Pakistan is planning a military offensive of unknown strength into the restive North Waziristan region, home to numerous militant groups including the fearsome Haqqani network, Admiral Mike Mullen, United States Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly said.
Mr. Mullen spoke of the planned operation to television networks on Memorial Day Monday saying, “It is a very important fight and a very important operation.”
His comments came days after he and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, held meetings with senior Pakistani leaders that aimed to “show the strength in terms of our commitment [because] we’re going through a difficult patch right now after the bin Laden operation,” Admiral Mullen said.
Barring the general reiteration of Pakistan’s commitment to eliminating terrorist havens on its soil, there was however no official word from either the Pakistani government or military about launching an operation in North Waziristan.
However, the armed services were reportedly preparing for a two-pronged action in the tribal agency; using air power to “soften up’’ targets before the ground troops move in. Aid agencies have apparently also been alerted to prepare for an internal displacement situation.
While Admiral Mullen said in Washington that he “did hear from the [Pakistani] military leadership their continued commitment to look ahead and work with us and we think that’s important,” all indications were that Islamabad is yet to decide on a full-scale operation that would include action against groups like the Haqqani network.
While the terror outfit has repeatedly targeted U.S. troops in Afghanistan from its hideout in North Waziristan, it has never struck within Pakistan.
Taking on the Haqqani network has been a long-standing demand of the U.S. It was repeated again last week during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s seven-hour visit to Islamabad where she acknowledged Pakistan’s role in the Afghan reconciliation process but underscored Islamabad’s responsibility in stopping insurgency west of the Durand Line.
Yet on Monday Admiral Mullen sought to downplay the impression of tensions arising in those discussions, arguing that media reports on this matter were “overstated.” The Admiral added, “We had a very good, frank, open discussion that touched on a wide range of issues.”
His assessment of the talks notwithstanding, it was unclear as to what the scope of the planned offensive in North Waziristan would be.
Apart from the reluctance to give up “strategic assets” – as networks like the Haqqani group are described within the community of security analysts – capacity constraints are also being cited as reason for a selective operation. The Army is still not in a position to withdraw from areas it has wrested from terrorists and is apprehensive of over-stretching itself in case of a full-scale operation.
In the context of this imminent operation Admiral Mullen conceded that in the U.S. “one of the things that does not get enough focus is the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has made over the course of the last several years”. They have lost thousands of soldiers in this fight while “10-plus thousand” were wounded, the Admiral said. Hindu