WASHINGTON, Sept 8: The US decision to conduct raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas reflects its desire to duplicate the same strategy in Fata and Afghanistan that led to a steady decrease in insurgency in Iraq.
A new book by a veteran Washington journalist Bob Woodward attributes “85 to 90 per cent” of the success attained in Iraq to “a series of top-secret operations” that began in the late spring of 2007.
The new strategy empowered US forces to “locate, target and kill” key individuals in groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni rebellion and renegade Shia militias.
The strategy has two key points: collecting ‘actionable intelligence’ and the use of US special operation forces for taking out the targets identified by intelligence sources.
Diplomatic sources in Washington noted that the United States is using the same methods in Afghanistan.
The United States has already established a network of electronic data collection in Afghanistan and Pakistan which allows US experts to monitor hundreds of thousands of telephones and electronic mails every day.
US intelligence agencies have also set up a network of human intelligence collectors, which employs hundreds of Afghan and Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen.
The intelligence collected from them and from electronic surveillance is sifted through and analysed by US experts in Afghanistan and the United States.
US agencies also employ dozens of Pashto speakers hired with the help of an extensive media campaign in the United States and abroad.
And as in Iraq, the United States is also using its special forces for conducting raids in Afghanistan and Fata. Last week’s raid on a suspected militant target near Angoor Adda was also conducted by US Special Forces.
In interviews to various US media outlets since the Angoor Adda attack, US officials and intelligence experts made it clear that this was not a one-off thing.
They said that Washington had already taken the decision to employ ground troops for taking out suspected terrorist targets inside Fata and would do so whenever they felt they had ‘actionable intelligence.’
The decision to use ground troops followed the impressive success this strategy attained in Iraq.
In 2007, militant attacks in Iraq fell from 1,550 a week to below 800 -- nearly a 50 per cent reduction. It has continued to fall over the past year.
The book – ‘The War Within’ – notes that the operations in Iraq incorporated some of the most highly classified techniques and information in the US government.
In Iraq, the United States also established a Joint Special Operations Command, better known by its acronym JSOC.
Its commander, Lt-Gen Stanley McChrystal, was given all the power he needed for hunting Al Qaeda and other militant groups in Iraq.
The general called his strategy ‘collaborative warfare” and every available tool, from signal intercepts to lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations, to achieve his goals.
Mr Woodward said that when President George W. Bush was asked in an interview what brought this breakthrough in Iraq, he replied: “JSOC is awesome.”
Diplomatic observers in Washington believe that a similar structure can also be established in Afghanistan.
Another strategy that the United States learned in Iraq and would like to use in Afghanistan is that of exploiting Al Qaeda’s high-handedness.
Mr Woodward observed that in Iraq’s Anbar province, Al Qaeda made a strategic mistake of overplaying its hand. Its members had performed forced marriages with women from local tribes, taken over hospitals, used mosques for beheading operations, mortared playgrounds and executed citizens, leaving headless bodies with signs that read, “Don’t remove this body or the same thing will happen to you.”
“The sheer brutality eroded much of the local support for Al Qaeda in Iraq,” observed Mr Woodward.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists also have employed similar tactics in Fata against Pakistani troops as well as the local population.
US officials believe that the suicide bombings conducted by these extremists in Pakistani cities will ultimately have the same impact on the local population as it did in Iraq, particularly in the Anbar province where thousands of Sunni tribesmen turned against Al Qaeda and signed up with US forces.
Since the United States does not have plans to have a military presence in Fata, it will not sign up Pakistani citizens. But it does want to channelise their anger against suicide bombing to isolate the extremists.
The United States is also sending additional troops to Afghanistan to strengthen its presence, as it did in Iraq, and to demonstrate to the militants that it has no plan to quit the country without achieving its goals.