WASHINGTON: Even as C.I.A. drone aircraft pound Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region, there is growing concern among American military and intelligence officials about different militants’ havens in Pakistan that they fear could thwart American military efforts in Afghanistan this year.
The Taliban operations in Quetta are different from operations in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan that have until now been the main setting for American unease. But as the United States prepares to pour as many as 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, military and intelligence officials say the effort could be futile unless there is a concerted effort to kill or capture Taliban leaders in Quetta and cut the group’s supply lines into Afghanistan.
From Quetta, Taliban leaders including Mullah Muhammad Omar raise money from wealthy Persian Gulf donors and deliver guns and fresh fighters to the battlefield, according to Obama administration and military officials.
“When their leadership is where you cannot get to them, it becomes difficult,” said Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who until June was the senior American commander in Afghanistan and recently retired. “You are restrained from doing what you want to do.”
American and other Western officials have long said they suspect that Pakistani security services do little to address the presence of senior Taliban commanders in Quetta. Many of the officials would speak only on condition of anonymity because of the delicate intelligence and diplomatic issues involved.
One former intelligence official with years of experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan likened the situation to America’s difficulties during the Vietnam War, when Vietnamese guerrillas used a haven in Cambodia to bring in fresh troops and weapons.
“Pakistan will act against any individuals involved with Al Qaeda or the Taliban about whom we have actionable intelligence.The problem is we do not always get actionable intelligence in Quetta in particular. It’s a very messy area.”
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview.
Some current and former American intelligence officials are sympathetic to difficulties that the government in Islamabad faces in rounding up Taliban leaders. Baluchistan has long been an area hostile to government control, and even Pakistani spies have difficulty building a network of sources there, they said.
That may be true, intelligence analysts say, but few disagree that weakening the Taliban leadership in Pakistan, coupled with achieving battlefield gains with the larger American-led force on the ground in southern Afghanistan, could begin to reverse the adverse momentum in the war.
Mullah Rahim, the Taliban’s top commander in Helmand Province, was arrested in Quetta last summer two weeks after Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a top C.I.A. officer visited Islamabad to confront Pakistani leaders with evidence of ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But an American intelligence official said last week that Mullah Rahim was no longer in custody.
“The dilemma at the moment,” said Seth Jones, a terrorism analyst at the RAND Corporation, “is that some elements of the Pakistani government continue to support the Taliban as a proxy organization in Afghanistan.”-SANA