The Washington Post reported today that Pakistan is resisting US efforts to expand the US Predator campaign beyond the tribal areas and into Baluchistan.
The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.
Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban.
The Washington Post notes that the Predator campaign is currently restricted to the tribal areas:
But Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight “boxes” over the country’s tribal belt but not other provinces, including Baluchistan, which encompasses Quetta.
“They want to increase the size of the boxes, they want to relocate the boxes,” a second Pakistani intelligence official said of the latest U.S. requests. “I don’t think we are going to go any further.”
While the US has struck in most of the tribal agencies, it rarely hits targets outside of North and South Waziristan. Only 11 of the 199 strikes since the program began in 2004 have hit targets outside of North Waziristan. Here is the breakdown (see LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010, for the data; the numbers below are current as of Nov. 20, 2010):
- North Waziristan: 150
- South Waziristan: 38
- Bajaur: 3
- Kurram: 3
- Bannu: 3
- Khyber: 1
- Arakzai: 1
And, in fact, that “strike box” has been narrowing to North Waziristan. Of the 101 strikes this year, 92 have taken place in North Waziristan. Here is the breakdown for 2010:
- North Waziristan: 92
- South Waziristan: 7
- Kurram: 1
- Khyber: 1
Northwestern Pakistan is what is called a target-rich environment. There are cells and camps for al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani Network, Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Group, Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, and a host of other terror groups in Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Arakzai, and Mohmand (where no strikes have been recorded). This doesn’t include the settled areas of Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , such as Swat, Dir, Chitral, Nowshera, Peshawar, Bannu, and a host of other districts (Bannu is a settled district in this province; the three strikes there occurred in what are called the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas).
If the US is seeking to expand beyond the tribal areas, the city of Quetta wouldn’t be the main focus of the strikes. The US would want to strike Taliban forward command centers in Chaman and Gerdi Jangal, as well as camps in the districts of Zhob, Pishin, Killa Abdullah, Killa Saifullah, and others. And even if the US could hit targets in Baluchistan, Punjab province and Karachi in Sindh are rife with terror camps and safe houses. Pakistan is literally infested with terror groups, many of which are supported by the military and the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
And this gets to the heart of the real problem with US strategy in Afghanistan as well as against al Qaeda. Pakistan remains the real problem in the region, while Afghanistan is a sideshow. As long as the Pakistani state shelters, supports, and covers for the Taliban and allied terror groups, and either refuses to act or refuses to allow the US to strike, Pakistan will remain the epicenter of terrorism.