Pakistan's army may require months to prepare for a new military offensive against the Taliban in a restive region along the country's unsettled border with Afghanistan, a senior Pakistani general on Tuesday told President Obama's envoy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region according to senior Pakistani officials.
(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, a widely respected army commander, met with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama's envoy, to brief him on Pakistan's northwest frontier province, specifically the areas at the center of Taliban activity.
It is this region which is of the most interest to the U.S. as Afghanistan heads in to Thursday's presidential elections. In the past, U.S. officials have complained about Taliban militants crossing the border with relative ease to attack Afghan and western troops in Afghanistan before returning to Pakistan's soil to reorganize.
Earlier this month, Baitullah Mehsud, the senior leader of Taliban militants in Pakistan, was killed in a missile attack which was widely believed to have been carried out by a U.S.-operated drone.
Mehsud's killing prompted speculation that the Pakistani military may attack the southern part of the Waziristan region along the country's border with Afghanistan, taking advantage of disarray among the Taliban. Mehsud's killing led to infighting among the Taliban. So far, the Pakistani Taliban have failed to rally behind a new leader who could emerge as a replacement for Mehsud.
"Once you feel that the conditions are right and you have been able to substantially dent their (the Taliban's) infrastructure and their fighting capacity, then you go in for a ground offensive," Ahmed said as reported by Pakistan's independently operated Dawn News TV after a meeting with Holbrooke. The station quoted Ahmed saying, "That (attack on South Waziristan) may happen in winter or even beyond probably."
Pakistani officials said the military will need new hardware, notably helicopters, to launch an attack in largely mountainous Waziristan region where access to different locations by road is often difficult. The U.S. is one of the larger suppliers of military equipment to Pakistan. But Pakistani officials have complained about Washington not moving fast enough at times to meet its hardware needs.
"Unless we have the hardware, how can we be expected to immediately launch an attack?" one senior Pakistani government official asked, speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity.
However, western diplomats, who also spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said the Pakistani military has already seized control of the main roads from Waziristan to other parts of the country, mainly to block the Taliban from fleeing out of the region. "It doesn't matter how long it takes for the Pakistani military to strike in the region," one diplomat said. "They seem to have enough control to block a large scale exodus of the Taliban."
Ahead of Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials have said they are confident of playing an increasingly vital role in the medium to long-term security of Afghanistan. In recent months, the Pakistani military has successfully fought the Taliban in the northern Swat valley and blocked them from advancing from Swat to other parts of Pakistan.