Monday, February 4, 2008

Insurgencies are becoming entrenched along Afghan-Pakistan border

Radical Islamic fundamentalist militants are bolstering their numbers and expanding their scope of influence in the forbidding terrain of the lawless tribal areas that flank the border on both sides.

From here, they traffic in disarray, violence and chaos over a vast area of both countries. This is the area that the remnants of al Qaeda fled to when they were allowed to escape at Tora Bora. Here they have found fertile soil and they have set about the business of regrouping, recruiting and resurging. The violence and bloodshed are spreading from the border areas to the Pakistani heartland and threatens to destabilize the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan - governments which have allied themselves with the United States and the western allies in those volatile countries.

From McClatchy:

In Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces are facing "a classic growing insurgency," Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.

But the U.S. military, stretched thin by the war in Iraq, is hard-pressed to send more than the 3,200 additional Marines the Bush administration is dispatching to Afghanistan. The growing insurgency there is fueling rifts within the NATO alliance as Germany and other nations refuse to allow their troops to participate in offensive operations in Afghanistan. The Afghan army is making progress but still cannot operate independently.

"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," warned an Atlantic Council of the United States report last week. The report was directed by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, the former top NATO commander. "What is happening in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater strategic long-term consequences than the struggle in Iraq." (emphasis added)

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The Pakistani army is ill-suited to confront a home-grown insurgency in the tribal areas - it is geared toward fighting a conventional land-war against India. To date the Pakistanis have avoided the George Bush modus operandi of "when the only tool you have is a hammer..." and avoided sending forces to battle the insurgency (using them to chase down al Qaeda has been volatile enough). The military leaders are reluctant to turn their guns on the insurgents because they fear that heavy casualties would prompt schisms within the military along ethnic and sectarian lines and that would destroy the Pakistani armed forces.

All the U.S. and the NATO allies can do is train a few Pakistani troops because U.S. military action would spark outrage among the populace, already on the verge of boiling over with anti-U.S. and anti-government fueled outrage.

But it gets better - the threat of terrorists trained and indoctrinated in the tribal areas directed at Afghan, Pakistani and even western targets is greater than it has ever been.

"The Taliban in Afghanistan now control more of the country than at any time since 2001, and their confederates in the tribal areas of Pakistan are expanding their operations almost day by day. While our attention has been diverted by Iraq, we've overlooked a potentially far more serious threat to the security of all Americans," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., told McClatchy.

There's no hard evidence of direct collusion between the Afghan Taliban and a new Pakistani Taliban alliance, both of which are made up mostly of Pashtun tribesmen, who dominate the region of soaring mountains and rugged deserts that span the frontier. Indeed, the Afghan Taliban deny links with the Pakistani insurgents.

But the ties among the Pashtuns are personal, historic, ethnic and ideological, and experts worry that the region faces a growing jihadi movement that's aided by al Qaida with Arab and Central Asian fighters, coordination, money and motivation.

"You see some indication that there is a blurring of the lines and some associations that are not helpful," said a senior U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Husain Haqqani, a political scientist and former aide to the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said that the group "have become a seamless whole." The common thread that unites them all is that the groups calling themselves "Taliban" on either side of the border are descended from the Mujahadeen, the Islamic guerrillas that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979-89. Back then, they were the standard-bearers for the west and they battled the Soviets with arms that were supplied by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Britain and flowed through Pakistan.

One point enjoys widespread support: The Bush administration bears much of the blame for the current FUBAR security situation in the least stable nuclear nation on earth.

First, in Bush's idiotic invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan was left to twist in the wind after the focus changed and left that poor, beleaguered nation unsecured after the 2001 invasion. Then the Bush administration turned the screws on Pervez Musharraf to send troops into the tribal areas to hunt down al Qaeda operatives who had escaped there from Tora Bora. The presence of these troops outraged the tribes, and cemented opposition with heavy-handed tactics and high civilian casualties. While this was going on, little heed was paid to the Taliban, and their support among a pissed-off populace took root. Growth in support exploded after Musharraf ordered a strike against The Red Mosque last summer. That raid killed scores of people.

The Taliban Movement of Pakistan, which was only established in December of 2007, has already extended it's reach into all seven tribal agencies, as well as the North West Frontier Province.

Taliban-sponsored violence has shaken the provincial capital Peshawar to it's very foundation. It has killed hundreds of security forces personnel. Ammunition deliveries have been hijacked, major thoroughfares have been seized, and for the first time ever, a major city has been cut off from the rest of the country by militants.

Across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban has expanded the territory under their control and now moves around freely in spite of heavy combat losses last year with NATO troops. "The number of districts in which the Taliban operate exploded last year," said John McCreary, a former senior intelligence analyst with the Joint Chiefs of Staff who's now with the private contractor dNovus RDI. "This is the first year they have managed to sustain over 100 attacks per month for the whole year since they started to climb back. One hundred attacks per month used to be surge figure. Now it's the new norm."