|Afghanistan: Now it's all-out
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
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
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.
law-enforcement agencies have virtually sealed entry and exit routes
in North and South Waziristan, and travelers
report exhaustive security checkposts.
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
The latest operation will be
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.
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.
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.
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