No Sanctuary

When spring comes to Afghanistan, so will a major increase in the number of Taliban attacks on American and NATO troops as well as the government of Hamid Karzai. The resurgent Taliban — despite five years’ of defeats — have managed to substantially rearm and reorganize. They will, according to a senior military official we spoke to last week, be on the offensive in 60 to 90 days. Why?

The answer is found in northwestern Pakistan. Though our military has presented the Pakistanis with actionable intelligence that could enable a strike against the Taliban (and likely prevent the spring offensive) the Pakistanis refuse to act or let us do so.

The Pakistani ISI — the "Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence" — trained more than 80,000 Afghanis and other fighters to resist the Soviet’s decade-long invasion of Afghanistan. And even after the Soviets left, the ISI kept producing these fighters and helped install what became the Taliban regime. It also is supplying, training and operating Islamic terrorists attacking Indian forces in Kashmir. The ISI — a government within a government — is more loyal to the Taliban and to the terrorists in Kashmir than to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

According to that same senior Pentagon official, the Taliban leadership is now headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta, only about 150 miles from the major Afghan city of Qandahar. In Quetta, the Taliban have their senior leadership and what the military refers to as "C3": command, control and communications. From there, they can plan attacks, communicate with their fighters and continue their war to remake the Afghanistan into the terrorist haven that was Usama bin Laden’s headquarters on 9-11.

In Vietnam, we allowed the Viet Cong sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia. Every time our troops and our Vietnamese allies defeated the VC, they could retreat into one of their sanctuaries to retrain, rearm and then resume the war. One of the principal lessons of Vietnam is that if the enemy is allowed such sanctuaries, and remains allied to nations and other forces that provide him the means of rebuilding his forces, he cannot be defeated. Why, then, do we allow the Taliban the sanctuary of Pakistan?

Musharraf has been an enormously helpful ally in the war against the Taliban, though most of what he has done — including allowing American troops to land thousands of tons of arms, equipment and supplies on Pakistani soil at night for transshipment into Afghanistan — remains an open secret. If he broke openly with the ISI, Musharraf would most likely be assassinated. That Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them is what prevents us from pushing him past that point. An ISI-controlled Pakistani government might precipitate a nuclear conflict with India. But that doesn’t mean that we have no military options against the Taliban.

This is the environment in which our special operations forces thrive. By what is euphemistically called direct action and by guiding in stealthy attacks from the air they can either destroy the Taliban leadership or so greatly disrupt its ability to operate from sanctuary in Quetta that the spring offensive may be reduced or forestalled altogether.

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush made it a point to say that since 9-11, “…America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same.” In Quetta, and wherever else we know the Taliban remain safe, President Bush must resume the wise policy he began more than five years ago.