around nice guy (and if he sends me a copy of his new book, I would give it a great review).  He deserves to be read by anyone interested in the future of Asia and its implications for our own security.  Parts of his piece are reproduced below.

This is the only country in the Islamic world where tens of thousands protest in the streets for the rule of law. Sure, there’s some support for the Taliban and their ilk, but as last year’s election, in which the Islamist parties were drubbed, showed, the Islamists don’t enjoy as much grass-roots support as their American-flag-burning rallies would suggest. (Unfortunately, the civilian government that took power last spring has squandered much of its goodwill and is, like Pervez Musharraf’s government before it, increasingly seen as toadying to the Americans.) So what can Washington do to save Pakistan?

For starters, it can ignore the tribal areas, NWFP, and regions already under Taliban control. The Taliban cannot be defeated militarily, as the Americans have learned in Afghanistan. You kill one of them and immediately create 10 or 20 or 50 more. Bombing their strongholds merely breathes life into the insurgency. It is not just that ordinary Pakistanis tend to sympathize with the Taliban when they are under attack but also that the Taliban ably turn each bombardment into propaganda, play themselves up as victims, and attract more foot soldiers. Moreover, the Pakistani army usually, if not always, loses. Groomed to battle columns of Indian tanks, the army is untrained to wage a counterinsurgency against a bunch of rebel bumpkins.

… there is a critical ethnic difference between these areas under already Taliban control and Punjab: The NWFP and FATA are mostly Pashtun, while Punjab is populated mostly by Punjabis. The Taliban have succeeded in part by marrying their religious and political program with an ethnic and nationalist agenda. While not every Pashtun belongs to the Taliban, nearly every member of the Taliban is a Pashtun. Punjabis, on the other hand, are one of the only ethnic groups that identify first and foremost as Pakistanis. Besides the ethnic distinctions, there are physical ones, too: The Indus River divides the two provinces.

If there’s any hope of containing the insurgency, it’s by building a wall along the Indus River. Not a physical wall, like the one Musharraf proposed constructing along the Pakistani-Afghanistan border, but an imaginary barrier that the Taliban wouldn’t be able to breach. How would you go about building such a thing? First of all, the United States would immediately divert much of the $1.5 billion it is planning to spend annually in FATA and NWFP to Punjab. While development projects in South Waziristan are futile at this point in terms of building confidence in the state, they may still accomplish that goal in the villages and towns of Punjab, and even down in Karachi. Since these places are the next battlegrounds between the Taliban and the Pakistani state, U.S. funds could also be diverted to train the Punjab police, who will probably become embroiled in the insurgency over the coming months.

First of all, Nick is right that the province of Punjab is the next battle space.  And in Karachi more than 100 Taliban fighters launched an attack on a Christian neighborhood, killing some, burning homes and brutalizing others.  Nick is right to be concerned about the most central and important province in Pakistan.

But is his solution the right one?  To say that the Islamist parties were drubbed in the last election misses the point, in my opinion.  The elections were more about rejection of the old guard’s ability to govern rather than their view of the Taliban (who completely sat out and ignored the elections based on theological principle).  But we may overlook this point since this is still in the provinces that Nick is recommending we abandon.  His focus is on Punjab.  His recommendation is basically geographic seclusion.

Will it work to isolate the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province?  My sense is that it won’t.  Nick is smart and does mention right up front that there are dangers with this approach, such as the fact that the Taliban won’t be content with holding this terrain.  Their goals have been both regional and global.  He also mentions that the Taliban will continue to have sanctuary for attacks against NATO troops from these regions of Pakistan.

AM mentions that Dave Kilcullen also raised the question of logistical routes which flow from Karachi to either the Khyber pass or Chaman, yet another risk with this approach.  So did I by telling you that the Taliban strategy included interdiction of logistical routes – more than one year ago (then also covering logistics issues for the last year).  I also recommended an alternative route through the Caucasus, although as mentioned earlier, it might require hitting the “make my day” button with Russia rather than the more effeminate “reset” button.

Either way, Nick is interesting and compelling reading.  He seems to have landed on the last option before I have, and unless we can project increased force into the near regions of Afghanistan (Helmand, Nuristan and Kunar Provinces) and convince the Pakistan Army to conduct counterinsurgency in Pakistan, Nick’s recommendations may indeed be our last and best option.  I don’t think it is lost yet.

Taliban Attack Christians in Karachi

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

In news that is both remarkable and under-reported, the Taliban have launched an attack against Christians in the major Pakistan port city of Karachi.

The Taliban, emboldened by their success in Swat Valley and advance near Islamabad, have attacked a Christian neighborhood and executed two residents after Christians held a rally protesting graffiti ordering them to convert to Islam or die.

On April 20, residents of Taseer Town in Karachi woke up to find pro-Taliban messages chalked onto the walls of two churches.  The messages included, “Long Live the Taliban,” “Talibanization is our goal,” and “Embrace Islam or Prepare to Die.”  The next day, the Christian residents staged a protest in the hopes of attracting the attention of the local government to provide protection.  Officials, however, did nothing.

The night of the protest, April 21, more than 100 masked terrorists invaded Taseer Town with automatic rifles.  The terrified Christian residents ran to their homes and locked themselves inside.  According to Asif Stephen, a Christian politician, one of the protestors said, “We were protesting peacefully and all of sudden (sic), a few militants carrying the latest weapons rushed in.  Some of the attackers entered homes and pillaged money and jewelry and abused the women and burned their properties.  The elderly were injured and one child fell to the ground and died in my friend’s arms.”

The Taliban militants went door to door, breaking into Christian homes and dragging the elderly and women out into the street by their hair.  The Taliban leaders shouted, “You infidels have to convert to Islam or die.  Why did you wash up warnings inscribed on walls of church and home doors?  How dare you are (sic) to take out procession against Taliban?”

The terrorists sexually assaulted several women and physically abused dozens more with clubs, iron rods, and whips.  They set a number of homes on fire.  When two Christians resisted, the militants killed them execution-style directly in front of their families.  The identity of those killed has not yet been confirmed.

According to AsiaNews, police have arrested seven of the Taliban militants involved in the attack.  However, they are unsure who was behind the incident.

This is yet another example of the Talibanization of Karachi, something we have discussed before.  The number of Taliban fighters in Karachi is unknown, but we do know that vast parts of the inner city are practically off limits for Westerners.  Assuming the accuracy of this report, to field more than 100 fighters in an attack as brazen as this one demonstrates proof of principle.  The Taliban are strong enough to be considered to be a legitimate insurgency in Karachi, hundreds of miles from the North West Frontier Province.

It should also be mentioned again that Karachi is the port city through which NATO supplies come (except for some small part that is transported by air).  If the Taliban manage to shut down shipping traffic in Karachi, the logistical routes into Afghanistan are all but dried up (unless the U.S. pursues the line of logistics we recommended through the Caucasus).

Finally, in another indication of the vacillation of the Pakistan police, the Christians were completely helpless in the face of the Taliban onslaught.  Lesson learned.  Purchase guns and ammunition, learn to shoot, and defend family and property.  It’s their God-given right.

Taliban Expansion and Nuclear Weapons: Where is the Pakistan Army?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

Ms. Clinton recently weighed in on the awful prospects of a nuclear Taliban.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is worried about the “unthinkable” in Pakistan – – that the Taliban and al-Qaeda could topple the government, giving them “the keys to the nuclear arsenal.”

Clinton told Fox that “we can’t even contemplate” the consequences if the Taliban were permitted to overrun nuclear- armed Pakistan because of the failure of the government “to beat them back.”

This thinking is directly contrary to that recommended by The Captain’s Journal in Is Pakistan the Next Failed State?

Somewhere in the recesses of the Pentagon, gaming should be occurring concerning use of U.S. military assets to ensure the security of the Pakistani nuclear ordnance, because if it becomes necessary to implement these plans, it will be no game.  But the continual degradation of logistics through Pakistan has led us to strongly recommend another route, free from influence by Russia.

From nuclear assets to logistics, to potential Taliban operations in Kashmir and certainly the affects to the campaign in Afghanistan, the failure of Pakistan will indeed dwarf the previous problems that we have seen in that region of the world.  Comprehensive planning should be underway to address the exigency of Pakistan as the next failed state.

Unthinkable?  We had better be thinking about it, and very extensively at that.  So in the face of the Taliban expansion towards the centers of power (e.g., Peshawar, Islamabad, Karachi), where is the Pakistan Army?

Five thousand square kilometres of Swat are now under Taliban control — de jure. Chitral (14,850 sq km), Dir (5,280 sq km), Shangla (1,586 sq km), Hangu (1,097 sq km), Lakki Marwat (3,164 sq km), Bannu (1,227 sq km), Tank (1,679 sq km), Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orkzai, North Waziristan and South Waziristan are all under Taliban control — de facto. That’s a total of 56,103 square kilometres of Pakistan under Taliban control — de facto.

Six thousand square kilometres of Dera Ismail Khan are being contested. Also under ‘contested control’ are Karak (3,372 sq km), Kohat (2,545 sq km), Peshawar (2,257 sq km), Charsada (996 sq km) and Mardan (1,632 sq km). That’s a total of 16,802 square kilometres of Pakistan under ‘contested control’ — de facto. Seven thousand five hundred square kilometres of Kohistan are under ‘Taliban influence’. Additionally, Mansehra (4,579 sq km), Battagram (1,301 sq km), Swabi (1,543 sq km) and Nowshera (1,748 sq km) are all under ‘Taliban influence’. That’s a total of 16,663 square kilometres of Pakistan under ‘Taliban influence’ — de facto. All put together, 89,568 square kilometres of Pakistani territory is either under complete ‘Taliban control’, ‘contested control’ or ‘Taliban influenced’; that’s 11 per cent of Pakistan’s landmass.

Where is Pakistan army? To be fair, under our constitution law enforcement — and establishing the writ of the state — is the responsibility of our civil administration. Yes, under Article 245, the federal government can call in the army “in aid of civil power” but the overall strategy has to be devised by our politicians. Counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency are very specialised operations. Textbook counter-insurgency has three elements: Clear-Hold-Build (C-H-B). The army may be required to ‘clear’ insurgents from a particular area but every army operation creates a vacuum that has to be filled by a civil-political administration. After the ‘clearing’ of insurgents it has to be the politicians to ‘hold’ that area and then fulfil the social contract — dispensation of justice, municipal services etc — between the ruled and the rulers (classic counter-insurgency is DDD, disrupt, dismantle and defeat).

At least 11 per cent of Pakistan’s landmass has been ceded to the Taliban. Where is the Pakistan army? I Corps is in Mangla, II Corps is in Multan, IV Corps in Lahore, V Corps in Karachi, X Corps in Rawalpindi, XI Corps in Peshawar, XII Corps in Quetta, XXX Corps in Gujranwala and XXXI is in Bahawalpur, In effect, some 80 to 90 per cent of our military assets are deployed to counter the threat from India. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and sees its inventory of 6,384 tanks as a threat. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian air force and sees its inventory of 672 combat aircraft as a threat. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and notices that six out of 13 Indian corps are strike corps. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and finds that 15, 9, 16, 14, 11, 10 and 2 Corps are all pointing their guns at Pakistan. The Pakistan army looks at the Indian army and discovers that the 3rd Armoured Division, 4 RAPID Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade have been deployed to cut Pakistan into two halves. The Pakistan army looks at the Taliban and sees no Arjun Main Battle Tanks (MBT), no armoured fighting vehicles, no 155 mm Bofors howitzers, no Akash surface-to-air missiles, no BrahMos land attack cruise missiles, no Agni Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles, no Sukhoi Su-30 MKI air superiority strike fighters, no Jaguar attack aircraft, no MiG-27 ground-attack aircraft, no Shakti thermonuclear devices, no Shakti-II 12 kiloton fission devices and no heavy artillery.

Pakistan is on fire and our fire-fighters are on the Pakistan-India border

That the Indian troops are on the Pakistan border because the Pakistan troops are on the Indian border doesn’t occur to the Pakistan Army.  But with this sad and dangerous Pakistani obsession with India, the U.S. must not rely on Pakistan for either logistical routes for Afghanistan or protection of its nuclear assets.

So in spite of Ms. Clinton saying that we can’t even contemplate the consequences of the Taliban taking control of Pakistani nuclear assets, somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon, we had better be contemplating exactly this exigency.

Whether an expeditionary unit of Marines, Rangers, some combination, or whatever, insertion by air, Osprey V-22, Helicopters and fast-roping, the short term and long term security of the weapons grade fissile material in Pakistan warheads had better be front and center of some tactician’s planning.  We had better know where all of the nuclear assets are and have a plan to confiscate them.  As for this tactician or group of them, it had better dominate their day and night, control their thought processes, and govern their priorities.  We’d better have a plan.

Taliban Controls Buner

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

In Taliban Control Expanding Towards Pakistan Capital we discussed the aggressive patrolling and checkpoints in Buner, just an hour from Islamabad.  Within just a day we learn how effective this aggressiveness has been, or how timid the Pakistani police and paramilitary have been.

Sher Akbar, a retired lawmaker who represented Buner in parliament, tells VOA that Taliban fighters are now patrolling parts of the district and local police have not been seen in public.

Speaking by phone from Buner he says the Taliban are totally in control of the district and the local government has lost authority over the region.

Pakistani news media have reported government officials and aid groups have abandoned local offices. Sher Akbar says many in Buner are worried that fighting could break out soon between security forces and militants, and some people are preparing to leave.

The most troubling of the revelations is not what the Taliban are doing in Swat and adjacent areas.  The Tehrik-i-Taliban have made it clear that they will not stop until Pakistan is governed as they see fit.  We know their intentions.  But the most troubling revelation is that even after seeing the continual encroachment of the Taliban into the centers of power in Pakistan (Peshawar, Islamabad, etc.), the government still equivocates concerning the need to tackle the problem head on.

… Pakistan’s prime minister defended the government’s strategy, saying officials continue to favor pursuing talks with mediator Sufi Muhammad in dealing with the situation.

Time is short for the authorities to wake to the dire situation in which they are placing Pakistan with the continual appeasement of the Tehrik-i-Taliban.

In another report, we learn that Baitullah Mehsud has trained child suicide bombers.  “According to intelligence estimates, more than 5,000 child suicide bombers between the ages of 10 and 17 have been trained by the Taliban so far.”

As to the center of gravity of the whole effort?

Interior Advisor Rehman Malik said Taliban, Pakistani outlawed outfits and Al Qaeda have established a triangle.

In an interview to an Arabic channel, Malik stated that Taliban is a face of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Taliban chief Fazalullah and other leaders are operating under one leadership. All the clues of investigations ended up in Waziristan.

It apparently isn’t as disaggregated and factious as we have been led to believe.

Taliban Control Expanding Towards Pakistan Capital

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

We earlier observed that “Control over the North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas has allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to merge ideologies, recruit fighters and extort money for their operations.  In fact, the recent Pakistani approval of the “peace” agreement in Swat has allowed more recruitment through the local Mosques in that area.  Each successive agreement with the Taliban strengthens the Taliban and weakens the Pakistani government.”

We also observed that one characteristic of de facto power and authority is the presence of aggressive dismounted patrolling, which is increasing inside the city of Peshawar (a city of 3 million people).  Now we are watching the themes we discussed play out in real time.

Taliban militants from Pakistan’s Swat Valley are tightening their grip on a neighboring northwest district closer to the capital — patrolling roads, broadcasting sermons and spreading fear in another sign that a government-backed peace deal has emboldened the extremists to spread their reign.

Pakistan’s president signed off on the peace pact last week in hopes of calming Swat, where some two years worth of clashes between the Taliban and security forces have killed hundreds and displaced up to a third of the one-time tourist haven’s 1.5 million residents.

The agreement covers Swat and other districts in the Malakand Division, a huge chunk of Pakistan’s northwest that borders Afghanistan and the tribal areas where al-Qaida and the Taliban have strongholds. Under the deal, the provincial government agreed to impose Islamic law in Malakand, and the Taliban agreed to a cease-fire …

In recent days, the Swat militants have set their sights on Buner, a district just south of the valley, sparking at least one major clash with residents. The moves indicate the militants want to expand their presence beyond Swat to other parts of Malakand at the very least, under the guise of enforcing Islamic law.

Many in Buner are now too frightened to speak to reporters. However, a lawmaker from the area told The Associated Press that the militants had entered the district in “large numbers” and started setting up checkpoints at main roads and strategic positions.

The Taliban are patrolling in Dagar, Sawari, Pir Baba, Chamla, Ambela and other areas of Buner.  This is little more than an hour drive from Islamabad.

What is worse is that the Taliban appear to be the only people capable of judicial efficiency.

Having established their headquarters at a majestic three-storey bungalow of a local businessman, the Taliban have virtually captured the strategically located Buner district in the North West Frontier Province, a report said yesterday …

The fearless Taliban commander Fateh is now calling the shots in Buner while Mufti Bashir has been made Qazi, or the judge, to address the complaints of the locals.

The residents of various villages thronged the Taliban headquarters to register their complaints and seek their assistance in resolving their longstanding issues and personal disputes.

“The cases which we have filed several years ago are still awaiting decision by the courts. We are sick of this delayed judicial process in which justice is only provided to the influential and rich people,” an elderly Mohamed Akbar of nearby Gokan village remarked.

Or perhaps rather than judicial efficiency, the plan is to align the poor with the Taliban by using the power of judgments in Kangaroo courts.  Either way, it seems as if we are watching the fall of Pakistan happen before our eyes.


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