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Taliban Using Pakistan Sanctuary To Attack Afghanistan

by @ 7:49 am on September 24, 2009. Filed under Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Foreign Affairs, Pakistan, War On Terror


Today’s New York Times provides further evidence that merely concentrating on Afghanistan isn’t going to work:

WASHINGTON — Senior Taliban leaders, showing a surprising level of sophistication and organization, are using their sanctuary in Pakistan to stoke a widening campaign of violence in northern and western Afghanistan, senior American military and intelligence officials say.

The Taliban’s expansion into parts of Afghanistan that it once had little influence over comes as the Obama administration is struggling to settle on a new military strategy for Afghanistan, and as the White House renews its efforts to get Pakistan’s government to be more aggressive about killing or capturing Taliban leaders inside Pakistan.

American military and intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Taliban’s leadership council, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar and operating around the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, was directly responsible for a wave of violence in once relatively placid parts of northern and western Afghanistan. A recent string of attacks killed troops from Italy and Germany, pivotal American allies that are facing strong opposition to the Afghan war at home.

These assessments echo a recent report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, in portraying the Taliban as an increasingly sophisticated shadow government that sees itself on the cusp of victory in the war-ravaged nation.

General McChrystal’s report describes how Mullah Omar’s insurgency has appointed shadow governors in most provinces of Afghanistan, levies taxes, establishes Islamic courts there and conducts a formal review of its military campaign each winter.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.

It’s hard to understand how we’re ever going to win in Afghanistan if the principal enemy — the Taliban and al Qaeda — are able to operate with impunity from the sanctuary of northern Pakistan with the apparent assistance of elements of Pakistan intelligence service. If we’re not allowed to cross the border to go after them, and currently we’re not, then they are free to organize and recruit and to cross the border to relative safety to fight again another day.

We faced a similar problem during the Vietnam War when the VietCong took sanctuary in cross-border bases in Laos and Cambodia. Our response at the time, or at least after Richard Nixon became President, was to undertake a largely secret bombing campaign against VietCong bases in both countries. The attacks themselves, though, have largely been deemed to have been a failure in that they failed to substantially stop North Vietnamese offensives. They also led, indirectly, to the Cambodian Civil War, and provided a substantial boost to the anti-war movement at home.

Of course, Pakistan is neither Cambodia nor Laos and an attack on it’s territory, without permission, is likely to lead to some huge diplomatic problems, not to mention the fact that it could potentially serve to destabilize an already fragile government and place control of 60-odd nuclear weapons in the hands of people not necessarily sympathetic with American aims in the War on Terror.

So, basically, we’re left with a host of unpalatable, potentially unworkable, options here and I’m honestly not sure which one is the best.

One Response to “Taliban Using Pakistan Sanctuary To Attack Afghanistan”

  1. Let's Be Free says:

    Agree with your Viet Nam analogies and analysis and am just as befuddled.

    In this case the least worse option could be to have the Taliban in Afghanistan instead of Pakistan because we can raid and descend on Afghanistan when needed with relative impunity and free of complication, whereas destabilizing a nuclear power has profound implications.

    So I ask is backing out of Afghanistan, strategically the best way to go?

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