Clashes in southern and eastern Afghanistan point back to Pakistan as a purported coup plot targets Musharraf.
A soldier from the 10th Mountain Division provides rooftop security during a cordon and search in the village of Alizai in the Ghazni on Sept. 13, 2006. DoD photo by Spc. Ethan Anderson, U.S. Army. Click image to view.
Afghan and Coalition forces engaged the Taliban in pitched battles in the eastern and southern Afghanistan over the past few days. Over over 54 Taliban and al Qaeda were killed during the battles, with zero Coalition or Afghan casualties. The Taliban activity is increasingly being tied back to Pakistan, as a purported coup plot against the Musharraf regime is uncovered.
On Tuesday, AFP reported 24 Taliban and ‘foreign fighters’ were killed in the battle in Paktia. “Among the dead there are Pakistan nationals, Chechens and people from other countries, as well as Afghans,” said Afghan General Mohammad Zahir Azimi. “Eight people were arrested alive, including three Pakistanis.” Paktia is on the border of North Waziristan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda signed a deal with the Pakistani government last month.
In Uruzgan, a mid-level Taliban commander and 10 to 15 Taliban were killed during a Coalition airstrike on a compound. On Monday, Coalition forces killed three members of a bombing cell in Ghazni province, which is near South Waziristan. In Kabul, a failed suicide bomber was detained on Monday, and claimed he was trained in North Waziristan.
The tail beacon light flashes on one of two F-16 Fighting Falcons after receiving fuel from a KC-10 Extender deployed from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Oct. 17 over Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nicholas Jacobson). Click image to view.
Pakistan’s The News reports NATO aircraft “violated Pakistan’s airspace and dropped bombs on two border towns” in the Chitral region of the North West Frontier Province. “Nato planes intruded into Pakistani territory from the neighbouring [Nurestan] province of Afghanistan several times where an operation against al Qaeda and Taliban has been going on since few days,” residents of Chitral told the The News. AFP confirms the fighting took place in Nurestan after an ISAF convoy was attack. Up to 14 Taliban were killed in the airstrikes. While the temptation is assume the air strikes were deliberate, the likelihood is NATO forces in Nurestan were engaged in “hot pursuit” of Taliban and al Qaeda crossing into Pakistan.
While the Taliban and al Qaeda continue to infiltrate Afghanistan from the Pakistani safe havens of Waziristan and Quetta, intrigue abounds within Pakistan. On October 14th, Syed Saleem Shahzad reported the bombing in Rawalpindi and the rocket emplacements in Islamabad were part of a larger attempt to oust Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf from power.
The coup plotters were largely from the Pakistani military. “Most of those arrested are middle-ranking Pakistani Air Force officers, while civilian arrests include a son of a serving brigadier in the army,” reported Shahzad. The Air Force officers are part of the Air Weapon Complex (AWC) “The AWC is a development and production centre for airborne weapons systems in Pakistan. It is one of the leading producers in the country in the field of air-delivered weapons including extended-range bombs and missiles,” says Shahzad.
All roads seem to begin and end in Waziristan. “The coup plot was hatched in the Waziristan tribal area headquarters of al Qaeda,” says Shahzad. Current and former members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, as well as al Qaeda, the Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammed are involved in the plot. Syed Saleem Shahzad claims the motivations for the coup include NATO pressure on Pakistan to conduct operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Waziristan and Quetta, and the prospects that ISI officers would be arrested.
The Musharraf regime has arrested 8 al Qaeda suspects and places the plot at their feet, fearful of the implications that the military remains deeply penetrated by al Qaeda sympathizers despite numerous purges.
The best case scenario is al Qaeda is angry over potential double dealings with Musharraf over the Waziristan Accord. The worst case scenario is the Pakistani military and intelligence services are not only rife with Taliban and al Qaeda sympathizers and supporters, but they are actively conspiring to overthrow the Musharraf and seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.