Monday, October 04, 2004
A "fall offensive" in Pakistan?
According to Reuters at the time,
The U.S. military is making plans for an offensive that would reach inside Pakistan in coming months to try to destroy operations of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, the Chicago Tribune reported....
The newspaper, in a report from Washington citing military sources, said the plans involved thousands of U.S. troops, some of them already in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government denied to Reuters that it would allow such an operation and the Pentagon declined to confirm that such a plan was being worked on.
Despite the initial denials from Pakistan, US special forces did enter Pakistan in March. As Radio Free Europe reported,
The presence in Pakistan of a Special Forces team called Task Force 121 also has been widely reported in the Western press, despite President Pervez Musharraf's repeated denials of any American forces in Pakistan's tribal border areas.
Pakistan apparently hoped to give the operation assistance and cover by sending an estimated 7000 troops and paramilitaries into the area.
Before you could say "collective punishment," by late February the Pakistani army was murdering villagers. According to an article published on antiwar.com,
The killing of 13 civilians in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan by Army personnel hunting the Taliban, has fuelled fears of a revolt in the fiercely independent region that could easily derail the war on terror.
There were the usual atrocities and counter-atrocities. Agence France-Presse reported,
Thousands of troops besieged a mud fortress for 12 days in March, an incident which ended with the escape of an unknown number "high-value" targets and more than 60 troops dead.
A similar onslaught in June ended with 65 militants and 18 Pakistani forces dead.
Eventually Pakistan pulled back its forces from the FATA.
The American media as usual had been prompt to report the government's announcement of what was going to happen—i.e., the spring offensive—but did little to inform the public of the result. And the result was, according to the South Asian Analysis Group, an Indian thinktank,
Instead of creating a divide between the foreign terrorists and the locals, the high-handed manner in which the Pakistanis have been carrying out their operations has resulted in further strengthening the bonds of solidarity amongst the terrorists and their local supporters.
So by April 17, according to Time,
... Pakistani Lieut. General Safdar Hussain signed a truce with the leaders of the tribal forces, ending a brief, bloody and largely ineffective campaign to root out extremist militants and terrorists hiding among sympathizers in Waziristan's villages. [emphasis added]
What got me thinking about all this was a little item in Pakistan's Daily Times—
Army leaflets ignite fear of crackdown:
Militants fired missiles and injured a soldier in Makeen while the Pakistan Army airdropped leaflets on Sunday informing tribesmen to stay away from terrorists and that the “war on terror was not against them”.
The bilingual (in Pashto and Urdu) leaflets, dropped from a Mashaak aircraft around North and South Waziristan agencies, said the war was “against foreign terrorists and against those sheltering them.”
People in Wana and Miranshah believe the leaflets were indicative of an upcoming military operation in the area. A Daily Times’ survey revealed that 95 percent of residents thought the army was about to launch a “large-scale” operation in the tribal areas.
Meanwhile, warring tribesmen fired a missile at the Sparlai picket in Makeen, South Waziristan, seriously wounding a Tall Scouts sepoy, police said. There was no independent confirmation of the event. The army and the Ladah Scouts retaliated after the attack with mortars. [emphasis added]
There would be two reasons for such an offensive—
(1) The October 9 election in Afghanistan is being threatened by Taliban forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, so the U.S. would have undoubtedly asked the Pakistan government to do what it may to help contain the threat.
(2) Then there's the Presidential election in November. Kerry scored heavily against Bush for having allowed bin-Laden to escape into Pakistan. We have already seen one instance where Pakistan produced a "high-value target" at an appropriate moment for the Bush administration. It seems likely that Pakistan is going on a hunt for other high-value targets that Bush is demanding—and needs—before the election.
Given the unhappy outcome of the "spring offensive," it does not surprise me that a "fall offensive" would be conducted without fanfare.