34 Taliban dead; Waziristan update

Thirty Four more Taliban are dead, and I fully expect this trend to contiinue. As reported here previously there are large groups of expatriate Taliban moving out of Pakistan with their families, so there are bound to be more clashes as the returning Taliban try to re-establish inside Afghanistan.

The Taliban also appear splintered, and there are separate, un-coordinated efforts underway in three separate regions, as if an axis had shifted, or as if a leadership vacuum had formed. It could just be that the real leadership is incommunicado, underground, or on the move. The Taliban returning appear now to be poorly armed and equipped as well compared to past encounters.

From the Frontier Post:

At least 34 militants were killed in new firefights and bombings by local and foreign troops in different parts of Afghanistan, officials claimed on Wednesday. The US-led coalition, NATO and Afghan police confirmed the fatalities occurred in Helmand, also known as Afghanistan’s drug capital, Paktika, Ghazni and Maidan Wardak provinces.

In Garmsir district of the volatile Helmand province, police said they had recovered the bodies of seven Taliban killed in a fierce clash that lasted two hours. The firefight erupted around midday on Tuesday, the provincial police chief said. Another 10 fighters perished in a separate battle with soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the district area. An ISAF spokesman said the soldiers were engaged by several insurgents in the district centre.

The ISAF troops came under fire from small arms and 107mm rockets, shortly after spotting a number of insurgents carrying a heavy machinegun. The forces engaged the insurgents with machinegun fire and close air support, an ISAF spokesman said. Battle damage assessment indicates three insurgent vehicles were destroyed with up to 10 insurgents killed. There were no ISAF casualties, the spokesman said in a statement issued here.

In other news from the same region, President General Musharraf of Pakistan will be on Sixty Minutes Sunday, for a preview of the interview see this article. Apparently Armitage has done more than leak Valerie “Superspy” Plame’s name.

The United States threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” in 2001 unless it cooperated in the US-led war on terror, President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview released on Thursday.

Musharraf, whose support for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan was instrumental in the fall of the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, said the threat came from former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage.

He said the comments were delivered to his intelligence director, according to selected transcripts of the interview with CBS television’s “60 Minutes” investigative news programme due to be broadcast on Sunday.

“The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, ‘Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the stone age’,” Musharraf said. “It was insulting… I think it was a very rude remark,” he told reporter Steve Kroft. The president said he reacted to the threat in a responsible way. “One has to think and take actions in the interest of the nation, and that’s what I did.”

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Pakistan abandoned its support for the Taliban, who were sheltering al-Qaeda leaders, and became a front-line ally in the US-led “war on terror.” Pakistan has arrested several senior al-Qaeda members, including Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks.

Armitage’s alleged threat also demanded that Pakistan turn over border posts and bases for the US military to use in the war in Afghanistan, which ended with the Taliban regime’s collapse in late 2001.

Other “ludicrous” demands required Pakistan to suppress domestic expressions of support for militant attacks on US targets, according to the CBS, which produces 60 Minutes. “If somebody’s expressing views, we cannot curb the expression of views,” it quoted Musharraf as saying.

In the interview, Musharraf also reveals an embarrassing episode in which former CIA director George Tenet confronted him in 2003 with proof that Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was passing secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea

We also have signs that the joint-support coordinated border patrolling hinted at earlier is going into effect after the Waziristan truce. Earlier this week we saw Taliban captured in a hospital in Pakistan who were recuperating from wounds received in Helmand, and here we see tribals rounding up Taliban crossing the border back into Pakistan:

MIRAMSHAH, Sept 20: Security forces have arrested 10 people from Lawara Mandi area near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the North Waziristan Agency, officials said. The action was taken after six US helicopter gunships intruded into the Pakistan airspace following clashes between the allied forces and Taliban across the border.

The intrusion by the US helicopters prompted the military and political authorities to proceed to the area along with tribal elders, including Fata parliamentarians.
The authorities, sources said, believed that Taliban guerrilla might sneak into Lawara Mandi after clashes with the US-led allied forces in Pipali area of Afghanistan close to the North Waziristan Agency.

After peace accord between the government and militants early this month it was the first action by the security forces in the restive region. Under the agreement there would be no infiltration into Afghanistan for guerrilla activities from the tribal area.

We will have to see this play out over time before we really know the impacts of the Waziristan truce, or potentially others to come as Bill Roggio points out, but I am growing more hopeful that at least the Afghanistan Taliban are being forced out.

The deep underpinning of these tribal regions is their independence, they might align with power groups for short periods, but in the end they will always be independent. The recent aid announcements, along with the development plans in the regions all indicate that the War Chest strategy is in play, and from the signs I am seeing it appears to be working initially. While some folks might not like winning through non-military means, it sure worked for Alexander and others. Let’s give it some time to play out before we judge the outcome.