Killing of top Al Qaeda militant Ilyas Kashmiri only a small US victory
Efforts to chip away at the most wanted list and chase militants from one Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to the next come with high costs and are not yet putting militant outfits out of business, say experts.
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They point to the most recent talk of a North Waziristan offensive. Over the past week, at least two checkpoints have been removed from roads inside the region, according to two journalists and a local resident.Skip to next paragraph
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“We saw the same thing before the [South Waziristan] operation, when American pressure said it had to start,” says a local resident now living in Peshawar. He requested anonymity out of fear of military authorities. “They opened up all the roads to allow all the militants to go.”
In North Waziristan, the removed check-posts make it easier for some militants to reach Bannu, a city in the settled areas of Pakistan.
Porous borders, vast wilderness
The military has been reluctant to tackle North Waziristan because the region is home to allied Afghan militants, particularly the Haqqani Network. Mixed in with the Haqqanis, however, are groups that are enemies of the military, including militants from the Mehsud tribe, foreign fighters, and Al Qaeda.
The lifting of checkpoints on that particular road might work as a sieve, allowing just the right kind of militants to escape.
“That’s a good opportunity for Afghan militants, but I don’t think the Pakistani militants, especially the Mehsud militants would use that,” says Mr. Yousufzai.
Years of Pakistani offensives have seen militants shift from one tribal area to the next, evading any sort of Waterloo. Just last week, a group of several hundred militants evicted from Swat by the military in 2009 crossed over from Afghanistan into the region of Dir.
The Pakistani military points out that it cannot completely seal off the mountainous terrain, vast wildernesses, and porous borders.
Gul agrees: “It’s not possible to man every area in North or South Waziristan. For that they would need 300,000 to 400,000 military personnel.”
Military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas argues that the Dir incident shows that the Army is slowly closing down the space for militants to move. With military operations going on in most of the tribal regions, the settled area of Dir may have looked attractive. (The military and local residents eventually repulsed the group.)
“The more you enhance control over your lost territory, the more space is lost to them,” says General Abbas.
And the scattering of militants before offensives can have its upside – in the case of Kashmiri it may have increased his exposure enough to kill him.
But slow military progress on the ground appears set to ensure that his comrades will live to fight another day.