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Monday, May 30

Will a Pakistani military operation in N. Waziristan amount to more than a hill of beans?

The Reuters report I linked to in the last hour suggests that an unconfirmed report earlier today from Pakistan's The News of a planned Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan is in substance correct. Long War Journal has also linked to The News report but with clear-eyed cautions from Bill Roggio.

I take all Bill's warnings to heart and understand that given the history, irrational exuberance is unwarranted but things might be different this time around. For now I'm going to be a little mysterious about why I think this might be the case -- we don't even have official confirmation yet that the offensive is planned. However, one might be able to read my reason between the lines of my recent warning to Pakistan's government that it shouldn't assume Beijing is going to back to the hilt what is perceived by the international community as a terror-sponsoring regime.

(For more on Beijing's trials playing the role of Islamabad's BFF, see Peter Lee's May 27 analysis, China Drops the Gwadar Hot Potato for Asia Times Online.)

And I note that the Pakistani military had no choice but to "telegraph," as Bill called it, the planned offensive -- particularly if this turns out to be a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation -- if it didn't want every international humanitarian agency working in Pakistan's Northwest to try and haul them into the International Criminal Court for war crimes against civilians. This is warfare in the 21st Century, folks, at least as it's conducted by governments that want to stay on the good side of the 'international community.' Remember the humanitarian disaster in Swat because of all the DPs from the Pakistani military operation there.

Also reference the first paragraph of the Reuters report:
Humanitarian agencies active in Pakistan's northwest have been quietly told to prepare for up to 365,000 displaced people in advance of a military offensive against North Waziristan, a senior official with an international humanitarian agency said Monday.
And the international community aside, the last thing the Pakistani military needs is to get non-combatants in Northwest Pakistan even angrier at them than they already are.

If the operation is well-planned and coordinated, "telegraphing" shouldn't limit its success and could even help it, just because the warning of an impending offensive will flush many terrorists out of hiding as they flee N. Waziristan.

With all that out of the way, here are Bill's points:
[...] 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 the 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.

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