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Despite death of Osama bin Laden, drone attacks continue to pound North Waziristan.
Meanwhile, the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network continue to conduct cross-border raids on troops in Afghanistan. In an irony lost on no one, the Haqqani Network uses guerrilla tactics that it learned from working with the United States during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union during the 1980s.
Mujahideen fighters, backed by the United States, used North Waziristan as their jumping off point for ambushes on Soviet troops fighting in Afghanistan — just as they do today against NATO troops. The fighters were led at the time by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a guerrilla commander and a former minister for border affairs in Afghanistan’s Taliban government. His son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, now leads the fighters.
Gen. Ahmed, who commanded Pakistan army operations in North and South Waziristan from 1980 to 1984, said that if the United States is going to be successful in Afghanistan, this tribal belt must be central to its war strategy.
“The Haqqani group has turned out to be the most established and organized armed group in the region because there has never before been any operation against them,” he said.
It’s the network’s ability to strike as far away as Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, that officials and analysts say is of greatest concern to the United States and its allies. U.S. officials blame the Haqqani Network for a series of attacks in Kabul that has shaken the nerves of the large foreign presence there.
It was the Haqqani Network that planned and an executed the suicide bombing that targeted a NATO convoy on May 18, 2010, which killed five U.S. soldiers and a Canadian soldier.
“Its ability to rock Kabul shows just how organized and well-equipped this group is,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a security analyst based in Peshawar, adding that even the Afghan Taliban rarely dares to attack the capital.
The Haqqani Network, of course, is not the only militant group that calls North Waziristan home. It operates alongside a group led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the largest Pakistani Taliban organization in the country.
Rivalries between these groups have occasionally led to violence. There's also the Afghan Taliban, which often flees to North Waziristan when it needs to regroup, foreign freelance insurgents from Central Asian states like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and elements of Pakistan’s own security forces. The region’s militant affiliations have become so complicated that few, if anyone, have figured out how to navigate them.
And, no one should forget, North Waziristan is home to the remains of Al Qaeda.
A debate about the future of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in the wake of the death of bin Laden, along with the soured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, has dominated headlines. But few have asked what will become of the drone attacks.
For now, they continue.
“Haqqani Network has not so far been involved in any major armed conflict either with the Pakistan army or opponent militant group, that is why its organization is very much intact,” Gen. Ahmed said.
“And that is a matter of great concern for the United States.”