Wednesday, January 30, 2008

He Who Controls The High Ground

Asia Times - Another piece of the United States' regional jigsaw is in place with the completion of a military base in Afghanistan's Kunar province, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational.

The new US base is expected to serve as the center of clandestine special forces' operations in the border region. The George W Bush administration is itching to take more positive action - including inside Pakistan - against Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants increasingly active in the area and bolstering the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has officially rejected US proposals to expand the US presence in Pakistan, either through unilateral covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces, but this is not necessarily the end of the matter, especially as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates. According to reports, Mike McConnell, the director of US national intelligence, and CIA director General Michael Hayden visited Pakistan this month to meet with Musharraf.

A senior Pakistani security official explained to Asia Times Online, "American special forces have carried out clandestine operations in the past, and Pakistan was not informed. The Taliban and al-Qaeda also did not realize what was happening with the quick-as-a-wink hit-and-run operations in the tribal areas. Pakistani intelligence only knew of the operations after they happened. They included the killing of high-value Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders and high-value arrests," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"However, with the new Kunar base, American special forces will carry out extended operations, which means a limited war against Taliban and al-Qaeda assets in the tribal areas. These clandestine operations can be done with or without Pakistan's consent."

In response, the initial militant action is expected to be the relocation of its key leadership away from the immediate danger area. Efforts to disrupt the vital supply lines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)from Pakistan into Afghanistan will be stepped up. A further option is to increase terror operations inside Pakistan as a warning that the militants should be left alone.

The Taliban leadership is aware of the danger posed by the new American base. Several powerful attacks were mounted while it was under construction, but they only managed to cause delays.

The pressing problem is to find a new safe haven for the high profile al-Qaeda leadership. The area on both sides of the border - the Chitral - is characterized by inhospitable jungles and mazes of mountains and rivers, stretching from Noorestan and Kunar provinces in Afghanistan to the Bajaur Valley. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is known to have stayed in the area. It is now a question of finding a safer location for him - if he is still in the area - and his colleagues.

...Who's Going To Make Us Stop?

Twelve suspected militants were killed by a missile strike in Pakistan's troubled tribal belt, hours after gunmen held 300 children hostage at a nearby school, officials said Tuesday.

The missile hit a house late Monday in the North Waziristan tribal district, where thousands of Pakistani troops are battling Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked fighters.

Residents said the missile was fired by an unmanned drone aircraft, of a type often used by US forces in Afghanistan, that circled over the area before the attack.

"A missile came from an unknown direction on Monday night and hit the house, after which 12 people died," a local administration official told AFP.

Intelligence officials said the dead were pro-Taliban militants, but residents said they were tribesmen staying at the house of a local elder in Khushali Tari Khel, a village on the outskirts of the town of Mir Ali.

The Pakistani army was not immediately available for comment.

"The identities of the dead are not ascertained but we had reports that they were suspected of being linked to the Taliban," an intelligence official said.

It was not clear who fired the missile but several previous attacks in the area have been attributed to US-led coalition forces based in Afghanistan.