Pakistani Army Preparing for Major Offensive Against Militants

According to the New York Times, senior military officials in Pakistan have said that the Pakistani army is preparing to launch a major offensive operation against Taliban and other militants in South Waziristan, which has been under Taliban control for years.  Previous campaigns to dislodge the Taliban from the area have failed after the Pakistani army suffered high levels of casualties.

In the past, American officials have complained that the Pakistani government has not done enough to take on Taliban and Al Qaeda elements that use Pakistan as a base from which to launch attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.  Some members of the security forces in Pakistan maintain ties with Taliban leaders for ideological and strategic reasons. 

Pakistani military leaders have traditionally focused on rival India and considered the Taliban to be a lesser threat deserving less attention.  Leaders in the weak civilian government have been wary of antagonizing military leaders by ordering them to make the Taliban their main priority and sustain operations that lead to a high death toll for army personnel.  But the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the result of an airstrike by an American drone, and the subsequent disunity within the Taliban have made Pakistani commanders more confident that a new offensive will be successful and their forces will suffer fewer casualties.

If the Pakistani army manages to eliminate a large number of militants in Pakistan, it might change the calculus of the Obama administration, which is debating whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqini network.  South Waziristan has been described as the “epicenter” of miliant forces in Pakistan, and its capture by the Pakistani army would be a major victory for the Pakistani government and the US, and it would tighten the noose around the insurgency.  However, there are still militant bases in the North-west Frontier Province and insurgents may relocate there if they lose the fight in South Waziristan, so the defeat of the Taliban in South Waziristan would not completely eliminate the threat posed by militants.

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