Talk of Waziristan offensive picks up in Pakistan

October 2, 2009

According to Dawn newspaper, the Pakistan Army is poised to launch a major military operation in South Waziristan, stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.

It quotes senior military and security officials as saying that the army would launch what it called “the mother of all battles” in the coming days.

“If we don’t take the battle to them, they will bring the battle to us,” it quotes a senior military official as saying of the militants. “The epicentre of the behemoth called the Taliban lies in South Waziristan, and this is where we will be fighting the toughest of all battles.”

“For three months, the military has been drawing up plans, holding in-depth deliberations and carrying out studies on past expeditions to make what seems to be the last grand stand against Pakistani Taliban in the Mehsud heartland a success,” it says.

“We are ready. The environment is ready,” it quotes the senior officer as saying. “It will not be a walkover. This is going to be casualty-intensive hard fighting. The nation will have to bear the pain,” said another officer.

The Pakistan Army is not saying anything in public, and information about its operations in Waziristan is hard to come by since the area is so remote and inaccessible.

But any ground offensive into South Waziristan would be a major escalation in the Pakistan Army’s battle against the Pakistani Taliban, dwarfing its operation earlier this year to clear militants out of the Swat valley northwest of Islamabad.

The army has been reluctant to send ground troops into South Waziristan, instead aiming to seal off the area and rely on airstrikes to target militants. But talk of a possible ground offensive has risen after two bomb attacks last weekend raised fears the Pakistani Taliban were recovering from the death of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile strike in August.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told me earlier this week that Pakistan was considering whether it needed to launch a full-scale military operation against the Pakistani Taliban, who he described as “the front face of al Qaeda”.

And according to Dawn, “Thousands of army soldiers – two divisions – are now sitting on the fringes of the Mehsud mainland waiting for orders from the high command to move in.”

South Waziristan is believed to be heavily defended; it is larger than Swat and more inaccessible. Its people have always been hostile to outsiders, unlike Swat which was once a tourist paradise before it was overrun by Taliban militants. So any ground offensive would likely cause heavy casualties.

The general view has also been that the army has been running out of time to launch a ground offensive before the winter snows make operations extremely hard and would defer any big moves until the spring. That could still be the case, if it judges that a combination of air attacks and missile strikes by U.S. drones – the latest reported casualty from these was Uzbek militant leader Tahir Yuldashev – is enough to keep the militants at bay and stop them from bombing Pakistani cities.

But Malik said Pakistan could even launch an operation in winter if needs be. “Even in the winter, even before starting winter … if we feel appropriate that this operation is unavoidable, yes, we will consider that,” he said.

The Pakistan Army has years of experience of fighting in winter conditions – along with the Indian Army it became a world expert in high-altitude warfare in the conflict over the Siachen region which erupted in 1984, and it also has troops posted in the mountains along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir – although there has been a ceasefire there since 2003.

So it is not out of the question for the Pakistan Army to launch an offensive that drags into the winter. According to the Dawn report, temperatures in Waziristan can drop to 20 degrees below freezing, with snow setting in towards the end of November — fairly brutal conditions for an offensive, but less hostile in terms of weather than it has had to deal with in Siachen over the years.  And Dawn quotes military strategists as saying the weather problem would hit the militants more than the troops, although the former would have the advantage of knowing their terrain.

In its battle against Islamist militants, Pakistan has concentrated on tackling the Pakistani Taliban, which threaten the country directly. That has annoyed the United States, which wants Pakistan to move as well against militants fighting western troops in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban which it says are based in Quetta, in Baluchistan province. India is pressing for action against militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group it blames for last year’s attack on Mumbai.

But for now, attention within Pakistan seems to be turning to Waziristan for what could turn out to be the toughest military campaign in the whole of the Afghanistan and Pakistan theatre.

(File photos:Pakistani soldier in Swat; Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani with U.S. General David Petraeus; Taliban fighters; author in Siachen)

Comments

Pak-is-tan … Can someone tell me the meaning of the name ??Someone tells me it means .. The Land Of The PURE ??Is this true ??I pray for this once beautiful country with its beautiful people which has sold its soul to the devil..Shafkat

Posted by Shafkat | Report as abusive
 

Keith you said:”Claiming credit for securing their own country is a bit like a parent who wants a reward for raising their own child. It’s something you have to do, not something that’s optional that you deserve a reward for.Yet, the moment you start talking to any Pak official about the groups that really bother us in Afghanistan, they either a) change the subject or b) launch into long polemics about how its a complicated situation and the terrain is difficult, and Pakistan’s interest have to be preserved, blah blah blah. “–>Thank you first of all for giving sobering doses of reality on these blogs, you always have a direct and clear, rationale for all of your statements and arguements.Next, you hear certain bloggers saying how many soldiers they have sacrificed, well that is good that they are finally challenging militantism, or at least appearing to, time will tell. My respects to the soldiers and their families, but this Fungus and Mold of militantism was enabled and allowed to grow by the Pakistan Army and ISI itself, as they sat by idly and complacently, even hoping to weaponize the Jihadi’s for the own means in Afghan and against India, the same Fungus and Mold has started challenging the Pak Army itself.If Pakistani’s are upset about their soldiers dying, they should be, but their anger should be directed at the Pak Army and ISI establishment itself.Pak Army’s love affair with Islamist Militantism must come to a conclusive end. The world also expects it to finish and destroy all strategic proxy army assets and their training camps, supported, morally or otherwise by the State of Pakistan to wage Jihad on India over the lame Kashmir excuse. I find it hard to believe that Pakistan wastes away more than half its GDP, just to save Indian Kashmiri’s. It is to line the pockets of the Punjabi Army and propagate their business model to keep their own employability and profile high, to suit their political propaganda requirements. Kashmir will fix itself, once Pakistan stops fueling terrorism on India. In the mean time, Obama should cut the U.S. Military loose onto Pakistan and let them go strong arm Pakistan, as necessary to get the job done, in a conclusive manner.These Islamist people are uneducated idle vacant miscreants, drunk on needing a mission in life. Pakistan is in dire need of education, capitalism and democracy to civilize its population, while the U.S. will civilize the Pak military.In the mean time, the U.S. troop surge is slated at around 40,000 troops. It should be much more, it should be around 200,000 troops, Afghanistan.

Posted by GW | Report as abusive
 

Shafkat, you said:”I pray for this once beautiful country with its beautiful people which has sold its soul to the devil..”–>You may be right, but avg Pakistani’s choose to keep on seeing India as some sort of green horned devil, hellbent on destroying Pakistan. This absolutely false, incorrect and total propaganda thrust on Pakistani’s so that the Army can get their political support to justify their military budgets, existence and business model.The people of Pakistan have been lied to by the masters of Pakistan, the Army and ISI and to some extent the Saudi’s who are fueling Wahhabism.We have a saying in Hinduism, when you see evil in other people, it is actually evil that you are project onto others, which is originating from your own mind and own heart.The only way to cut the chain from the devil, is people need to start thinking more positively and quit this blind hatred against India, Kaffirs, Israel and non-muslims alike. All peoples are human beings FIRST, before they are christians, muslims or hindus.The actual devil is within all of us, when we devalue human life, constantly or have been told to devalue other humans who are not as good as us, because they practice a different belief, we become the hands of the devil, when we devalue the human life of other peoples, nations and cultures. With respect to Pakistan, avg Pakistani’s some of them willfully choose to be hands of the devil, perhaps without knowing it, and a misplaced sense of nationality and misplaced sense of religious mission.When you project negativity towards others, like the militants and some Pakistani’s do, they will always suffer at the hands of their own doing and always fall on their own knife and never end this vicious cycle of hatred that keeps one drunk on venom and unwilling to accept blame for oneself and responsibility, that is the true evil.Pakistan as a culture, has to break free from the mental shackles of the daily propaganda, that is keeping them from seeing the truth. Until they choose to break that cycle, the collective thoughts and actions of Pakistani citizens will determine their future and the kind of life that they are going to have.

Posted by GW | Report as abusive
 

Myra,Let me respond to your question about the likely conduct of the operation in Waziristan by the Pakistani Army.1. Taliban Strategy. This operation is not against a dug-in army or a linear defence. Taliban will be staging ambushes on the advancing troops while bringing them on to a system of strong points defence. Their aim is to inflict as much damage as possible on the troops and then break the cordon and dissolve into the surrounding sanctuaries. As long as they escape in good numbers they can claim victory. The consequences for Pakistan of this will be serious, though not disastrous.2.Pakistan Army Strategy. Scenario A. Going in without substantial help from Lashkars.Pakistani Artillery, supported by the Air Force are going to unleash murderous bombardment and shelling on the strong points inficting heavy casualties. Then the Infantry operating as the vanguard, supported by tanks (wherever possible) and gunship helicopters is going to swiftly overrun the strong points(6 to 8). Cleansing of secondary objectives will be taken up by a composite force of Frontier Corps and whatever Lashkar that they could muster (7,000-10,000). This operation will result in a higher number of casualties but chances of this succeeding are good.Scenario B. Going in with a big Lashkar (15,000-20,000).The pulverising phase will be the same as Scenario A. but the Army will only go for the bigger pockets (4 to 5)and have the reserve troops alongwith the Lashkars for doing a thorough mopping up and enforcing a mobile cordon around the Taliban. This scenario will enable the army to capture a lot of Taliban. Chances of success: good to excellent with fewer casualties.Most important aspect is the participation of the National Lashkar.Use of drones will be crucial to take out the leadership.Operation will probably be over in a week.

Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui | Report as abusive
 

Myra,I missed an important part of your question – about the impact of Waziristan operation on Afghanistan.Well, even the imminency of this operation alone is having a salutary effect on Pak-Afghan-NATO alliance.This operation will be a major disruption for the Pakistani Taliban in their role as a conduit of support for the Afghan Taliban. This will also foster deeper trust among the Allies. This operation will also prove that Pakistan is not only thinking of its own national interest but also that of its friendly neighbour, Afghanistan. A major success in Waziristan will decimate the taliban numbers and they will learn to their detriment that a determined modern military force will eventually prevail against their ill founded insurgency.

Posted by Mansoor Siddiqui | Report as abusive
 

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