Pakistan Objects to U.S. Plan for Afghan War
NYT: ISLAMABAD,Â PakistanÂ â€” Pakistan is objecting to expanded American combat operations in neighboringÂ Afghanistan, creating new fissures in the alliance with Washington at a critical juncture when thousands of new American forces are arriving in the region.
If Afghan president Hamid Karzai is re-elected in next month’s presidential vote, he will forge a “new agreement” with NATO-led international forces in the country, Karzai told a campaign gathering on Friday. The accord would stop international troops arresting Afghans or searching their homes, he said. He also said he would intensify the reconciliation process with the Taliban during a second term of office. Â AKI
- But surely, we are winning, no?
The Taliban’s power in Pakistan continues to grow and it now has entire towns under its control. Under US pressure, the Pakistani army is fighting the Islamists — with limited success. Pakistani intelligence says the Americans are doing more harm than good.Â Spiegel
Pakistani officials have told the Obama administration that theÂ Marinesfighting theÂ TalibanÂ in southern Afghanistan will force militants across the border into Pakistan, with the potential to further inflame thetroubled province of Baluchistan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
Pakistan does not have enough troops to deploy to Baluchistan to take on the Taliban without denuding its border with its archenemy, India, the officials said. Dialogue with the Taliban, not more fighting, is in Pakistan’s national interest, they said.
- Our first enemy are the Taliban, our second enemy is the Army
- Toppling the Taliban: a not-so-simple plan
- Pakistan’s ‘Mock War’ On Taliban
The Pakistani account made clear that even as the United States recommits troops and other resources to take on a growing Taliban threat, Pakistani officials still consider India their top priority and the Taliban militants a problem that can be negotiated. In the long term, the Taliban in Afghanistan may even remain potential allies for Pakistan, as they were in the past, once the United States leaves.
The Pakistani officials gave views starkly different from those of American officials regarding the threat presented by top Taliban commanders, some of whom the Americans say have long taken refuge on the Pakistani side of the border.
Recent Pakistani military operations against Taliban in the Swat Valley and parts of the tribal areas have done little to close the gap in perceptions.
Even as Obama administration officials praise the operations, they express frustration that Pakistan is failing to act against the full array of Islamic militants using the country as a base.
Instead, they say, Pakistani authorities have chosen to fight Pakistani Taliban who threaten their government, while ignoring Taliban and other militants fighting Americans in Afghanistan or terrorizing India.
Such tensions have mounted despite a steady rotation of American officials through the region. They were on display last weekend when, during a visit to India, Secretary of StateHillary Rodham ClintonÂ said those who had planned the Sept. 11 attacks were now sheltering in Pakistan. TheÂ Pakistani Foreign MinistryÂ issued an immediate rebuttal.
Pakistan’s critical assessment was provided as the Obama administration’s special envoy for the region,Â Richard C. Holbrooke, arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday night.
The country’s perspective was given in a nearly two-hour briefing on Friday for The New York Times by senior analysts and officials of Pakistan’s main spy service, the Directorate forÂ Inter-Services Intelligence. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with the agency’s policy. The main themes of the briefing were echoed in conversations with several military officers over the past few days.
One of the first briefing slides read, in part: “The surge in Afghanistan will further reinforce the perception of a foreign occupation of Afghanistan. It will result in more civilian casualties; further alienate local population. Thus more local resistance to foreign troops.”
A major concern is that the American offensive may push Taliban militants over the border into Baluchistan, a province that borders Waziristan in the tribal areas. The Pakistani Army is already fighting a longstanding insurgency of Baluch separatists in the province.
A Taliban spillover would require Pakistan to put more troops there, a Pakistani intelligence official said, troops the country does not have now. Diverting troops from the border with India is out of the question, the official said.
A spokesman for the American andÂ NATOÂ commands in Afghanistan, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, said in an e-mail message on Monday that there was no significant movement of insurgents out of Afghanistan, and no indication of foreign fighters moving into Afghanistan through Baluchistan or Iran, another concern of the Pakistanis.
Pakistani and American officials also cited some positive signs for the alliance. Increased sharing of information has sharpened the accuracy of strikes against militant hide-outs by Pakistani F-16 warplanes and drones operated by theÂ Central Intelligence Agency. And Pakistani and American intelligence operatives are fighting together in dangerous missions to hunt down fighters from the Taliban andÂ Al QaedaÂ in the tribal areas and in the North-West Frontier Province.
But the intelligence briefing clearly illuminated the differences between the two countries over how, in the American view, Pakistan was still picking proxies and choosing enemies among various Islamic militant groups in Pakistan.
The United States maintains that the Afghan Taliban leader, MullahÂ Muhammad Omar, leads an inner circle of commanders who guide the war in southern Afghanistan fromtheir base in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.
American officials say this Taliban council, known as the Quetta shura, is sheltered by Pakistani authorities, who may yet want to employ the Taliban as future allies in Afghanistan.
In an interview last week, the new leader of American and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, paused when asked whether he was getting the cooperation he wanted from Pakistani forces in combating the Quetta shura. “What I would love is for the government of Pakistan to have the ability to completely eliminate the safe havens that the Afghan Taliban enjoy,” he said.
The Pakistani intelligence officials denied that Mullah Omar was even in Pakistan, insisting that he was in Afghanistan.
The United States asked Pakistan in recent years to round up 10 Taliban leaders in Quetta, the Pakistani officials said. Of those 10, 6 were killed by the Pakistanis, 2 were probably in Afghanistan, and the remaining 2 presented no threat to the Marines in Afghanistan, the officials said.
They also said no threat was posed byÂ Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader who American military commanders say operates with Pakistani protection out of North Waziristan and equips and trains Taliban fighters for Afghanistan.
Last year, WashingtonÂ presented evidenceÂ to Pakistani leaders that Mr. Haqqani, working with Inter-Services Intelligence, was responsible for the bombing last summer of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 54 people.
Pakistani officials insisted that Mr. Haqqani spent most of his time in Afghanistan, suggesting that the American complaints about him being provided sanctuary were invalid.
Another militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is also a source of deep disagreement.
The Pakistani officials said Mr. Saeed deserved to be freed because the government had failed to convince the courts that he should be kept in custody. There would be no effort to imprison Mr. Saeed again, in part because he was just an ideologue who did not have an anti-Pakistan agenda, the officials said.
Iraq Veterans Find Afghan Enemy Even Bolder
“If they had better weapons, we’d be in real trouble,”
NAWA, Afghanistan â€” In three combat tours in Anbar Province, Marine Sgt. Jacob Tambunga fought the deadliest insurgents in Iraq.
But he says he never encountered an enemy as tenacious as what he saw immediately after arriving at this outpost in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In his first days here in late June, he fought through three ambushes, each lasting as long as the most sustained fight he saw in Anbar.
Like other Anbar veterans here, Sergeant Tambunga was surprised to discover guerrillas who, if not as lethal, were bolder than those he fought in Iraq.
“They are two totally different worlds,” said Sergeant Tambunga, a squad leader in Company C, First Battalion, FifthÂ Marines.
“In Iraq, they’d hit you and run,” he said. “But these guys stick around and maneuver on you.”
They also have a keen sense of when to fight and when the odds against them are too great. Three weeks ago, the American military mounted a 4,000-man Marine offensive in Helmand â€”Â the largest sinceÂ President Obama’s troop increaseÂ â€” and so far in many places, American commanders say, they have encountered less resistance than expected.
Yet it is also clear to many Marines and villagers here thatÂ TalibanÂ fighters made a calculated decision: to retreat and regroup to fight where and when they choose. And in the view of troops here who fought intensely in the weeks before the offensive began, fierce battles probably lie ahead if they are to clear the Taliban from sanctuaries so far untouched.
“It was straight luck that we didn’t have a lot more guys hit,” said Sgt. Brandon Tritle, another squad leader in Company C, who cited the Taliban’s skill at laying down a base of fire to mount an attack.
“One force will put enough fire down so you have to keep your heads down, then another force will maneuver around to your side to try to kill you,” he said. “That’s the same thing we do.”
In other parts of Helmand the Taliban have been quick to mount counterattacks. Since the offensive began, 10 Marines have been killed, many of them south of Garmser in areas thick with roadside bombs. In addition, British forces in Helmand, who often travel in lightly armored vehicles, have lost 19 men, all but two from bombs.
All told, Western troops have died in greater numbers in Helmand this month than in any other province in Afghanistan over a similar period since the 2001 invasion.
It is unclear whether the level of casualties will remain this high. But the Taliban can ill afford to lose the Helmand River Valley, a strip of land made arable by a network of canals that nourish the nation’s center for poppy growing.
“This is what fuels the insurgency,” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine brigade leading the offensive.
For now, the strategy of the Taliban who used to dominate this village, 15 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, is to watch and wait just outside, villagers and Marines here say.
“They all escaped,” said Sardar Gul, a shopkeeper at the Nawa bazaar. Mr. Gul and others who reopened stores after the Marines arrived estimate that 300 to 600 Taliban fled to Marjah, 15 miles to the west and not under American control, joining perhaps more than 1,000 fighters.
Marine commanders acknowledge that they could have focused more on cutting off escape routes early in the operation, an issue that often dogged offensives against insurgents in Iraq.
“I wish we had trapped a few more folks,” the commander of First Battalion, Fifth Marines,Â Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, told the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen.Â Stanley A. McChrystal, who visited Nawa. “I expected there to be more fighting.”
When the full battalion arrived in Nawa in early July, the Taliban “knew we were too powerful for them” and left, said Staff Sgt. Michael Placencia, a platoon sergeant in Company C.
But he predicted the Taliban would stand and fight if Marines were to assault Marjah, describing them as a “more efficient” foe than the insurgents he saw as a squad leader in Anbar in 2005 and 2006.
“They will come back, and they will try to take this back and pin us down,” said Maj. Rob Gallimore, a British officer who trains Afghan soldiers here. He hopes that the Marines do not spread themselves too thin and that they focus instead on building a deep bond with locals in places they occupy, a classic counterinsurgency tactic.
So Marines are bracing for a fight against guerrillas who, they discovered in June, are surprisingly proficient at tactics the Marines themselves learned in infantry school.
“They’d flank us, and we’d flank them, just like a chess match,” said Sgt. Jason Lynd, another squad leader in Company C.
In June the Marines ended up in sustained firefights the first four times they left their outpost. The Taliban were always overmatched â€” attacking the Marines with only one-third the number of men â€” but they pressed the fight, laying complex ambushes and then cutting off Marines as they made their way back to base.
One fight began after Marines stopped three vans, which they let go. Fifteen minutes later they took fire from two homes near where they had been pursuing a suspicious man they wanted to question. They cleared both buildings, but were then attacked by gunmen behind the homes, some of whom, the Marines believe, had been in the three vans, a few disguised in burqas.
Somehow, none of the Marines were hit in the secondary ambush. “They tried to suck us in, and their plan worked,” Sergeant Tritle said. “They just missed.”
No Marines were killed in the two weeks they were here in June.
In contrast to Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban do not seem to have access to large artillery shells and other powerful military munitions that Anbar fighters used to kill hundreds of Marines and soldiers. The bombs found so far have been largely homemade with fertilizer, though they have still killed more than 20 British soldiers and United States Marines to the north and south of Nawa.
“If they had better weapons, we’d be in real trouble,” said Lance Cpl. Vazgen Matevosyan.
What the Taliban lack in munitions they make up for in tactics, even practicing “information operations” and disinformation, Marines say. Knowing the Marines listen to their two-way communications, they say, the Taliban describe phony locations of ambushes and bombs.
“They’re not stupid,” said Lance Cpl. Frank Hegel. “You can tell they catch on to things, and they don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Taliban Attack Police Station
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) â€” Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests and armed with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the main police station in the southeastern city of Khost on Saturday, officials said. They set off gun battles that went on for hours and left 7 militants dead and 14 other people wounded.
Also on Saturday, a British soldier was killed by a roadside bomb during a patrol around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province.
Zemeri Bashary, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said all the attackers in Khost were killed, but the Defense Ministry later said that one attacker might have escaped.