Pakistani sources are telling The News that the military has agreed to launch “a careful and meticulous military offensive” in the tribal agency of North Waziristan. The report has not been confirmed, and we’ve heard multiple reports over the past two years of an impending operation in the Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold that never occurred. Here is the meat of The News report on the latest yet-to-be-launched North Waziristan operation:
The understanding for carrying out the operation was developed during the recently-concluded visit of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Pakistan has always maintained that any such operation would be at its own time of choosing. It argues that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are too stretched fighting militants who pose a domestic threat.
Highly-placed sources told The News that the strategy drawn up for action in North Waziristan had been worked out long ago and accordingly the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) will be put in operation in first place. It will be softening the targets already determined and pointed out by the intelligence network and that would be followed by the ground action. A joint operation with the allies has also been discussed but no decision has yet been made for it since it involves numerous sensitivities. In case the two sides agreed to go for a joint action, it would be for the first time in the present war that foreign boots will get a chance to be on Pakistan’s soil with the consent of the host country. It will be done after a careful assessment of the situation and deliberations by the armed forces’ command in Pakistan.
The sources reminded that the armed forces are already present in North Waziristan. The target of such an operation in North Waziristan would be the most violent factions within the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Their leader, Hakimullah Mahsud, is believed to be increasingly isolated after executing a prominent former Pakistani official over the objections of senior militant leaders.
We’ll leave aside the deteriorating US-Pakistan relationship and the years of US arm twisting, begging, and pleading for an operation. If the Pakistani military is indeed planning an operation in North Waziristan (and again, we’ve all heard this one before), it will be, according to The News, extremely limited in scope. Here are some things to keep in mind, at least based on this report:
- The primary target is the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. This does not include Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network and Bahadar’s Taliban faction. This would be similar to the limited operation in South Waziristan in the fall of 2009, when the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was targeted but Mullah Nazir’s forces were left intact (Nazir, who recently affirmed he is an al Qaeda commander, openly controls half of South Waziristan to this day, and continues to shelter al Qaeda and other terror groups).
- The location appears to be limited to Mir Ali, one of two main towns in North Waziristan. Abu Kasha (or Abu Akash) al Iraqi, an al Qaeda commander and vital link to the Taliban, is based in Mir Ali.
- The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is known to operate three major suicide training camps in the Mir Ali area.
- Mir Ali is one of three major hubs for terror groups, the two others being Miramshah and Datta Khel. Al Qaeda and terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are also based in Mir Ali.
- The military is telegraphing this operation, giving the top leadership of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, the IMU, and other groups ample time to flee. The report notes that the operation will begin with airstrikes. The same thing happened in South Waziristan in the fall of 2009; the blockade and airstrikes gave the top leaders time to leave, and a rearguard was left behind to attempt to blunt the Pakistani military assault. No senior Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leaders were killed during the South Waziristan operation.
- As noted above, the Haqqani Network and Bahadar’s Taliban faction, both of which are viewed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services as “good Taliban,” will be spared, despite the fact that these two groups have violated a two-year-old peace agreement with the military that prohibited them from hosting the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other allied terror groups. The Haqqanis and Bahadar’s Taliban faction have violated this agreement from the very beginning, but the Pakistani state has refused to hold the groups accountable.
One other point: Remember when the Pakistani military made the false claim it was conducting a “surgical” operation in North Waziristan? This claim was even repeated by top US commanders. So is the Pakistani military now admitting that the previous “operation” failed, or are Pakistani officials admitting it never occurred in the first place? Don’t expect anyone else to ask that question.
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