Jun 06 2009
The years of determination and diligence in the war against terror may be paying off soon. The Obama administration is beefing up forces in Afghanistan and tightening the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas where al Qaeda has its last large sanctuary.
In addition, the Pakistan Army is pushing northward and westward, clearing the NWFP’s Swat region and clearing out agencies in the FATA region (click map above to enlarge). All indications are al Qaeda’s sanctuary is now been shrunken down to the Northern and Southern Waziristan Agencies – next on the Pakistan Army’s target list.
Finally, the Obama administration has continued the targeting of al Qaeda and Taliban enclaves by US Predator drones, and that has pushed al Qaeda onto their heels according to recent reports:
Drone-launched U.S. missile attacks andÂ Pakistan’sÂ ongoing military offensive in and around the Swat Valley have unsettled al-Qaeda and undermined its relative invulnerability in Pakistani mountain sanctuaries, U.S. military and intelligence officials say.
The dual disruption offers potential new opportunities to ferret out and target the extremists, and it has sparked a new sense of possibility amid a generally pessimistic outlook for the conflict inAfghanistanÂ and Pakistan. Although al-Qaeda remains “a serious, potent threat,” a U.S. counterterrorism official said, “they’ve suffered some serious losses and seem to be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety — and that’s not a bad thing at all.”
Zarate, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, points to three things that show the space where bin Laden can move freely is shrinking.
First is the Pakistan army’s offensive against the Taliban in Swat Valley and other areas.
It’s too soon to tell how that operation will play out, but Zarate says Pakistan’s policy could serve as a “dual anvil along with U.S. activities from the Afghan side, to actually pressure al-Qaida, make them feel uncomfortable and perhaps make the senior leadership make mistakes.”
The second element shrinking bin Laden’s possible location is the 21,000 additional U.S. troops pouring into Afghanistan. And Zarate points to a third factor: drones.
The result of all this pressure is to make the rats move from their hiding places. As we learned with Saddam Hussein, it can take a lot to find one person hiding in a hole in the ground somewhere. And we also still see signs of a local backlash against the Islamo Fascists, as this WSJ article notes:
Â When the Taliban began filtering into Gul Khan Mehsud’s town along the Afghan border nine years ago, residents offered food, shelter and ammunition.
“How could we turn them away? The Americans were killing them. We wanted them to fight,” says the 38-year-old from South Waziristan, one of the tribal regions that border Afghanistan and arguably the Taliban’s most important stronghold in Pakistan. “We thought the Taliban would help us.”
Instead, Mr. Mehsud was forced from his home in South Waziristan earlier this year after the Pakistan Taliban, which grew out of the militants who fled the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, accused one of his cousins of helping the U.S. plot missile strikes from drone aircraft.
With Pakistan on the brink of taking its anti-militant campaign to the tribal areas on the restive border with Afghanistan, civilian and military leaders in Islamabad are banking on growing anger with the Pakistan Taliban among tribesmen such as Mr. Mehsud, whose Pashtun ethnic group straddles the frontier and lives in the core of the insurgency in both countries.
Popular support for the insurgents has undermined years of attempts to subdue the border areas, where the Taliban hold sway and al Qaeda operates openly. Residents who have fled report an intensifying reign of terror. The region is largely off limits to outsiders — foreigners and Pakistanis alike — and there are signs of growing disgust with the Taliban’s hard-line tactics.
I get the feeling this summer may be a good one in the war on terror. If so Presidents Bush and Obama will get the credit for making sure we finished the job against al Qaeda and its ilk.