Thursday, December 10, 2009

WAR IN WAZIRISTAN




Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Freedom Path) in South Waziristan




Nore for WoP readers: Here are two posts from Brig. Asif Haroon Raja.  I have put these up on pages of this blog to enable our readers see through facts. Not that everything said by our writers whether on the pro or cons side of the issue is correct, but they do help us reach to some conclusion, to sift real from tainted ‘facts’ produced by the mainstream media here in Pakistan, India as well as in the west.

I myself do not subscribe to Brig. Raja’s views particularly about India in so far as it has become a habit with both India and Pakistan putting everything bad happening in each country to other’s doing. Whatever bad happens in India goes to the ‘credit’ of ISI (Pakistan’s principal spy agency) and in Pakistan it is straightway ‘credited’ to ISI’s equivalent the RAW of India. Indeed if it is so, can’t both of us avoid this “panga bazi” when we have already the menace of extremism in our north (whether India or the US, Afghanistan or somebody else is doing this, is of secondary nature), main thing is that we are being hit, and hit badly. Last three days we had a continuous spate of attacks in Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Lahore and Multan. The problem is so serious that the whole country, the nation state of Pakistan is at stake.

As far India, they have enough of trouble in their part of Kashmir. If they stoke their sticks in the fire in Pakistan, it is naturally going to ignite equal fire in their part of the world.


Having a past which has been a mix of love hate relationship, let it be a relation of love and not hate. Are we, the people of India and Pakistan wrong to wish so?? I as a Pakistani (and I believe same are the wishes of a majority of peace loving Indians) do wish again and again and ask upon the two governments to turn this subcontinent into a haven and heaven of peace.

ARE WE WRONG TO WISH SO!!


Brig. Asif Haroon Raja 


FATA region in the North Western Frontier Province (Pakhtunkhwa) of Pakistan consists of seven tribal agencies. It is backward and poverty stricken with little means of employment.
The tribesmen, the inhabitants of FATA are excellent fighters, revengeful, hospitable, fiercely independent, religious and proud of their traditions. They have all along remained loyal to Pakistan and defended western border without any assistance from Pakistan army.


After 1947, South Waziristan Agency (S.W.A.) was penetrated for the first time by regular troops in 2002 to flush out foreigners under intense pressure from Bush Administration. It ignited fire of militancy which kept spreading. After fighting the Wazirs under Nek Muhammad and signing a peace deal with him at Shakai, the troops entered Mehsud area within S.W.A. in 2004.

They could reach up to short of Srarogha after which operation was halted and peace agreement inked with Baitullah Mehsud. Thereon, operation was launched in North Waziristan Agency (N.W.A.) which also culminated in uneasy peace deal with Gul Bahadur led Taliban. During second operation in Mehsud area in 2007 in which major battles took place in Shrawangai-Tiarza-Kunigram areas, 250 soldiers were deceptively taken hostage at Khaisura. To get the hostages released a deal had to be brokered with Baitullah and forward check posts were pulled back.
In November 2007, an inconclusive operation was launched in Swat. In January 2008, Srarogha fort in S.W.A. was captured and inmates taken hostage by Mehsuds. Series of military operations were launched in 2008 which included Khyber Agency in June, Bajaur Agency in July and Swat in August. Another operation was launched in Swat in first week of May 2009 which broke the back of Fazlullah led militants.
However, when acts of terror continued and worsened internal security situation, it was concluded that Hakimullah led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with its main base of operation in S.W.A. was responsible for terrorism. It was therefore decided to launch a full-fledged operation to dismantle the network of TTP.
S.W.A. stretches from Jandola in the northeast to Wana in southwest and is pided between Mahsud, Wazir and Bhittani tribes. Area stretching from Kot Nawaz-Makeen in the north to Shrawangai-Sarwakai in the south is inhabited by tribes of Mehsuds. Important towns and villages in this area are Makeen, Ladha, Srarogha, Kotkai, Kunigram. Remaining half of S.W.A. from excluding Sarwakai up to Wana and Tanai is the domain of Waziri tribes. Other important towns in Wazir area are Angoor Adda and Shakai. Bhittanis followed by Mehsuds are in majority in Jandola.


Tank which is a settled town and connected with Dera Ismail Khan (DIK) also has large concentration of Bhittanis and Mehsuds. While Jandola is the gateway into S.W.A, Wana is the major bustling city. N.W.A. spreads from Miramshah-Mir Ali-Razmak in the north up to short of Makeen in the south. While Wazir belt is connected with Afghan border, Mehsud belt is not directly connected with Durand Line and for movement across the line, residents have to traverse through Waziri area or through N.W.A. Movement by foot or by mules across rugged mountains is however possible.


S.W.A. is served by main artery of Bannu-DIK-Tank-Jandola. From Jandola, one branch moves to Spinkai Roghzai- Kotkai- Srarogha-Makeen; the other along Jandola-Sarwakai-Wana. From Wana, the road traverses further south towards Tanai-Sambaza-Zhob-Mulslim Bagh-Quetta. Within Mehsud area, three arteries run from north to south, which are inter-connected. Road Makeen-Ladha enters into N.W.A at Cheena-Kot Nawaz. From Makeen, one road leads southwards to Tiarza and the other to Ladha. From Ladha, one branch moves towards Kunigram-Chalweshtai-Shrawangai-Torwam Bridge from where it enters Wazir area at Shakai and hits Wana. Khaisura is closer to Shakai. From Torwam, one track moves eastwards towards Gurgara Sar-Shinsar-Barwand. From Barwand, one road leads north-eastwards to Srarogha and the other to Jandola.  


Mehsud area has all along remained a no-go area where runaways would seek refuge, or kidnapped persons or hijacked cars taken. Being hot headed and aggressive by nature, they have never been under the effective control of political agent or law enforcing agencies in the form of South Waziristan Scouts and Khasadars. Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs who had taken part in Afghan jihad in 1980s and in 2001 had taken refuge in S.W.A., got married and preferred to settle down permanently as they were refused entry by countries of their origin. They found the environment most suitable to continue with Jihadist activities unobserved and unscathed.


Uzbeks, mostly belonging to Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are in larger strength and are the most hardy and ruthless fighters. Till June 2009, not a single drone attack came on positions held by Baitullah since he was on the payroll of CIA and RAW. Reportedly, he had over $2 billion in cash and arms worth $1 billion which enabled him to pay handsome salaries to his fighters and heavy compensation to families of suicide bombers. With plenty of resources and no other errand to do, Baitullah established Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in December 2007 and started dreaming of a caliphate.


Assisted by foreigners and his confidantes, he got busy in recruiting, training and stocking armaments provided by foreign sources in Kabul. Commanders for each agency were nominated. Bajaur Agency and Swat were turned into fortresses. In anticipation to a showdown with the army in his home ground, he appointed commanders for each town in Mehsud belt and turned every house into a fortress and caves, mountain hideouts and tunnels into arms storehouses. Peaceful residents were terrorized into silence while over 500 elders and Maliks assassinated. Promise of Islamic laws and portrayal of army as American mercenary army were other factors which helped fake Taliban in gaining sympathy of the locals   


To approach Mehsud area, the attacker has to first tackle Ahmadzai Wazir dominated inhabited S.W.A. in the south, or Othmanzai Wazir-Dawar dominated N.W.A. in the north, or Bhittani dominated Jandola in southeast. Mehsud belt tucked deep inside treacherous terrain of S.W.A. is well served with inter-connected roads and tracks, which allows militants to shift or reinforce threatened sectors. High mountains covered with thick vegetation together with dense forests provide excellent hiding places and vantage points. Defiles and valleys canalize intruders and make the area an ideal place for planning and conducting guerrilla operations.


Wazir-Mehsud antagonism is age-old but sometime back Maulvi Nazir heading Ahmadzai Waziris suspecting that the army was directing drone attacks on his positions had distanced himself from the army and had become an ally of Baitullah. Gul Bahadur heading Othmanzais having similar grouses had also joined the alliance and so had Faqir Muhammad in command of Bajaur chapter of Taliban. Sudden death of Baitullah in August 2009 as a result of drone attack coupled with successful military operation in Swat and adjoining areas gave a death blow to the alliance.


Both Nazir and Gul Bahadur reluctant to accept leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud have distanced themselves from TTP. More inclined towards Jihad in Afghanistan, they promised to stay neutral in case of an operation against Mehsuds. Both have endured maximum brunt of drone attacks for being allegedly linked with Jalaluddin Haqqani and for maintaining pro-Pakistan stance.


Loss of Swat front and neutralization of two flank guards of Mehsud belt made the position of Hakimullah led TTP in S.W.A. exposed and vulnerable. The TTP otherwise is going through a period of turmoil because of war of succession and tightened noose of the army around its domain in S.W.A. since July. Hakimullah has not been able to assert his authority since he took over under extremely turbulent circumstances. His grip over TTP has become fragile which is on the verge of breakup.


Like in Swat, TTP under Hakimullah has no dearth of cash and armaments. Most weapons are of Russian and Indian origin, which have been supplied to this mercenary outfit from Afghanistan, and stored in caves, tunnels and selected houses in each village/town. They have been receiving concerted training in art of guerrilla warfare by Indian commandoes and Afghan instructors who had taken part in 1980s Afghan Jihad. Qari Hussain, an expert in training suicide bombers and some others are feverishly engaged in training boys of tender age. Orphans from Azad Kashmir were whisked away soon after the devastating 2005 earthquake.


These and other destitute are their preferred choices since this category can easily be misled and brainwashed. Each house with a high compound wall has an MG in fixed role facing the entrance door, a manned observation post on the roof and a cave towards the rear side. Anyone trying to barge in is automatically engaged by the cleverly concealed MG, allowing reaction time to the inmates to escape through the cave. Nodal points on mountains overlooking valleys and towns/villages duly converted into strong points guard approaches. IEDs innovatively fixed astride roads/tracks are planted extensively to cause heavy damage to intruding troops and vehicles. 


The TTP lost public support when Fazlullah led Taliban in Swat drunk with power and affluence instead of letting Nizam-e-Adl get introduced, refused to de-weaponise and abide by Swat agreement signed in February 2009 and occupied Lower Dir and Shangla. Successful Swat operation Rah-e-Rast and return of over 2 million displaced persons to their homes turned the tide and forced the militants to run in panic. Establishment of linkage of militants with foreign powers further brought them in bad books of the people. Spate of acts of terror in September-October made the public averse to Taliban and demand for uprooting their main base in S.W.A. grew louder. The public as well as all political parties less Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema Islam and Tehrik-e-Insaf stood behind the army.


Additional troops had started to move into Waziristan from July onwards in anticipation to a decisive battle in S.W.A. USA had been exerting extreme pressure on our government to commence operation in Waziristan in conjunction with Swat operation. Army disfavoured opening of two fronts simultaneously particularly when troops were engaged in Swat, Lower and Upper Dir, Buner, Shangla, Bajaur, Mohmand Agency, Khyber Agency and Darra Adam Khel. It would have amounted to dilution and dispersion of resources thereby losing concentration of effort in all sectors. It took its time to allow consolidation of gains made on Swat front.


Period from July to mid October was judiciously utilized for gaining intelligence to formulate plans, getting to know strength and weaknesses of militants, acclimatization of troops and familiarization of area of operations, completing its operational deficiencies, tying up nuts and bolts and streamlining drills how to confront challenges of IEDs, militants adept in guerrilla warfare and rugged terrain. For the first time, the army was not launched in haste and given adequate preparation time and moral support. During preparatory manoeuvre, troops continued with their creeping forward policy to isolate and encircle targeted area from multiple sides. This tactic curtailed liberty of action of Hakimullah led militants and gave psychological ascendancy to the military. At the same time, both Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur were kept under tight control and no deal was made to keep them friendly.


Once the go ahead was given by Federal and NWFP governments, operation Rah-e-Nijat was unfolded from three directions on 17 October. One prong moved from north to south along axis Razmak-Makeen, the second from southeast to northwest along axis Jandola-Kotkai-Srarogha, the third from south to north along axis Shakai-Shrawangai-Ladha. Balanced force was employed on each axis of advance and movement made on broad front to overcome opposition with speed and to home on to vital complex of Ladha-Makeen. The three pronged manoeuvre aimed at outmanoeuvring and encircling the adversary and blocking all avenues of escape or reinforcement from elsewhere. Soldiers climbed the rugged mountains like mountain leopards and rolled down to rupture the positions occupied by militants on hilltops.   


Within fortnight, considerable progress has been made on all axes causing disarray among militants. Wireless intercepts indicated signs of chaos among them. Many among them have shaved their beards or trimmed their beards and are running for life. Troops on Razmak pincer have secured Kot Azam and Cheena and are fast moving towards critical position of Makeen. On Jandola axis, troops have captured important places of Spinkai Roghzai, Kotkai which is hometown of Hakimullah and Qari Hussain and have now over run the pivotal position of Srarogha and succeeded in occupying important hilltops around the town which is facilitating their mopping up operation. This axis is now poised to move towards Makeen. On Shakai-Shrawangai axis, Shrawangai, Khaisura, Barwand, Torwam Bridge and key town Kunigram have been captured. Troops on this axis are all set to attack vital target of Ladha within next 24 hours, which is 8 km ahead of Kunigram.


Although the militants put up stiff resistance at each point, however the resolve and determination of assaulting troops led by officers was so strong that they had to give in. Rapid successes made by the brave-hearts have shattered centuries-old myth of invincibility of tribesmen of this region. 
Terrorists are failing and will fail because they are fighting for a wrong cause and at the behest of foreign powers. Huge caches of arms, ammunition, explosives, suicide jackets and material required for suicide jackets have been seized; chemical factories making IEDs taken over. Five truckloads of Indian origin arms, ammunition, medical equipment and literature have been apprehended from Kunigram.


One laptop of 1000 GB with external drive containing all sorts of data, training lessons, and videos of criminal activities of so-called Taliban recovered. Tunnels laden with armaments in hundreds have been discovered in captured areas. One of the tunnels in Kotkai is 500 meters long. These tunnels were in use for treating injured, for rest and refitting, for training and hiding suicide bombers and for making escape good. Houses with compounds and high mud walls where suicide bombers were imparted training have also been unearthed. Weapons and equipment seized include heavy MGs, RPGs, 12.7mm and 14.5mm guns, 107mm rockets, AK-47 rifles, SMGs, missile launchers, anti-aircraft guns, grenades, anti-tank mines, chemicals, explosives, wireless sets, jamming equipment.


Phase one of operation has been completed and the decisive battle will be fought in the vital complex of Ladha-Makeen in one week time. It will be the hardest battle since apart from presence of top leadership of TTP; majority of militants uprooted from forward positions would have withdrawn to these towns and would give last ditch battle. Reportedly strength of local militants is around 10000-12000 and that of foreigners 1200-1500. So far about 300-400 have been killed, which implies that bulk is still alive. Either most have withdrawn to Ladha-Makeen area, or to N.W.A. Reward money of Rs 50 million each for Hakimullah, Qari Hussain, Waliur Rehman and 10-20 million for 24 terrorist commanders has been announced.                                   


Although border security check posts along Afghan-Pakistan border have been deviously vacated by US-NATO troops at a crucial time when operation had just begun, no RAW-RAAM agent would like to jump into boiling cauldron of S.W.A. If they come they are sure to die a horrible death. Afghan Taliban have categorically stated that they would abide by their policy of not confronting Pak Army. Terrorists from other militant groups linked with TTP outside the battle zone are now in no position to come to the aid of beleaguered Taliban.


They would otherwise not like to get sucked into killing area and get killed. Ongoing suicide attacks are being undertaken by those who had been already launched from S.W.A in September, or by other banned groups linked with TTP, or by RAW-RAAM trained suicide bombers and terrorists. Several RAW agents have been caught in last few days. Possibility of involvement of Blackwater elements in terrorist activities in major cities of Punjab, NWFP and Islamabad cannot be ruled out.


Successful completion of Rah-e-Nijat would certainly help in curbing terrorism to a great extent but as long as six foreign agencies in Kabul busy hatching conspiracies and launching covert operations against Pakistan do not wind up their offices and return to their respective homes, terrorism would not get eliminated.
Likewise, as long as our rulers follow US friendly and anti-people policies and do not address root causes, terrorists would keep multiplying. Now that Indian role in destabilizing Pakistan has been thoroughly exposed, it is to be seen whether US Administration would continue to play a double game by defending India and pressing Pakistan to continue doing more and more.


New battlegrounds will be created to keep the army bogged down. Going by the logic of Hillary Clinton that it is difficult to believe that Pakistan military leadership didn’t know the existence of Al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan since 2002, how should Pakistanis get convinced that RAW is undertaking covert operations from Afghan soil without the knowledge of USA. How and why should we accept the tainted logic of USA that India is no threat to Pakistan? 


Time for US military in Afghanistan is running out and it must know that Pakistan and not India or unpopular Karzai regime will help in providing safe and honourable exit to US forces. US leadership will have listen to the voice of American people who want US soldiers to return to their homes. 












      

Brig Asif Haroon is Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. He is a defence and security analyst based at Rawalpindi and author of several books. He has been Military Attach√© in Egypt.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.


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