This is absolutely stunning. Yesterday, The Associated Press interviewed US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and during the interview, Panetta said that the Pakistani military is preparing to launch a military operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan. But not against the Haqqani Network, of course, as that would be a bridge too far. From the AP report:
Pakistan has told US military officials that it plans to launch combat operations against Taliban militants soon in a tribal area near the Afghan border that also serves as a haven for leaders of the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
Speaking to The Associated Press in his Pentagon office, Panetta said Pakistan’s military chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, discussed the planned operation in recent conversations with the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Allen.
The US long has been frustrated by Islamabad’s refusal to target Afghan Taliban militants and their allies using Pakistani territory to stage attacks against US and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target groups with which it has strong historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
Panetta said he did not know when the Pakistani operation would start, but he said he understands it will be in the “near future,” and that the main target will be the Pakistani Taliban, rather than the Haqqani network.
Panetta welcomed Kayani’s initiative, even though the main target may not be the Haqqani leadership.
“They’ve talked about it for a long time. Frankly, I’d lost hope that they were going do anything about it. But it does appear that they in fact are going to take that step,” said Panetta.
There are three reasons why this report is so shocking (and I mean that seriously, not in the Shocked! Shocked! sense).
1) Doesn’t Panetta know that the Pakistani military said the other day that the North Waziristan operation is already underway? It isn’t, of course, but….
2) Doesn’t Panetta remember recent history? The Pakistani military actually has launched numerous military operations against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) in the tribal areas, as the al Qaeda-linked terror group has attacked the Pakistani state. He should remember this, as he was serving as head of the CIA back in the spring of 2009 when the military launched operations in Swat against the TTP and again in the fall of 2009 in South Waziristan. The Pakistani military has also launched operations against the TTP in Bajaur, Mohmand, Arakzai, and Khyber during Panetta’s tenures as CIA chief and Secretary of Defense (the operations have been largely ineffectual, see this report on South Waziristan for an example, but that is a different story).
3) Panetta has now joined the long list of senior defense officials who have flacked, wittingly or unwittingly, for the Pakistani military’s unwillingness to take on other militant groups besides the TTP, which is but one faction, by saying the Pakistanis are on the cusp of taking real action. Pakistan will not move against the so-called “good Taliban” (those who don’t attack Pakistan) — Mullah Nazir (based in South Waziristan), or Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network (based in North Waziristan) — even though these groups shelter, support, and train with al Qaeda and the TTP.
How many times has Pakistan promised to take action in North Waziristan, or claimed to take action there, only to make fools of top US defense officials? See Pakistan to launch another Potemkin offensive in North Waziristan for more details on that score.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.