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Afghanistan: Now it's all-out war
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - A massive land and air military operation on either side of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is now under way, with the main goals of catching leading commanders of the Afghan resistance, as well as Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

The focal point of the operation at this point is the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan on the Pakistani side, and Paktia and Paktika in Afghanistan. On Sunday, Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat confirmed that Pakistani paramilitary troops had been deployed in these tribal areas.

In the coming weeks, the operation is gradually expected to increase in intensity and size and spread to all seven of the Pakistani-administrated tribal areas, and subsequently to all major Afghan cities, including Jalalabad, Asadabad, Gardez, Khost, Zabul and Kandahar, in a bid to wipe out the Afghan resistance.

Well-placed sources stationed in South Waziristan's Wana told Asia Times Online of a large mobilization of Pakistani troops in the two agencies, adding that several villages situated on the border had been evacuated as there were fears that they would be caught in crossfire between Pakistani troops, guerrillas and US-led coalition troops on the Afghan side of the border.

Pakistan law-enforcement agencies have virtually sealed entry and exit routes in North and South Waziristan, and travelers report exhaustive security checkposts.

Across in Afghanistan, coalition troops are conducting house-to-house searches in the town of Khost and its outskirts. Many suspects (mostly bearded with black turbans) have been rounded up. The main targets of operations here are resistance leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Saifullah Mansoor and their followers, who are believed to number between 2,000 and 2,500, spread all over the Khost, Paktia, Paktika and Gardez areas.

Asia Times Online can confirm media reports in Pakistan that Pakistan has allowed the US to use some of its air bases for surveillance purposes, including Kohat and Bannu. Residents of North West Frontier Province are already witnessing flights of US "spy" planes over the region.

The latest operation will be characterized by:
  • Very slow development.
  • Deployment of troops over vast areas.
  • Extensive use of aerial and satellite monitoring.

    Coalition forces aim gradually to cordon off huge areas to squeeze out guerrillas, no matter how long it takes. This will lead to the second stage of the offensive, in which the "war" will spread across Pakistan's seven tribal areas and corresponding territory across the border in what the US terms a "hammer and anvil" approach.

    Reports over the weekend in Britain's Sunday Express suggested that US and United Kingdom troops had cornered Mullah Omar and bin Laden in an area near Pakistan's Balochistan province. The Pakistan armed forces have denied this, and reject stories that any such foreign troops are operating in the country.

    Resistance lying low
    At present, all the big names in the Afghan resistance movement are based in and around their "home" territory. For instance, Saifullah Mansoor moves around the Zarmat and Gardez area. Jalaluddin Haqqani and his guerrillas shelter in the mountainous terrain of Paktia province. Mullah Omar shuttles between Kandahar, Orugzan and Zabul. Ustad Fareed and Kashmir Khan are positioned in their Kunar Valley base. Key resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, meanwhile, is the odd one out. He is in Kunar province, although his Khiroti tribe comes from Ghazni. He was born in Kunduz, but raised and educated in the capital Kabul. From his headquarters in Sorobi (near Kabul), he waged his battles against the former monarch Zahir Shah, the invading Soviets and the communist regime of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    Now he has made the Kunar Valley his base. A part of his strategy has been to restore communication with his former mujahideen friends in the guerrilla war against the Soviets in the 1980s who are now a part of the US-sponsored Hamid Karzai administration. These include Ismail Khan from Herat, Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum and Professor Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf.

    Hekmatyar was recently offered a truce by the US and a role in the future political mainstream, but the veteran fighter has yet to respond. However, close associates of his Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan believe that at this point Hekmatyar will not leave the resistance, although he will not completely slam the door on dialogue. Insiders say that he aims to wait until the US leaves Afghanistan, at which point he will jump into the political pan. The late Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masoud adopted a similar strategy with Dr Najibullah's government in 1992. Masoud remained in touch with Najibullah's administration even though Masoud was at war with the communist regime. So when Najibullah decided to throw in the towel, he did so to Masoud's forces to the north, rather than to the Hezb-i-Islami forces in the south.

    The response of the resistance to the new offensive has been deliberately muted. Even suicide missions and random guerrilla attacks have been scaled back as the resistance lies low, possibly until a major spring offensive is launched.

    The number of foreign fighters in the resistance has dwindled, with only those Arabs and other fighters who have been in the country for many years and who speak local dialects and know the terrain left. Most of them are allied with commanders such as Saifullah Mansoor and Jalaluddin Haqqani. A few are stand-alone operators, such as bin Laden. At present they are believed to be hiding in an area that begins in Chitral and ends in Dir on the Pakistani side. Another possibility is the Khyber Agency.

    As long as bin Laden remains at large, stories of his supposed whereabouts will help the coalition cause in spreading its net further and further. Pakistani troops have already been sent to Mohmand Agency, where tribal leaders have been given a warning to surrender their weapons or face the consequences. Next in line are Mohmand, Bajur, Orackzai and Khyber agencies. The situation is likely to reach a climax in April or May. One way or another, a big war looms in the region.

    (Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
  •  
    Feb 24, 2004



    Bin Laden between a hammer and a hard place
    (Feb 21, '04)

     

     

     
       
             
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