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    South Asia
     Feb 5, 2010
US fires off new warning in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - With its biggest drone attack to date in Pakistan, the United States has sent a clear message of its renewed determination to destroy Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the Pakistan and Afghanistan border areas.

Pakistan government officials say that nine unmanned US drones on Tuesday evening fired 19 missiles on Dattakhel village in the Degan area of North Waziristan, across from the Afghan province of Khost, killing at least 31 people and injuring many more.

Security officials who spoke to Asia Times Online say the prime target is believed to have been Afghan Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.

"The extraordinary high-profile attack through a barrage of drone

  

strikes was the result of a recent surge in intelligence all along the border regions," one security official told ATol on the condition of anonymity.

"The Americans have been heavily bribing [Afghan] tribal people to inform on the militants and their hideouts across the border in the Pakistani tribal areas. In the coming days, similar treatment [drone attacks] is likely to be meted out in Orakzai Agency, Khyber Agency, Bajaur and Mohmand," said the official.

According to reports that Asia Times Online has not been able to officially confirm, the US has distributed about US$12 million among Shinwari tribesmen in the six districts of the Afghan province of Nangarhar. Their brief is to provide detailed information on the Taliban's Tora Bora Brigade, whose bases stretch from the Khogyani district of Nangarhar to the Tora Bora mountains and across the border into the Tera Valley in Khyber Agency, Parachinar in Kurram Agency and Orakzai Agency. Shinwari tribesmen live on both sides of the Durand line that separates the two countries and engage in extensive trading.

A similar approach is being adopted with other Afghan tribes along the border areas specifically to target anti-Western militants.



Over the past few years, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the US Central Intelligence Agency have tried to set up a network of informers in the Pakistani tribal areas, but informants have systematically been exposed and executed by militants. Hence the use now of Afghans with ties on both sides of the border.

The drone attacks and the intelligence-gathering are a part of the US's "track two" approach that also includes an increasing military presence inside Pakistan.

On Wednesday, three American soldiers were killed and two others injured in a bomb attack in Lower Dir, bordering Bajaur Agency. The attack, in which a Pakistani soldier and three schoolgirls were also killed and hundreds injured, marks the first fatal Taliban operation against the US military inside Pakistan. The bomb went off as a security convoy traveled to a school that was celebrating its reopening after being damaged in an earlier militant attack.

The Pakistan army is heavily engaged against militants in Bajaur, which is one of the major supply lines for the Afghan Taliban in the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Last November, the Taliban seized virtual control of Nuristan and forced American forces to vacate their three main bases in the province.

The US Embassy in Islamabad stated that the three US soldiers killed had been deployed as trainers to the Pakistani Frontier Corps (FC). Training courses in counter-insurgency are meant to take place in Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province, and in Buner in the same province.

By implication, with the soldiers being some way from their designated training centers, they could have been overseeing FC operations in Lower Dir or Bajaur Agency, where a tough battle against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants is underway - both sides have sustained heavy casualties in the past few days.

The US is operating its track two approach in conjunction with the ongoing initiative to seek dialogue with elements of the Taliban. This process has a long way to go, and the touted breakthrough of the United Nations removing five former Afghan Taliban officials from its sanctions blacklist is of no real significance as the five defected immediately after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The UN said the five would no longer be subject to international travel bans and a freeze on their assets. All five men were members of the Taliban government and were blacklisted in 2001. They are Abdul Wakil Mutawakil, a former foreign minister; Faiz Mohammad Faizan, a former deputy commerce minister; Shams-us-Safa, a former Foreign Ministry official; Mohammad Musa, a deputy planning minister; Abdul Hakim, a former deputy frontier affairs minister.

Of these, one of the most interesting is Abdul Hakim, who after fleeing Afghanistan held a press conference in Pakistan along with former Taliban provincial ministers at which they announced the formation of the Jamiat Khuddamul Koran. This group, with the backing of the ISI, condemned Taliban leader Mullah Omar for providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Within a few months, Jamiat Khuddamul Koran disappeared off the scene and Abdul Hakim turned up in Kabul, the Afghan capital, where he became loyal to President Hamid Karzai. Most of the other members of the group joined the Taliban in the fight against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Feb 3, 2010)

 
 



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