Militant Groups' Turf Widens

Militant Groups' Turf Widens
February 4th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Militant Groups' Turf Widens

Militant Groups' Turf Widens
Raleigh News & Observer
February 3, 2008
Pg. 1
Afghan-Pakistani border boils
By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- Islamic insurgents are expanding their numbers and reach in Afghanistan and Pakistan, spreading violence and disarray over a vast cross-border zone where al-Qaida has rebuilt the sanctuary it lost when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.
There is little in the short term that the Bush administration or its allies can do to halt the bloodshed, which is spreading toward Pakistan's heartland and threatening to destabilize the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces are facing "a classic growing insurgency," Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.
But the U.S. military, stretched thin by the war in Iraq, is hard-pressed to send more than the 3,200 additional Marines the Bush administration is dispatching to Afghanistan. The growing insurgency there is fueling rifts within the NATO alliance as Germany and other nations refuse to allow their troops to participate in offensive operations. The Afghan army is making progress but cannot operate independently.
"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," warned an Atlantic Council of the United States report last week. The report was directed by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, the former top NATO commander. "What is happening in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater strategic long-term consequences than the struggle in Iraq."
In Pakistan, the army, trained for conventional warfare against India, has declined to send major forces into battle against the Islamists, fearful that heavy casualties could unhinge the military along ethnic and sectarian lines. The U.S. and its allies can do little more than help train some Pakistani troops because a major U.S. military role in Pakistan would further enrage a population that is already seething with anti-government and anti-U.S. rage.
"The Taliban in Afghanistan now control more of the country than at any time since 2001, and their confederates in the tribal areas of Pakistan are expanding their operations almost day by day. While our attention has been diverted by Iraq, we've overlooked a potentially far more serious threat to the security of all Americans," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., told McClatchy.
Two Taliban groups
There's no hard evidence of direct collusion between the Afghan Taliban and a new Pakistani Taliban alliance, both of which are made up mostly of Pashtun tribesmen, who dominate the region of soaring mountains and rugged deserts that span the frontier. Indeed, the Afghan Taliban deny links with the Pakistani insurgents.
But the ties among the Pashtuns are personal, historic, ethnic and ideological, and experts worry that the region faces a growing jihadi movement that is aided by al-Qaida.
The groups "have become one seamless whole," said Husain Haqqani, a political scientist and former aide to the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The Pakistani government blamed Bhutto's Dec. 27 assassination on Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Taliban groups on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are descendants of the Islamic guerrilla factions that fought the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with Pakistani coordination and arms supplied by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Britain.
Pakistan's powerful military intelligence service helped the Taliban come to power in 1996 to ensure a pro-Pakistan regime in Afghanistan.
Some U.S. military intelligence officials have argued that ideological and strategic differences between the groups will trigger crippling disputes. Some in the groups are hard-core Islamists, while others are fighting for money.
"It is true that there are degrees of separation developing between them," said Army Col. John Lynch, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. "But when you are in the land of plenty and there are fighters and money to be spread around, these differences are minimal."
U.S. policies blasted
There's widespread agreement, though, that the Bush administration bears much of the blame for the worsening crisis.
The administration diverted U.S. troops and resources to the 2003 invasion of Iraq without first securing Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S. intervention there.
And the U.S. pressured Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to send tens of thousands of troops for the first time in his country's history into the tribal region to hunt down al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his core supporters, who had escaped there from Afghanistan. Little heed was paid to the Taliban.
The Pakistani army's presence enraged the tribes. Its heavy-handed tactics claimed civilian lives, as did U.S. cross-border strikes on al-Qaida targets. Support for militants exploded last summer after Musharraf ordered an assault on a radical Islamabad mosque that killed scores of people.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have expanded the territory they control and where they can move freely despite suffering huge losses last year in battles with U.S. and NATO troops.
"The number of districts in which the Taliban operate exploded last year," said John McCreary, a former senior intelligence analyst with the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is now with the private contractor dNovus RDI. "This is the first year they have managed to sustain over 100 attacks per month for the whole year since they started to climb back. One hundred attacks per month used to be surge figure. Now it's the new norm."

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