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March 27, 2008
US Steps up Drone Attacks in Pakistan
Fearing the new Pakistani government will severely curtail US military activities on the border with Afghanistan where Predator drones have attacked several targets within Pakistan recently, the military has stepped up the number of Predator missions:
Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives. The moves followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban, the officials said. The insertion of Special Forces into Pakistan even in limited numbers is a non-starter. And given the current coolness of the Pakistani government toward the US, it is unlikely that these drone attacks will continue much longer either.
About 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters have been killed in the attacks, all near the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The goal was partly to jar loose information on senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, by forcing them to move in ways that U.S. intelligence analysts can detect. Local sources are providing better information to guide the strikes, the officials said.
A senior U.S. official called it a "shake the tree" strategy. It has not been without controversy, others said. Some military officers have privately cautioned that airstrikes alone -- without more U.S. special forces soldiers on the ground in the region -- are unlikely to net the top al-Qaeda leaders.
"We have always said that as for strikes, that is for Pakistani forces to do and for the Pakistani government to decide. . . . We do not envision a situation in which foreigners will enter Pakistan and chase targets," said Farhatullah Babar, a top spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party, whose leader, Yousaf Raza Gillani, is the new prime minister. "This war on terror is our war." Just how will the new Pakistani governmetn fight their war?
Leaders of Gillani's party say they are interested in starting talks with local Taliban leaders and giving a political voice to the millions who live in Pakistan's tribal areas. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher heard the message directly yesterday from tribal elders in the village of Landi Kotal in the Khyber area. Pakistan is about to throw Afghanistan to the Taliban dogs. Any agreement reached with the Taliban will almost certainly include a pullback of Pakistani troops from the border areas - an open invitation for more and more Taliban fighters to pour across the border and destablize the Afghan government.
"We told the visiting U.S. guests that the traditional jirga [tribal decision-making] system should be made effective to eliminate the causes of militancy and other problems from the tribal areas," said Malik Darya Khan, an elder. "We also told them that we have some disgruntled brothers" -- an indirect reference to local Taliban and militants -- who should be pulled into the mainstream through negotiations and dialogue, he said.
There are many in Pakistan who wish to re-assert Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan. And the best way to do this is to thumb their nose at the Americans while giving the Taliban - a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service - free reign in Afghanistan.
The future is very cloudy for Afghanistan at the moment.