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
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 drone attacks and the intelligence-gathering are a part of the US's "track
two" approach that also includes an increasing military presence inside
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
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
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
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[email protected]