INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO. 621
The well-publicised arrests by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the supposed No.2 of the Afghan Taliban, and two other senior Taliban leaders Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mohammad Mir have not had any impact on the morale of the Afghan Taliban fighters confronting the 15.000---strong US led NATO cum Afghan National Army troops, which launched an offensive on February 13,2010, to wrest control over the Marjah area of the southern Helmand province from the Afghan Taliban.
2. While it has been confirmed that Mulla Baradar was captured in Karachi on the basis of intelligence collected by the US agencies, it is not yet clear where the other Afghan Taliban leaders were captured. According to some reports, Mulla Salam was captured from Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab, while Mulla Mir was captured in Balochistan. Acording to some other reports , both were captured in the madrasa at Akora Khattak, near Peshawar, run by Maulana Samiul Haq, the Amir of one of the factions of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam Pakistan.
3. There have been some other arrests of middle-level office-bearers of the Afghan Taliban in Karachi. These arrests have been projected by many American analysts, including Bruce Riedel, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as a possible game-changer and indicator of a welcome Pakistani decision to co-operate sincerely with the US against the Afghan Taliban.
4. These projections have not been borne out by reports from well-informed police sources in Karachi, which describe these arrests as a manoeuvre by the ISI to discard the well-identified leaders of the Afghan Taliban and usher in a new leadership consisting of well-motivated and well-trained recruits of recent vintage, who have not yet come to the notice of the US agencies.
5. They say that the leaders arrested since January-end in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan no longer constituted the command and control of the Afghan Taliban and that is why their arrests have not yet had any impact on the operations of the Afghan Taliban on the ground----either in the Helmand province or elsewhere. They say that the Taliban forces presently resisting the US-led offensive in the Helmand province are led by a new crop of leaders devoted to Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Afghan Taliban, but capable of operating independently without the need for directions from a central command and control.
6. The Taliban forces in the Helmand province have been following the same tactics as the Taliban had followed in the past and as Al Qaeda had followed in Tora Bora. This tactics consists of the bulk of the forces withdrawing from the battle zone into Pakistan or dispersing to their native villages, while a smaller number stayed put in the battle zone to inflict casualties and equipment damage to the advancing US-led troops and make their “victory” pyrrhic.
7.Though it is now a week since the battle started, the advance made by the US-led forces has been expectedly slow. This is partly due to the large planting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines by the Taliban along the expected route of advance of the US-led troops and partly due to the resistance to the advance put up by the Taliban forces still in the battle zone.
8. During the first week of the fighting, 11 NATO troops and one Afghan soldier have been killed in the operation, according to the International Security Assistance Force. The Afghan authorities have claimed that at least 40 Taliban fighters were killed in and around Marjah.
9.The repeated allegations by the NATO forces that the Taliban has been using civilians as “human shields” in order to slow down the NATO advance speak of the difficulties faced by the NATO forces. Major-General Nick Carter, of the British Army, has been quoted as saying: "I guess it will take us another 25 to 30 days to be entirely sure that we have secured that which needs to be secured and we will probably won't know for about 120 days whether or not the population is entirely convinced by the degree of commitment that their Government is showing to them. So I guess looking downstream, in three months time or thereabouts we should have a pretty fair idea of about whether we have been successful. "
10. In their media briefings, US spin-masters have been projecting the entire operation as carried out on the orders and under the political leadership of President Hamid Karzai, who is being projected as being in the driving seat of the operation. In a report carried on February 19,2010,the “Wall Street Journal” described how Gen.Stanley McChrystal , the US Commander, obtained the approval of President Hamid Karzai before launching the operation. It reported: “Gen. McChrystal said: "Mr. President, tonight is the night the operation needs to happen. I need your permission to go." Mr. Karzai paused, remarked that it was first time anyone had ever asked him to make such a decision, and gave his assent.”
11.Mr.Karzai apparently did not suspect that the Americans wanted to show him as being in the driving seat so that they could blame him tomorrow if the operation failed. A victory in the operation will be Mr.Obama’s, but a defeat will be Mr.Karzai’s. (21-2-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )