Pakistan’s terrorist sanctuaries “rich hunting ground” for US: NYT

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s refusal to launch a military operation in North Waziristan to hit the terrorist sanctuaries on its northwest border may have created a magnet there for hundreds of Islamic fighters, which has a positive side for the United States.

A growing number of senior US intelligence and counterinsurgency officials say that by bunching up there, insurgents are ultimately making it easier for American drone strikes to hit them from afar.

“In some ways, it’s to our benefit to keep them bottled up, mostly in North Waziristan,” The New York Times quoted a senior intelligence official, as saying on the condition of anonymity.

“This is not intentional. That wasn’t the design to bottle them up. That’s just where they are, and they’re there for a reason. They don’t have a lot of options,” the official added.

According to the report, half a dozen senior intelligence, counter-terrorism and military officials interviewed in the past several days said that a bright side had unexpectedly emerged from Pakistan’s delay.

Pounding the militants consolidated in the North Waziristan enclave with air strikes will leave the insurgents in a weakened state if the Pakistani offensive comes later this year, the officials added.

With several hundred insurgents largely bottled up there, and with few worries about accidentally hitting Pakistani soldiers battling militants or civilians fleeing a combat zone, the Central Intelligence Agency’s drones have attacked targets in North Waziristan with increasing effectiveness and have degraded Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out a major attack against the United States, the report quoted the senior officials, as saying.

American officials are loath to talk about this silver lining to the storm cloud that they have long described building up in the tribal area of North Waziristan, where the insurgents run a virtual mini-state the size of Rhode Island, the report said.

This is because they do not want to undermine the Obama administration’s urgent public pleas for Pakistan to order troops into the area, or to give Pakistan an excuse for inaction, the report added.

“We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without shutting down those safe havens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week, underscoring a major conclusion of the White House’s strategic review of Afghanistan policy last month.

But as long as the safe havens exist, they provide a rich hunting ground, however inadvertent it may be, the report said. (ANI)

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