US military and intelligence officials fear that militants’ “safe havens” in Pakistan where top Taliban leaders are hiding could thwart American military efforts in Afghanistan this year,a media report said on Tuesday.
American officials,the ‘New York Times’ said,are increasingly focusing on the Pakistani city of Quetta,where Taliban leaders are believed to play a significant role in stirring violence in southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban operations in Quetta are different from operations in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan that have until now been the main setting for American unease,the report said.
But as the US prepares to send 30,000 troops into Afghanistan,the Times says,military and intelligence officials believe the effort could be futile unless there is a concerted effort to kill or capture Taliban leaders in Quetta and cut the group’s supply lines into Afghanistan.
From Quetta,Taliban leaders including Mullah Muhammad Omar,a reclusive one-eyed cleric,guide commanders in southern Afghanistan,raise money from wealthy Persian Gulf donors and deliver guns and fresh fighters to the battlefield,the paper quoted Obama administration and military officials as saying.
“When their leadership is where you cannot get to them,it becomes difficult,” Gen. Dan K. McNeill,who until June was the senior US commander in Afghanistan and recently retired told the paper. “You are restrained from doing what you want to do.”
The Taliban leaders have operated from Quetta for years,but the increasing violence in southern Afghanistan suggests that the flow of arms,fighters and money there from the Pakistani sanctuary may be increasing,the ‘Times’ says.
Quetta,the capital of Balochistan province,abuts the provinces in southern Afghanistan where the war’s fiercest fighting has occurred. American intelligence officials were quoted as saying that the dozen or so militants who were thought to make up the Taliban leadership in the area were believed to be hiding either in sprawling Afghan refugee camps near Quetta or in some of the city’s Afghan neighbourhoods.
The US and other Western officials have long said they suspect that Pakistani security services do little to address the presence of senior Taliban commanders in Quetta,it noted.
One former intelligence official with years of experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan likened the situation to America’s difficulties during the Vietnam War,when Vietnamese guerrillas used a haven in Cambodia to bring in fresh troops and weapons.
For the past year,the ‘Times’ said,the top American goal in Pakistan has been to press the government in Islamabad for help elsewhere,in killing and capturing Qaeda fighters in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan,who intelligence analysts say pose a direct threat to the United States.
But NATO generals and diplomats have long complained that the command and control of Taliban fighters,distinct from Qaeda insurgents,trace back to southern Pakistan,and that Pakistani security services ignore the threat.
Pakistani officials have said they lack good intelligence about the specific locations of Taliban leaders,assertions that some American intelligence operatives greet with some scepticism.
“We’ve made progress going into the tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province against al-Qaeda,but we have not had a counterpart war against the Quetta shura,” a senior Obama administration official,using the term for the Taliban’s ruling council,told the ‘Times’.
Aides to Richard C Holbrooke,Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan,and Gen David H Petraeus,the top American military commander in the region,were quoted as saying the issue of crippling the Taliban leadership was getting more attention from their bosses.
Holbrooke is currently in Islamabad on his first visit after assuming the office of special envoy.