Recruiters in this Afghan refugee camp don’t wait for graduation before sending kids to the front lines.
Nearly a year ago, Pakistani security forces acting on U.S. intelligence arrested the Taliban’s senior leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, brother-in-law and No. 2 to the reclusive, one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar. Now the Taliban have finally anointed his successor.
If Gen. David Petraeus gets his wish, this will be the year of the snake. America’s top officer in Afghanistan recently explained his war plan as the “anaconda strategy,” designed to “squeeze the life” out of the Taliban insurgency. And according to the Pentagon, it’s working already. In Helmand and the Taliban’s home province, Kandahar, the military says, the insurgents’ momentum has been slowed or even reversed by thousands of U.S. reinforcements using get-tough tactics. In fact, another year or two of such victories might conceivably reduce the insurgency in the south to a worrisome but tolerable nuisance.
When Richard Holbrooke took up his assignment as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan early last year, trying to lay the foundations for long-term stability at the epicenter of the Obama administration’s tremulous policy, he knew as well as anyone that his mission was close to impossible.
In recent weeks, Pakistanis could be forgiven for thinking that the military, which has ruled for half of the country’s 63 years of independence, had come back into power. Television news has been filled with footage of Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visiting some of the country’s 6 million flood victims as Army helicopters dropped food and water and made rescues in isolated mountain villages.
After WikiLeaks published a trove of U.S. intelligence documents—some of which listed the names and villages of Afghans who had been secretly cooperating with the American military—it didn’t take long for the Taliban to react. A spokesman for the group quickly threatened to “punish” any Afghan listed as having “collaborated” with the U.S. and the Kabul authorities against the growing Taliban insurgency. In recent days, the Taliban has demonstrated how seriously those threats should be considered.
Pakistan's ongoing support of the Afghan Taliban is anything but news to insurgents. Many of them readily admit their utter dependence on the country's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, not only for sanctuary and safe passage but also, some say, for much of their financial support. One officer offered an unverifiable estimate that Pakistan provides roughly 80 percent of the insurgents' funding.
The Afghan Taliban’s three operational chiefs have gone deep underground, senior insurgent officials tell NEWSWEEK, and meetings of the leadership have been canceled until further notice. The three—former Taliban civil-aviation minister Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, former Taliban provincial governor Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rahmani, and military commander and former Guantánamo inmate Abdul Qayum Zakir—had operated with impunity from their rear bases inside Pakistan for years until the arrest near Karachi in February of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s director of day-to-day actions at the time.
Under intense U.S. pressure to drive deeper into the jihadist havens of North and South Waziristan, Pakistan is trying to clear the area its own way. The country’s military chiefs dread the losses their troops would suffer against entrenched militants in the tribal badlands, but something has to be done, if only to stop the erosion of public support for the government. While American drone attacks have been effective in killing dozens of militants, many Pakistanis deeply resent the strikes as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty, and they despise their government for allowing them.
In an eerie echo of those brief, heady days in Saigon, U.S. officials are crowing over the discovery of nearly $1 trillion worth of mineral wealth in Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, Pentagon officials have mapped "huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium."