Tuesday, April 20, 2004

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Encouraging news from Pakistan

The New York Times reports that Pakistan is having some success in its spring offensive against the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Northwest frontier:

The commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, said Monday that Pakistan had successfully disrupted the Qaeda network in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and had significantly affected its ability to support a suspected Taliban insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

In an interview in Kabul, the Afghan capital, General Barno commended the Pakistani military for its "bold moves" against foreign fighters in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan in March. He said it had so far prevented an anticipated offensive this spring in Afghanistan by the remnants of Taliban fighters who are suspected to have taken refuge across the Pakistani border in tribal areas.

"There have been some tough fights, so I give them great credit for making some bold moves over there," he said. The Pakistani operation since January has been larger and more intense than the previous level of enforcement in the border area, he said. He added that it appears to have disrupted what had been a very stable area for Al Qaeda's foreign fighters and senior leadership, where they are believed to have lived and operated for two years.

"That has had a significant unsettling effect on their organization over there and to some degree on their ability to support the Taliban as well," he said of Al Qaeda. "But clearly they are concerned about what is going on over there."....

The Pakistani authorities estimate that 500 to 600 foreign Qaeda fighters are in the tribal areas, including top Qaeda leaders. In fighting in March, Pakistan said it killed about 60 people and captured 160 more, including Uzbeks and other foreigners. Nevertheless, there was no sign that any Qaeda members had escaped into Afghanistan, he said.

American forces positioned on the Pakistan-Afghan border to catch any fighters escaping the Pakistani operation, in what the general has described as a "hammer and anvil" tactic, had seen little movement across the border into Afghanistan, he said. "Our sense is that anyone who is there, is still there," he said.

There was every sign that the Qaeda fighters would stay in the Pakistani tribal areas and fight, partly because they knew it was "extraordinarily dangerous" for them to operate in Afghanistan because of the presence of American troops, he said.

posted by Dan on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM


The sourcing of this article bothers me a bit. All I see is a general sitting down in Kabul with the reporter saying how swell it's all going. The interviewee may have a high position and all that, but everything he's saying is probably coming from ever-so-reliable Pakistani government officials. I'd feel better if Al Q types were swarming over the Afghani border to escape the onslaught -- something that's not happening.

Wonder what the Pakistani papers, like Dawn or the Frontier Post have been saying about this. Maybe I'll give them a looksee.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

Well, well, well. Looks like the Generals and the US Ambassador in Kabul are not singing from the same playbook:


"Zalmay Khalilzad (the US Ambassador)has repeatedly alleged that Taliban and al-Qaeda activists are regrouping on this side of the Durand Line, and that Islamabad is not doing enough to prevent the fugitive militants from staging raids across the border against Afghan and ISAF troops."

The Pakistanis are expressing their displeasure, accusing the ambassador of "attention deficit disorder."

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

I too am getting impatient for another big "Zawahiri" shoot-out. Last night on the BBC they showed footage of some tribesmen burning down a house they said had been used by 'foreign fighters' as the local Wazirs start their own offensive, but it had the look of a made for tv moment to me.

posted by: matt on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

It's the light at the end of the tunnel!

Why don't we cut out the monopolistic supplier here? Just send me $5 per Email and I will lie to you as much as you like, telling you comforting stories about how well things are going in Pakistan. Sure, I may repeat myself a little, but given your prior behavior, I'm confident that you won't notice. Why wait for good news to be manufactured only once a week when I can make it up for you as often as you like?

posted by: Rich Puchalsky on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

This is somewhat on topic. It has begun, the call for draft reenlistment.


THe way this Senator phrased the reasoning for the draft really unnerved me. I need to look him up but the statement that people need to be drafted to understand what we are up against is just wrong. It goes along well with an article I just read in Commondreams regarding groupthink though.

posted by: Kat on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

The US military has not proven itself to be a 'balanced and fair' or credible purveyor of news. Certainly this is their side of the story.

The other side of the story is that the Pakistani incursion resulted in a large dislocation of civilians, resulted in a minimal number of fighters killed, the execution of several of their own captured soldiers, and a negotiated pull-out arranged thru some outraged local leaders.

That and due to new electoral laws requiring educational degrees (Madrassa certificates accepted), the Islamists have been gaining in elected offices.

So given everything I'd say at best the adventure was a wash. Calling it a success would be a stretch at best.

posted by: Oldman on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

So General Barno, where are the al Qaeda bigwigs you were looking for?

posted by: Nitin on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

After the Daniel Pearl incident it cannot be expected that we will always get timely and accurate information from Western news outlets about what is really happening in Pakistan. Reports of what American officials (who may be wrong, or may be trying to construct a reputation for locals to live up to) think, or reports of conversations with Pakistani officials (who may be lying) are the best most of them will be able to do.

Having said that, I don't think it unlikely at all that Pakistan's army has fought several fierce and bloody battles against Islamist guerillas. These may or may not have operational ties with the al Qaeda leadership we are familiar with; however, they have demonstrated in two assassination attempts against Musharraf that their goals are for political change within Pakistan first, terrorism against the West only afterward. There may be among these Islamists many who see the overthrow of Musharraf and the slaughter of secular-minded, Shiite, Christian and various other Pakistanis as only the first step in a larger war. My point is that Musharraf would be compelled to act against them even if they had no interest in any terrorism, or anything else, outside Pakistan's own borders.

posted by: Zathras on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

Refreshingly real, Zathras.
Of course Musharraf is thinking of his own interests first. Pakistan is utterly unprepared for the type of assault required to truly clean the border area of foreign terror operatives.
What we are not hearing about is cross border sorties by coalition special forces. Which means that none of them have been caught yet.

posted by: Braddock on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

Would someone please tell Lt. Gen. David Barno that referring to U.S. Military zones of control in Afghanistan as areas of "ownership" is not really the best kind of public relations? I'm referring to his presentation on Security in Afghanistan on C-SPAN today, but he probably uses the same unfortunate terminology in other settings as well.

posted by: Bob Schacht on 04.20.04 at 10:34 AM [permalink]

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