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Why South Waziristan offensive won’t help U.S. in Afghanistan

Pakistan’s offensive into South Waziristan is targeting the terrorists who have wreaked havoc in Pakistan during recent weeks and not those attacking American troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s offensive into South Waziristan is targeting the terrorists who have wreaked havoc in Pakistan during recent weeks and not those attacking American troops in Afghanistan.

None of the three terror groups singled out as the greatest threat to American troops – according to the commander of US forces in Afghanistan – is based in South Waziristan.

This has been a notable feature of Pakistani antiterror efforts from 9/11 to today. The Army and its intelligence resources have focused their attention on terrorists seen to be a threat to the Pakistani state and done much less to curb those focusing on India or Afghanistan.

After 9/11, former Preisdent Pervez Musharraf turned over several top Al Qaeda leaders but refrained from cracking down on the Taliban. Now, one element of the Taliban, known as the Tehreek-i-Taliban, has turned against Pakistan, and the Pakistan Army is focusing on their stronghold in South Waziristan.

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The same was true earlier this year, when the Pakistani Army routed terrorists attacking Pakistan from the Swat Valley.

The Quetta Shura Taliban

The greatest threat to US forces in Afghanistan comes from the faction of the Taliban still loyal to supreme leader Mullah Omar, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top US general in Afghanistan.

Virtually all reports suggest that Omar is located in the Pakistani city of Quetta. In fact, the US is so sure that Omar is there – and is so frustrated by Pakistan’s unwillingness to do anything about it – that it strongly intimated it might expand drone attacks to Quetta, the Sunday Times reported last month.

Pakistan responded that Quetta was off-limits to US drones.

When a New York Times journalist traveled to Quetta in 2007 to report on potential links between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban, plainclothes intelligence officers broke into her hotel room, confiscated her computer, and punched her twice.

In his assessment of Afghanistan, McChrystal calls the wing of the Taliban commanded by Omar the Quetta Shura Taliban, and reports that it “has been working to control [the southern Afghan] city of Kandahar and its approaches for several years and there are indications that their influence over the city and neighboring districts is significant and growing.”

More broadly, it aims to return Afghanistan to Taliban rule.

The Haqqani Network

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The second greatest threat to US forces in Afghainstan is the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin. Reports place them in North Waziristan.

A State Department document connects the Haqaani network to an attack in Kabul’s only five-star hotel, the Serena, as well as to a failed assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai.

The US recently shifted the focus of its drone attacks to North Waziristan from South Waziristan. It had concentrated on South Waziristan throughout the summer – apparently in an attempt to placate the Pakistanis. The attacks in South Waziristan were successful, killing the leader of the Tehreek-i-Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud.

But the renewed focus on North Waziristan – even as Pakistan invades the South – “indicates the US is now targeting the dangerous Haqqani Network and also al Qaeda’s network, which operates in the agency,” according to The Long War Journal.

The Haqqani Network’s goal is “to regain eventually full control of its traditional base in [the three eastern Afghan provinces of] Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.”

Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin

Third on McChrystal’s list of Pakistan-based threats to troops in Afghanistan is the Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin network led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This group is believed to be responsible for the recent firefight in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province that left eight American soldiers dead.

It operates in parts of tribal Pakistan much farther north than South Waziristan. According to McChrystal, it “aims to negotiate a major role in a future Taliban government.”

The South Waziristan offensive is not irrelevant to American strategic interests. “Stability in Pakistan is essential, not just in its own right, but also to enable progress in Afghanistan,” McChrystal writes.

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But, in and of itself, it is unlikely to have any dramatic effect on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.