Drawing the battle lines on the Afghan-Pakistani border
Since the fall of the Taliban during the winter of 2002, predictions of the resurgence Taliban and successive devastating springtime offensives have been all of the rage. Defying the conventional wisdom, Afghanistan held successful elections and slowly developed its security forces, a process which continues to this day, while the Taliban and al Qaeda failed to influence events. As an indication of the cautious view of the development of the army, Afghanistan’s defense minister believes it will take four to five more years before the army can assume a large part of the security. However, this year’s round of resurgence prognostications have an air of truth. The reason for the newfound strength of the Taliban movement is contained within Afghanistan’s borders, but from the rise of Talibanistan within Pakistan’s tribal belt.
During testimony to Congress, Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, CENTCOM’s Director for Plans and Policy, predicts “a fairly violent spring and summer and then an improvement in overall conditions” as the Taliban “appeared tactically stronger on the battlefield this year and they demonstrate an increased willingness to use suicide bomber and IED tactics… The Taliban do not have capability to exercise control over large areas of Afghanistan, but they are disruptive to reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.”
The battle lines in eastern and southern Afghanistan are currently being manned by U.S. and NATO forces, and some units are entering areas previously untouched. The Stars & Stripes looks at the three major NATO contributors and their mission in Iraq. The Canadians are deploying in Kandahar, the British in Helmand and the Dutch in Oruzgan. The Canadian troops hit the ground running and are aggressively pushing into “isolated pockets” of Kandahar province during Operation Peacemaker. The U.S. is deploying the 3rd Battalion, 71st Cavalry Squadron into Khost, and is devoting the entire battalion to reconnaissance operations, a first in the region, and an indication of the importance of provided intelligence and interdiction on the border.
The operations are not being relegated to the Afghani interior only. Adnkronos International reports “U.S. surveillance aircraft have begun flights across the tribal belt of North Waziristan,” perhaps a precursor to the strikes such as the one in January which killed up to five senior al Qaeda commanders. Pakistan claims it “will fence its border with Afghanistan and plant landmines to stop the infiltration of foreigners.” While the Pakistani government complains of the infiltration into Pakistan, the reality is the infiltration is occurring in the other direction.
The Taliban have already begun their offensive, with the kickoff being the assault on Miranshah in North Waziristan, Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Taliban targeted “Former mujahideen president and chairman of the Afghan senate or Meshrano Jirga Sibghatullah Mujaddidi” using a car bomb attack. Four of his security personnel were killed. Mujaddidi is a former mujahideen commander, and chairman of the reconciliation commission, which is designed to peel off moderate Taliban fighters from the fight, and has had some good successes. Mujaddidi is also an ally of President Karzai and influential member of the Pashtun tribes. The Taliban have also claimed to have murdered four foreign workers.
Afghan and Coalition forces are generally in reactionary posture at this time. After four U.S. troops were killed in a roadside bombing in Kunar province, U.S. Marines and soldiers, and Afghan troops “backed by artillery, attack helicopters and AC-130 gunship planes swept the Pech valley after encountering small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.” Eleven suspected Taliban were detained. During an attack on an Afghan police post in Helmand province, the Taliban were beaten back, with two confirmed killed and “bloodstains on the ground that showed that a number of wounded Taleban had escaped the area.”
Syed Saleem Shahzad believes “the current situation in North Waziristan suggests that an all out war is looming in the valleys of this tribal belt.” The war with the Taliban will not be contained within Pakistan alone, and the eastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan will also bear the brunt of the fighting, particularly if Pakistan refuses to hold up its end of the bargain and wage the war.