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A new Waziristan offensive?



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According to Dawn, the Pakistani military has decided it can no longer wait to take on the Taliban in Waziristan:

After fighting brief skirmishes against militants, the Pakistan Army plans to unfold in the next few days what military officials characterize as the mother of all battles in South Waziristan, senior military and security officials said on Thursday.

'If we don't take the battle to them, they will bring the battle to us,' a senior military official said of the militants. 'The epicentre of the behemoth called the Taliban lies in South Waziristan, and this is where we will be fighting the toughest of all battles.'

For three months, the military has been drawing up plans, holding in-depth deliberations and carrying out studies on past expeditions to make what seems to be the last grand stand against Pakistani Taliban in the Mehsud heartland a success.

'We are ready. The environment is ready,' the senior officer said. But military officials also admit Waziristan will not be an easy battle. 'It will not be a walkover. This is going to be casualty-intensive hard fighting. The nation will have to bear the pain,' said another officer.

One correction to the piece: Baitullah Mehsud's forces defeated the military in four separate offensives, not two. The military was also beaten back in the fall of 2007 as well as in the winter of 2008. In addition, while not technically a defeat, this summer's operation, which was launched with much fanfare by the Pakistani military and government, failed to meet its objective of defeating the Taliban in the Mehsud tribal areas.

Here are a couple of things to look for, assuming the operation is launched:

1. Objectives. Does the military intend to move into the Mehsud strongholds and hold ground (occupy the region)? If not, will this be just another punitive strike, designed to inflict casualties on the Taliban in the hope of killing senior leaders?

2. Scope. Is this an all-out offensive against all of the Taliban in Waziristan, or limited only to the Mehsud Taliban forces, now under the command of Waliur Rehman Mehsud (with Hakeemullah serving as the overall leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan)? Previous offensives, including the punitive operation this summer that was touted as a major operation but in reality consisted of a blockade and bombardment, have focused on the Taliban under the command of Baitullah Mehsud. The military has indicated it has no intentions of taking on Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Mullah Nazir, or the Haqqani family. Yet without tackling these groups, the Taliban threat, and the al Qaeda havens, will remain in Pakistan's tribal areas.

3. Taliban reaction. How will Bahadar and Nazir react? Will they openly support the Mehsud Taliban, or sit on the sidelines? Nazir recently attended a "peace jirga" of the Wazir tribes and supported the revival of the 2007 "peace agreement'" with the government. According to that agreement, Nazir is supposed to eject foreign fighters (read "al Qaeda") and stop attacks against the military. But he has never lived up to his end of the agreement. And Bahadar's forces have been attacking Pakistani forces in North Waziristan and slaying pro-government tribal leaders. The Haqqanis have close links to Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency and will remain above the fray in Waziristan.

4. Expanded operations? Would the military expand its operation if Nazir and/or Bahadar weigh in on the side of the Mehsuds? It is doubtful, as the military has gone out of its way to placate these two groups, even to the point of saying peace agreements were intact while governmental forces were being attacked.

5. Capacity. Does the Pakistani military and government have the capacity to wage a full-fledged counterinsurgency in Waziristan? Waliur Rehman is estimated to be able to muster between 10,000 to 30,000 tribal fighters. The Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps would need to throw multiple divisions against a Taliban force of this size. According to Sameer Lalwani's excellent study at the New America Foundation, the Pakistani military and the government are already stretched with the operation in the Swat Valley, and lack the capacity to expand the fight.

6. Enablers. Will other "pro-government" Taliban groups such as the Abdullah Mehsud group (named after a former Gitmo detainee) back the government after recently being abandoned by it?

7. Taliban blowback. Will the Taliban open a suicide front in wider Pakistan? This is how the Taliban have responded in the past, and according to Pakistani intelligence, they are prepared to do so to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud.

8. Timing. Is the military prepared to launch a major offensive now, when the tough winter snows are just around the corner? The terrain favors the Taliban greatly, and military convoys would be confined to rough roads, easy prey for the experienced Taliban fighters.



READER COMMENTS: "A new Waziristan offensive?"

Posted by Ayamo at October 2, 2009 12:19 PM ET:

They will start before the winter, they'll be making a few gains which they will describe as outstanding victories.
And then they'll stop because of the winter but will have shown the NATO that they are willing to fight the Taliban.
It will be a show. Once again .
Case closed.

But a dangerous one.
I doubt that the Haqqani Network will sit back and watch their southern allies crumbling against the Pakistani Army.

Is the Pakistani Army really prepared to face TTP AND the Haqqani Network???

Posted by Mr T at October 2, 2009 6:54 PM ET:

Where do the militants supplies come from? How are they getting guns, bombs, bullets, etc, especially in winter?

I ask this because I am surprised that the militants are described as this formidable force that will be tough to dislodge and that neither NATO, the US, or Pakistan can effectively take them on. That just sounds counter intuitive.

Pakistan and the US are large countries with multiple resources and capabilities. As countries, they have some advantages on how they conduct operations including logistics, arms, etc. It is hard to believe that a place like western Pakistan that isn't even organized together can compete against entire countries or groups of countries like NATO even if they hold the home ground. They are always described as too tough to battle etc.

I believe they must have weaknesses that can be exploited. Supply is one. Pakistan is not as limited as they are. The militants can't blockade the country but the country can blockade the militants, even if it is not 100%, they can put huge pressure on their logistics, finances, etc.

I would like to hear much more about their weaknesses and areas we can exploit to our advantage. I know there must be plenty.

Posted by Marlin at October 2, 2009 11:30 PM ET:

I was surprised to see this rumor reappear today. When Rehman Malik first started saying it, I thought it was wishful thinking.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the newly named leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, might have been killed in a firefight with a rival faction weeks ago, officials said on Friday.

[...]

"We're pretty clear that we think he's dead," a U.S. defense official said of Hakimullah.

A counterterrorism official said: "While there's no final confirmation of his death, it's a distinct possibility."

The officials, who spoke about the intelligence on condition of anonymity, said Hakimullah was believed to have been shot weeks ago during a clash with a rival group in South Waziristan.

Reuters: Newly named Pakistan Taliban chief may be dead-US

Posted by Ayamo at October 3, 2009 9:25 AM ET:

@Mr T at:

This is not the Iraq with it's flat landscape.
We're talking about an area which consists of mountains.
It is impossible for an army to blockade an area like this effectively.

Posted by Mr T at October 3, 2009 10:04 AM ET:

Ayamo,

A blockade is only a suggestion and I still believe that concerted effort in a blockade will create problems for them.

The real point is finding out what their weaknesses are. I don't see much mention of weaknesses only strengths. If they have no weaknesses, then why is anybody even trying to fight them? We might as well just give them what they want. What they want is not just Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their idealogy requires them to create a worldwide Islamic caliphate.

If you give them Pakistan and their nukes, they will just continue to spread the jihad elsewhere. We must defeat them decisively. What are their weaknesses that we can exploit?

Posted by Render at October 3, 2009 7:30 PM ET:

MrT. In the case of small arms and ammunition there are several sources.

They make their own, by hand, in fairly large numbers, even the ammo. Including copies, cheap knock-offs, of just about every firearm ever used in the region and quite a few that have never seen the region.

The Pak Army/ISI is known to have provided large numbers of small arms from time to time to various groups.

The Russians made no effort to clean up all the stuff they left behind in Afghanistan, indeed Russian post-Cold War surplus firearms have long flooded the region. "Surplus"

Iranian made small arms sometimes find their way in as well, including the Persian version of the PPsH-41 burp gun.

The various groups have a tendency to stockpile weapons from any source, for decades at a time, or longer in the case of some of the bolt-action rifles.

ALL THE
USUAL
SOURCES,
R

Posted by Marlin at October 3, 2009 8:21 PM ET:

I found these statements by Major-General Abbas interesting.

The security forces have ascertained the presence of around five thousand hardcore religious extremists and armed militants operating in South Waziristan

[...]

A security official told Dawn that an estimated number of 1000 to 1500 foreigners, dominated by Uzbeks was among these militants.

The official said the escape routes will be plugged to a large extent. 'Though the foot-tracks cannot be completely sealed, but the tracks for vehicles will be blocked and security forces around the area will remain vigilant to kill or apprehend the fleeing terrorists,' he remarked.

Dawn: Operation in S. Waziristan 'a matter of time'

Posted by Marlin at October 4, 2009 3:39 PM ET:

More detailed information about the supposed offensive becomes available.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said two divisions, or up to 28,000 soldiers, were in place, enough to take on an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban.

While declining to discuss force levels, a US defense official described the Waziristan deployment as 'significant' and said he did not expect any additional reinforcements.

'You might see some troops moving but they would probably be rotating. I think they're going to maintain about the same strength that they have there now,' the official said.

Dawn: US believes Pakistan prepared for Waziristan assault

Posted by Marlin at October 5, 2009 9:02 PM ET:

The U.S. ups the pressure.

U.S. officials acknowledge Pakistani troops need more armored vehicles and night-vision devises to protect themselves against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the most lethal weapon used by the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

"But the lack of that equipment does not mean they cannot conduct successful military operations. It might mean that it would be a little more difficult, that the logistics would be a little trickier. But it doesn't mean they can't pull the trigger if they want," one of the defense officials said.

A U.S. military official said an assault by ground forces in Waziristan "can still be effective" despite some shortages, adding that the Pentagon was trying to free up helicopters and other equipment for Pakistan "as soon as possible".

Reuters: Pakistan has forces,equipment for Taliban assault-US