Is Pakistan going to attack the Taliban in North Waziristan?

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is known to operate three major suicide training camps in the Mir Ali area.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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23 Comments

  • Bing says:

    Bill,
    The Pak Mil did conduct surgical ops in North Waziristan. This included providing support for the Haqqanis and offing any of the ISI’s enemies. You may recall that both of the Taliban leaders who killed Khalid Khwaja were killed shortly and neatly.
    After all, they never said what KIND of surgical ops they were undertaking.

  • Soccer says:

    “So is the Pakistani military now admitting that “operation” failed, or are they admitting it never occurred in the first place? Don’t expect anyone else to ask that question.”
    Nobody could have said it more straight than Bill himself, the man who questions everything in this Long War and sticks to the facts.

  • villiger says:

    Masters of Charade!
    Play whatever game you want Pakistan, your fate is already determined: your peaceful country will only result in pieces.

  • Icarus says:

    Islamabad, May 30 : Five Pakistani Taliban leaders were arrested Monday morning in North Waziristan by NATO forces and taken away in two helicopters to Afghanistan, intelligence sources told Xinhua.
    The sources said the NATO forces took the action without informing the Pakistani government, reported Xinhua.
    I know Xinhua has not proved the most reliable news agency, but this seems very interesting.

  • villiger says:

    I’m all for using kid gloves with Pakistan provided one also uses a baseball bat–they need a damn good whacking!
    A la….
    //timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshowpics/8532422.cms
    Credit to Ajit Ninan.
    And Charu thanks for appreciating. I know you believe the Paks need punishing. Despite Mehran and God knows how many attacks, it seems they have still not had a real body blow to switch them off their little games. This has got to be the time to turn the dollar-tap off.
    Will the US do it? Of course not.

  • kp says:

    The link to the “5 Pakistan Taliban leaders arrested by NATO forces in Pakistan” Xinhua story is here:

    //news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-05/30/c_13901674.htm

    They give a location too.

    ISLAMABAD, May 30 (Xinhua) — Unconfirmed news from intelligence sources said on Monday that five Pakistan Taliban (TTP) leaders were arrested Monday morning in the Gorvait area of North Waziristan by NATO forces and later taken away by two NATO helicopters to Afghanistan. According to the sources who asked to remain anonymous, the action was taken by the NATO forces without informing the Pakistani government. If so, this is another Abbottabad-like operation taken by the foreign forces on the Pakistani soil without the knowledge of the Pakistani side. Political agent of North Waziristan also confirmed the news.

    If we have picked up the Mehsuds I don’t think we’ll hear about it for a while so we can follow up on intel. Perhaps until Pakistani complains (will they?). Or perhaps the TTP announces it (if they’ve lost leaders then stiring up Pakistani outrage might be their best hope).

    The other comment is the Mehsuds are the TTP i.e. the “bad Taliban” from Pakistan’s POV especially as they seem to have claimed the recent naval attacks. Perhaps this would soften the blow for the Pakistani public (some hope) and the government. It also might be sactioned either before (or perhaps after) the attack by the Pakistani govt who can trot it out as a joint op capturing the people behind so many bombings in Pakistan. Explaining why they ended up in Afghanistan might be a problem.

    Though one would think that we would spend out capitol on Haqqanni (“good taliban”) rather than TTP. That said remember COP Chapman suicide attack and the Times Square bomber. We have more reason to grab the TTP leadership than any others.

    Back to the original content of the article.

    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.

    Ah, an interesting comment.

    If by joint they mean US force participating in the operation directly that might be true.

    From Wikileaks cables we already know that US boots have been on the ground and assisting (intel, planning, etc) with Pakistani ops in the FATA but not actually being used alongside the Pakistani troops (or more likely for SF ops “in front of the lines” like Afghanistan). These are the “fusion” centers that they have been reportedly closing.

    So on it’s face it’s not actually correct (and is holding to the standard Pakistani line that there are no foreign troops in Pakistan). And this of course ignores the presences of CIA and intel on the ground (with apparent permission e.g. at Shamshi).

  • kp says:

    Apologies for the multiple comments but this is getting interesting …

    //nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/30-May-2011/NATO-choppers-again-violate-Pakistan-airspace

    Sources said that two NATO choppers entered the Pakistani airspace to hunt militants in border area of North Waziristan Agency (NWA).
    The NATO helicopters entered the border area, claiming that five members of Haqqani network have been arrested after the search operation.

    Not TTP. Not the Mehsuds. These are the “good Taliban” and are causing problems in Afghanistan (Khost and surrounding areas).

    This will annoy the Pakistani government Im sure but it will show that we’re serious the US is (if it’s true).

    It’ll be interesting to see how senior these people are: I suspect we’d only do this for (father) Jalaluddin Haqqani and (son and commander) Sirajuddin Haqqani.

    Note Siraj is involved with kidnapping US citizens and the Serena Hotel in Kabul that killed six people including an American citizen (amongst other attacks) so most likely if captured woud end up back in the US at some point for trial though he’s also wanted by Afghanistan for Insian Embassy attack.

    //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirajuddin_Haqqani

    The US had a chance to kill Siraj earlier this year but backed off due to collateral damage. That might explain the helicopter SF raid in this case if he surrounds himself with “potential collateral damage”

    //in.news.yahoo.com/us-aborted-drone-attack-sirajuddin-haqqani-pak-over-20110223-040813-471.html

  • Marlin says:

    To Bill’s point the Pakistani government is certainly going out of its way to telegraph the planned action.

    Humanitarian agencies active in Pakistan

  • indus says:

    Could this indeed be for real? That could imply we have the goods on Kayani and Pasha on their role in providing refuge to Osama. And we could be using this info to make them do which they erstwhile refused to do.
    Nah, that would be too good!

  • Charu says:

    @kp, very interesting. Looks like the gloves are finally off. The key to ending the Afghan war is to neutralize the Haqqanis with or without (more likely) Pakistani assistance.
    As for the North Waziristan thrust by Pakistan, going by past precedence it will certainly be more shadow boxing by the Pakistanis. The fact is that they are not a very good military force, especially when it comes to counter-insurgency (unarmed civilians is another matter), and the will to fight the Pashtuns is just not there. Part of their reluctance to fight in Waziristan must certainly include a desire not to have their inadequacies exposed.
    Bill, thanks for being the lone voice of sanity; although I suspect that there is a lot more support to your views from active personnel in the field – they just can’t be open about it .

  • Charu says:

    “the action was taken by the NATO forces without informing the Pakistani government. If so, this is another Abbottabad-like operation taken by the foreign forces on the Pakistani soil without the knowledge of the Pakistani side”
    Well, that’s all the excuse the Pakistani military needs NOT to move into North Waziristan!

  • kp says:

    Another interesting story today that seems directly related to the “NW operation”.

    “According to details exclusively available with this newspaper” i.e. leaked by ISI or the Army: CIA (and ISI? IB?) interrogate TTP Mehsud HVTs captured near Abbotobad

    //nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/30-May-2011/3-highvalue-suspects-among-6-interrogated

    ABBOTTABAD – The CIA team during its visit to Abbottabad is reported to have interrogated a brother and two cousins of a top slain militant and three other high-value terrorist suspects, in what is seen as a crucial development pertaining to investigations privy to Abbottabad operation.

    Following the visit of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) team to examine Osama bin Laden

  • hillbilly says:

    Hold your guns gentlemen……
    north waziristan operation would be nothing more than a shadow boxing to provide an excuse for the americans to stop drone attacks…..american admnistration is a part of this hoax.

  • Naresh C says:

    20 billion dollars for this smoke and mirrors show?
    Houdini is dead but I am sure there still are magicians who can entertain the naive US politicians with smoke and mirrors for less than hundred dollars.

  • villiger says:

    Naresh:
    “20 billion dollars for this smoke and mirrors show?”
    ROFL :))))))))
    Nice one, Naresh. Appreciate your perspectives.
    ===
    Hillbilly, you come up with C-theories that on the face of it sound very plausible, but have you actually called it right at all, recently?

  • hillbilly says:

    Villiger,
    i am a pakistani and c-theories are part of our daily diet but you have to admitt the imaginations of posters on LWJ are not any less fertile.
    well americans got their jollies by killing Osama and whats next? NWA operation ,negotiations with taliban before declaring mission accomplished.
    bye bye miss american pie.

  • villiger says:

    not so fast, hillbilly, not so fast.
    If you’re being deceived then the US is doing something right.
    Once you’re off the diet of free american pie, humble pie is all you will be left with.
    You Pakistanis really need to get yourself a life. The world is past feeling sorry for you. And yes i admit there are a lot of fertile minds around here, but for the most part, i guess they can afford it–its a luxury on top of the solid nation they have built. But, Pakistan? What an open sore you have become upon this planet, thanks to your Army. I expect zero from them and in fact they are your cross to bear.
    If peace will come through the pieces of Pakistan, so be it.

  • Marlin says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but it’s worthwhile remembering that dealing with the Taliban is a very dangerous business, even if you’re a sympathetic reporter.

    Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online who went missing on Sunday evening, has been killed, according to police.
    […]
    Police reported that his body was found in a canal in Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab province about 150 kilometers southeast of Islamabad and about 10 kilometers from where his car was found. They said that his body bore marks of torture.

    I certainly didn’t agree with Syed all the time, but on occasion I felt he got the topic/concept correct. He also was one of the few reporters the Taliban trusted enough to occasionally take along on excursions. He will be missed.
    Asia Times: Asia Times Online journalist feared dead

  • kp says:

    The Pakistani’s are currently on what might be called a PIP in some hi-tech companies: a Performance Improvement Plan. What you get at an annual review for persistent under-performance. Either you improve or you’ve laid the solid paperwork trail for being fired. PIP includes a set of specific goals that must be achieved in a specific timeframe for the “relationship” to continue into the future with dates and outcomes specified. Given the looks on the faces of Mullen and Clinton I suspect the Pakistani govt knows what they have to do (including delivering the top 4 and making sure they’re not in Pakistan).

    Even with a “telegraphing” effort the CIA will continue to work NW and SW to see folks moving around. Unlike the other Pakistani efforts the drones will contribute to this one.

    Where will the HVTs go? Afghanistan? KP, Punjab and Balochistan? The latter would be a problem for Pakistan if they get found. And the US found UBL … that’s got to be a worry.

  • Muhammad Taha says:

    Pakistani army should attack north waziristan and kill pakistani taliban , afghani taliban and al queda…
    their is no difference in taliban. the only difference is the ZIP CODE.
    Pashtun terrorists afghani and pakistani taliban both have same kind of agenda.
    and both deserve abominable treatment in north waziristan.
    i am pakistani , but i hate my army because they always play double games. which is unacceptable.
    i am supporter of MQM progressive and peaceful secular political organization.
    and we will defend Karachi from these Pashtun terrorists who are coming to karachi from North parts of the country….

  • molvi_whisky says:

    Muhammad Taha : ”
    and we will defend Karachi from these Pashtun terrorists who are coming to karachi from North parts of the country….”
    Taha you are with MQM a race based party in Karachi which claims to speak for “refugees from India after 1947”.
    Pashtuns are the natives of Pakistan what about your people .. are you? NO sorry you are a native of India. SO what gives you a right to stop Native Pakistanis from moving to settle within any provinces in Pakistan ? Taha your native provice is probably Bengal or Bihar both of which are in India. Why not you and your people “move back” to your mother land India and end that self-inflicted label “mohajjir” . Yes, please go back home in India.

  • villiger says:

    Great post by Muhammad Taha in recognizing that the Army is the rot, sorry root-cause of Pak’s problems.
    As for you molvi, you underscore that fanatics like you are the other combination of the cause. But then it’ll make it easier to break-up your country which is our plan.
    Btw, all Pakistani’s are native Indians IF you have any sense of history.;-))))

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