Pakistan — Military Official Discusses Pakistani Offensive

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2010 — Rough­ly 40,000 Pak­istani troops are con­duct­ing oper­a­tions against mil­i­tants in the country’s North Waziris­tan region near the Afghan bor­der, a senior U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cial said today.
Unlike a larg­er, “steam­roller” offen­sive last year that uproot­ed ene­my fight­ers in neigh­bor­ing South Waziris­tan, the cur­rent engage­ment com­pris­es small­er, piece­meal oper­a­tions, the offi­cial told Pen­ta­gon reporters on back­ground.

“We are see­ing quite a bit of activ­i­ty [in North Waziris­tan] that’s going on that sup­ports what Gen­er­al Kiyani’s been telling in some of the strate­gic dia­logues about his cam­paign plan,” the offi­cial said, refer­ring to Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, the Pak­istani army’s chief of staff.

Kiyani pledged in 2008 to step up offen­sive oper­a­tions against mil­i­tants with­in Pak­istan, start­ing in the north­ern area of Bajaur, work­ing through the fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered trib­al areas, the Swat Val­ley and the North­west­ern Fron­tier.

The offi­cial said Pak­istan “seems to be abid­ing by that kind of cam­paign plan to go and uproot the insur­gen­cies” in the areas where mil­i­tants have been entrenched.

“You’re see­ing a trend where they are try­ing to remove the areas that were once unap­proach­able,” the offi­cial said, not­ing that Kiyani announced that the recent Pak­istani mil­i­tary offen­sives marked the first any mil­i­tary had occu­pied South Waziris­tan.

The offi­cial char­ac­ter­ized the accom­plish­ments of the Pak­istan secu­ri­ty forces as “quite impres­sive.”

“To see the gains that they have made in this short time is a real tes­ta­ment to the resolve, the fight­ing spir­it and the lead­er­ship of Pakistan’s armed forces,” the offi­cial said.

About 200 U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel in Pak­istan are pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty assis­tance and train­ing to the Pak­istani mil­i­tary and to para­mil­i­tary oper­a­tives and mem­bers of the fron­tier corps. The offi­cial left open the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the num­ber of U.S. forces may increase if the U.S. deliv­ers mil­i­tary equip­ment to Pak­istan that requires spe­cial­ized train­ers.

“We stand ful­ly behind Pak­istan in its relent­less dri­ve to restore peace and secu­ri­ty in this region,” the offi­cial said.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates held talks last week with a del­e­ga­tion of Pak­istani offi­cials, includ­ing Kayani.

“What we are inter­est­ed in is look­ing at the long-term in the rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan,” Gates said before the meet­ings, “how we can strength­en our rela­tion­ship, and how we can help Pak­istan in deal­ing with the secu­ri­ty chal­lenges that face them, but also face us and NATO as well.”

Mil­i­tary offi­cials have said that what spurred on Pak­istan to greater action against mil­i­tants with­in their bor­ders was the real­iza­tion that Tal­iban oper­a­tives — work­ing in Afghanistan and Pak­istan – and al-Qai­da behave as a “syn­di­cate,” work­ing in sup­port of each oth­er.

“Although they might not be bear­ing the big al-Qai­da ban­ner,” the offi­cial said, “these forces do work togeth­er in dif­fer­ent ways.”

The offi­cial also not­ed that Pak­istan began to take threats from the syn­di­cate more seri­ous­ly after mil­i­tants began encroach­ing in areas that tra­di­tion­al­ly have not been home to insur­gent forces.

“When the forces start­ed pack­ing into the set­tled areas of Pak­istan with­in the last two years, I think they real­ly real­ized that this is an extrem­ist they have to deal with,” the offi­cial said. “As they were tak­ing over the Swat area — [in addi­tion to] very dra­mat­ic attacks inside Peshawar, Islam­abad, Karachi — I think it was a wake-up call to some extent that they need­ed to deal with this insur­gency, and it became their war, not our war, as it may have been por­trayed.”

The offi­cial said coor­di­na­tion has improved among the U.S.-NATO coali­tion forces, Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and Pak­istan.

“That [Afghanistan-Pak­istan] bor­der that was very flu­id,” the offi­cial said, “now is start­ing to be prob­lem­at­ic for the insur­gency.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)