U.S. shells Taliban in Pakistan; The Musharraf government insists on negotiating with the Taliban, despite their string of attacks on government institutions and continuation of attacks in Afghanistan
U.S. forces have begun to conduct artillery strikes into western Pakistan from Afghanistan. In an interview with the Associated Press, Colonel John Nicholson, the commander of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, which operates in eastern Afghanistan, “described the fighting along the border, particularly in Afghanistan’s Paktika and Khost provinces, as intense,” according to the Associated Press.
In some cases, he said, the Taliban have crossed the border at night, using wire cutters to breach the perimeter of small U.S. outposts, “trying to get hand grenades into our bunkers.” “I mean we’re talking World War I type of stuff,” Nicholson said. “These are some very sharp, intense fights” initiated by an enemy he described as resilient and undeterred by superior U.S. firepower. “They’ll keep coming back,” he said.
Col. Nicholson explained how Pakistani military and border posts were carefully marked, and the military worked to reduce the chances of killing or wounding Pakistani forces. Pakistani units were even given radios to warn them of incoming attacks, and a flare is sent up if all else fails (something the Taliban no doubt recognizes by now, if they are not in possession of the U.S. radios.)
Over the past several weeks, evidence of U.S. and NATO activity has surfaced. NATO and Afghan forces were said to have crossed into Pakistan and captured 11 Taliban on February 8. Mortars fired from a U.S. outpost in Khost struck a Pakistani Frontier Corps post on January 24.
Baitullah Mehsud, covered, signs the South Waziristan peace agreement in 2005. (BBC Urdu Edition) Click photo to view.
Yet despite the very real problems in western Pakistan, the Pakistani government, led by President-General Pervez Musharraf, may to be ready to cut another deal with the Taliban in Waziristan. Last week, the government sent a team to negotiate with Baitullah Mehsud, the most powerful Taliban commander in South Waziristan with an army of 30,000,
“At the instance of the South Waziristan Political Agent, the top Government representative in the tribal area, a delegation of tribal elders met Baithullah Mehsud earlier this week,” the Hindu reported. At the meeting, Baitullah Mehsud denied having anything to do with the rash of bombings and suicide attacks in Pakistan over the past four weeks.
“I have no hand in the suicide attacks. But if the government has any evidence, proving my involvement, it should be brought before public,” said Baitullah to the tribal leaders and a Senator from the Taliban supporting Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal political party. The tribal leaders and Pakistani politicians have chosen to believe Baitullah, despite strong police evidence linking Baitullah and the Taliban to the multiple suicide attacks, in conjunction with the al Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose leader was arrested last week.
The Pakistani civil war continues. The past week alone has seen multiple multiple attacks and plots against government representatives and military and civilian targets. A suicide bombing at Islamabad airport targeted Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, President Musharraf’s strongest ally in the government. In Dera Ishmail Khan, police discovered 12 roadside bombs and mines planted along the road to a military base. A police inspector was gunned down in Darra Adamkhel. A bomb was detonated in a market in Tank. Two pro-government tribal leaders were killed in a roadside bombing in Bajaur agency. Two more ‘US spies’ were executed in North Waziristan.
The Taliban were active against non-government organizations in the Northwest Frontier province, bombing the International Committee of the Red Cross in Peshawar, an NGO office in Bannu and the Save the Children relief agency. A government welfare office in South Waziristan was also attacked.
The Pakistani government negotiated multiple peace deals in North and South Waziristan since 2005. Each has ended in failure, as the Taliban continued to harbor al Qaeda fighters, and launch attacks against Pakistani, NATO and Afghan forces. The Pakistani government, despite a report from last week that it intended to launch an operation in Waziristan, is giving all indications it wishes to negotiate with the Taliban yet again.
U.S. and NATO forces will fight an endless holding action in Afghanistan until the Pakistani government addresses its ‘militant’ and ‘miscreant’ problem in the tribal areas and Quetta. And U.S. and NATO troops will be forced to continue the marginally effective cross border attacks within Pakistani territory to disrupt the Taliban and al Qaeda supply lines. The Taliban and al Qaeda training camps, recruiting centers, armories and centers of government will remain untouched, save a few pinpoint strikes if high value targets pop up on the radar.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.