The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 14           April 13, 2004  
2,000 more Marines head to Afghanistan
U.S., Pakistan troops wage offensive on Afghan border
(front page)
As thousands of Pakistani soldiers, backed by U.S. Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan, waged an offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban forces along the border between the two countries, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers announced March 25 that 2,000 U.S. Marines on ships in the Arab-Persian Gulf would deploy to Afghanistan to join the U.S. occupying force of 13,000.

The large-scale assault, carried out by the Pakistani armed forces in the last two weeks of March, is part of the intensified drive by U.S. forces in Afghanistan to establish tighter military control of the border region and wipe out al Qaeda combatants and supporters of the Taliban-led Afghan government, which was overthrown by the Anglo-American invasion in late 2001.

Writing from Karachi, Pakistan, a correspondent for the Asia Times described the offensive as a “hammer and anvil operation…designed to trap militants between the Pakistan army on one side of the border and U.S. troops on the other.”

Targeting villages and individuals accused by Washington and Islamabad of collaborating with the opposition forces, Pakistan’s military-led government has sought to strengthen its authority on the 1,500-mile border region.

Over the last two-and-a-half years the Pakistani armed forces have sent 70,000 troops to the area, the regime’s most massive deployment there in the country’s 57-year history.

According to a March 28 Associated Press report, Pakistani officers claimed their forces killed 60 “suspected militants” and took prisoner more than 160 others. They reportedly encountered stiff and well-armed resistance and took comparable casualties.

“As far as al Qaeda is concerned, yes, indeed, they are in bigger numbers than we thought in the region. And we need to eliminate them,” Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf told ABC News, in an item aired the same day. According to wire service reports, about 7,000 Pakistani army and paramilitary troops laid siege to some 500 al Qaeda combatants and tribal allies near the border town of Wana, Pakistan.

Musharraf claimed tribal elders from six of seven tribal groups in western Pakistan “are cooperating with us, cooperating with the army.

“I’m very sure we’ll take a very hard stand, and the writ of the government will be established, and these [al Qaeda] people have to be eliminated,” said Musharraf.

Several days into the offensive, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell visited Islamabad. He said the White House would “designate Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally for purposes of our future military relations.” The administration, he added, appreciates “the sacrifices Pakistan already has made to keep us all safer from terrorism.”

During the assault, U.S. president George Bush extended the suspension of sanctions that were originally imposed on Pakistan after it tested a nuclear weapon in 1998. The Bush administration, which had suspended the sanctions in 2001, has also provided a five-year package of $3 billion in aid and has written off $1.5 billion of the country’s foreign debt.  
Helicopter gunships attack mud houses
AP reported that “regional security chief” Brig. Mahmood Shah said that the soldiers who remain in the area will back up officers negotiating with tribal leaders for the handover of al Qaeda fighters.

“The main objectives of the operation have been achieved. They included destroying dens, searching of homes, taking people into custody and the recovery of gadgets and equipment,” Shah said.

U.S. and Pakistani officials admit to the participation of “two dozen U.S. intelligence and communications experts” alongside the Pakistani troops, reported the March 22 Christian Science Monitor.

According to the Monitor, the offensive was concentrated in 30 square miles around the town of Wana, part of a mountainous border region the size of Texas. Commanders surrounded five villages in the area with thousands of troops, and attacked the local mud houses with helicopter gunships.

Thousands of local residents tried to escape the assault and the fighting that followed, reported the Monitor. One villager, Dilawar Khan, said, “For us, the sky and earth are both spitting fire. From the sky, helicopters are targeting us, and from the ground mujahedeen are firing. We poor tribesmen are sandwiched between al Qaeda and Pakistani forces.”

An Afghan government official told the New York Times that about 300 homes had been destroyed. The Times reported that tens of thousands of people have fled the tribal areas, and noted growing resentment against the army.

Pakistani officials said March 26 that eight soldiers taken hostage by “militants” had been executed. Around a dozen paramilitary soldiers and two government officials held hostage at that time were later released.

For a time, U.S. and Pakistani government representatives made headlines with their claim that Ayman al-Zawahiri, allegedly the second-in-command of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden, had been trapped in a cave by the advancing Pakistani troops. After officials backed down from that assertion, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said March 27 that Tahir Yuldash, a leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, had been badly wounded in the assault and was “on the run.”

On March 25 opponents of the Musharraf government released a tape on which a man identifying himself as al-Zawahiri called for the overthrow of the Musharraf government.

“I call on Muslims in Pakistan to get rid of their government, which is working for Americans,” said the man in the recording. “This client government will continue to submit to America until it destroys Pakistan.” He made an appeal to the Pakistani armed forces, saying “Musharraf ruins your natural fences—those tribes on the border—by engaging you in a fight with them. Then he removes your nuclear weapons. Will you stay silent until Pakistan is divided again?”

This last remark was a reference to the government’s prosecution, under intense pressure from Washington, of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, for allegedly selling nuclear secrets.

In a tape released last September, al-Zawahiri reportedly called for the assassination of Musharraf. The Pakistani military ruler blamed al Qaeda for the two assassination attempts that followed in December.
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