WASHINGTON: US military officials racing to make progress in Afghanistan are pressing new tactics to cut off the flow of Taliban fighters and bomb-making materials from Pakistan into key battlefields of the south, with some even advocating cross-border attacks, according to several U.S. civilian and military officials.
Two senior officers from the staff of Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. general who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan, are scheduled to meet with Pakistani counterparts this week, a senior NATO official said. The meeting is aimed, in part, at presenting intelligence about Taliban operations in Baluchistan, a Pakistan province along Afghanistan’s southern border.
The focus on southern Afghanistan is a response to the difficulties the U.S. has encountered this year in Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province, where the U.S. has sent tens of thousands of additional troops.
Offensives in the region, the heartland of the Taliban movement, have struggled to clear guerrilla fighters who melt into the local population. U.S. and Afghan officials have in many areas not been able to establish stable government and improve services, priorities in the effort to win the hearts and minds of Afghan civilians.
Petraeus is facing a deadline from the White House to show progress in the war by next July, and officials said he is pushing the Pakistani military to confront the Taliban.
“We’re going to take this fight to the edge,” one official said. “We’re not going to back off from the fight.”
Long a Taliban stronghold, Kandahar and parts of Helmand have remained violent partly because of the ongoing infiltration of fighters over the border. The Taliban leadership fled across the border into the Baluchistan capital, Quetta, after the U.S. invasion of 2001, and some members are believed to be directing the insurgency from there.
Maj. Gens. Mike Flynn and William Mayville plan to share U.S. intelligence about Taliban efforts to recruit fighters in refugee camps in Pakistan and locations where it loads ammonium nitrate, a key chemical in homemade bombs, to be smuggled over the border crossings, officials said.
The goal, U.S. officials said, is to persuade the Pakistani military to crack down on these activities.
Some steps to secure Kandahar are already under way, including the use of reconnaissance drones along the border to increase surveillance of smuggling routes and efforts to crack down on corruption. Officials say they are improving training and pay for Afghan border guards and installing screening devices along the frontier to examine shipments.
The majority of U.S. casualties this year have been in the south. A total of 575 U.S. and allied troops have been killed so far this year, according to the website icasualties.org.
U.S. officials say they have begun to see a reduction in homemade bombs in southern Afghanistan, a sign that their efforts may be working.
But other U.S. military officials say that stability in southern Afghanistan is impossible as long as the Taliban can operate with relative freedom in Baluchistan. Some U.S. military personnel involved in the debate are skeptical that even high-level U.S. pressure on Pakistan will produce results.
Some U.S. officials say Islamabad has refused to take decisive action against the Taliban’s leadership. For that reason, they argue, unilateral U.S. operations in Baluchistan should be considered, including airstrikes or secret raids by special forces.-SANA