|Bin Laden between a hammer and a hard
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - After taking a dramatic, and suspect,
deviation into Iraq, the United States' "war on terror"
is right back where it began, in Afghanistan, once again
in hot pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
"The hunt has been intense," said US
General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. "There are areas where we
think it is most likely he is, and
they remain the same. They haven't changed in months."
"The sand in their hourglass is running out.
The troops are re-energized," confirmed the US commanding
officer in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Barno.
"Their day has ended and this year will decisively sound
the death knell of their movements in Afghanistan,"
Barno was quoted as telling journalists in Kabul about
bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. "We have
unfinished business in this part of the world."
This part of the world, in the latest US
initiative to hunt down the al-Qaeda leader - code-named
Hammer and Anvil - is the rugged, inhospitable territory
on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and
Pakistan. On the Pakistan side, the area includes the
semi-autonomous tribal areas, particularly South and
"On the one side of the border
are US and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]
troops, on the other side are Pakistani troops,"
commented a source familiar with military developments
to Asia Times Online. "This time it will be a big, long
Another crucial side to the
operation is an overhaul within the Pakistani army "to
purge the elements allegedly sexed up with al-Qaeda and
the Taliban", the source said, referring to those
elements in the army and the intelligence services with
sympathies for these groups.
The shakeup follows
the recent arrest of several militants of Uzbek origin,
as well as an Arab named Waleed bin Azmi, in a raid in
the eastern district of the Pakistani port city of
Karachi. About a dozen militants managed to escape,
while the captured ones were handed over to agents of
the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, who found during
their interrogations that the operators had been
besieged near Wana, South Waziristan, but they were
given an escape route, allegedly by officers of the
Pakistan armed forces. The operators fled to Karachi,
but were rounded up thanks to the local police's
The US presented
these facts to Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf
- not the first time such incidents have been reported,
but this time with the demands that the officers be
taken to task and that US officials be allowed to take
part in the inquiries to understand better the nexus
between Islamists and officers in the Pakistani army.
Several officers are now expected to be
arrested. A similar incident occurred last year when
Lieutenant-Colonel Khalid Abbassi and one Major Atta
were seized, among others. Asia Times Online broke the
story of these arrests (Musharraf's army
breaking ranks ), causing a stir in the
operations on the border are expected to last for some
time. The Pakistani military has begun to confront
tribal leaders, threatening them with home demolitions
and other punishment if they harbor al-Qaeda fighters.
This is a highly sensitive matter in an area that is
virtually beyond the writ of the administration in
"The Pakistani troops are confronting
the tribal elders and making them be accountable for the
behavior in their area. That's a traditional approach
that has not been used till now in that particular part
of Pakistan," said General Barno.
this area has been the focus of attention ever since the
Taliban were driven from Afghanistan in late 2001. Its
rugged territory and the close ethnic ties with the
Pashtun of Afghanistan make it a natural safe haven,
which it has undoubtedly become over the past two years as
the Taliban, aided by al-Qaeda, have regrouped.
The starting point for the new US-led operation
is Khost in Afghanistan as part of a preemptive plan to
curb mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose belt of
influence spreads all the way from Khost to Pakistan's
North Waziristan Agency. Another belt travels from North
Waziristan to the Kunar Valley in Afghanistan, where
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hebz-i-Islami
Afghanistan and de facto leader of the Afghan
resistance, is directing operations.
the past, though, when operations have focused on
limited targets and been of short duration, the current
offensive is all-embracing and has as its ultimate goal
the destruction of the Afghan resistance (with the
cherry on the top being bin Laden's capture). NATO
forces have already occupied key places in Afghanistan
in an attempt to block off the border and to wait for
fugitives flushed out from Pakistan. The anvil is almost
in place on one side of the border. Now it is up to the
Pakistanis to do their bit on the other side.
United States is not taking any chances. US Central Intelligence Agency
director George Tenet visited Islamabad recently
on an unofficial trip. His team stayed in
a local hotel, while Tenet was accommodated at the
US Embassy. He secretly met with several high-profile Pakistani
officials, including his counterpart, the director
general of the Inter-Services Intelligence.
Sources familiar with the meetings told Asia Times Online
that a roadmap was sketched for the region, including a
"full-scale war" if necessary to smoke out bin Laden and
Mullah Omar. Pakistan's commitment in this was sought.
At a time when the United States is keen to leave
Afghanistan - elections are due in June but likely to
be delayed - this full-scale commitment holds the inherent
danger that it might fail, and the US be drawn even
deeper into the country's morass. This in turn could
trigger a chain of events culminating in another terror
attack on the US along the lines of that of September
11, 2001, for example on the Rockefeller Center in
New York. The wheel in the "war on terror" in such an
event really would have turned full circle.
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