Day One: South Waziristan operation begins
And so it begins.
An approximate 28,000 Pakistan Army troops – with air support – have launched the ground offensive into South Waziristan. Reports of initial skirmishes have already begun to come in, as well as one of a bomb attacking a security convoy. 11 militants are reported to have been killed so far. The ratio of troops to militants appears be 2.8:1 , as there are an estimated 10,000 militants in the area. As far as the territory the army offensive is aiming to control , it is the the TTP stronghold. In an older interview with AP, Maj Gen Athar Abbas – spokesperson for the Pakistani army said:
..the assault would be limited to slain Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud’s holdings – a swath of territory that stretches roughly 3,310 square kilometres.
The plan is to capture and hold the area where Abbas estimates 10,000 insurgents are headquartered and reinforced with about 1,500 foreign fighters, most of them of Central Asian origin. ‘There are Arabs, but the Arabs are basically in the leadership, providing resources and expertise and in the role of trainers,’ he said.
The ground operation has been preceded by a series of attacks on security facilities in the country, notably last weekend’s attack on the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Of course, all isn’t as easy as it seems.
Tick tock, tick tock
For one, the army has a limited amount of time before temperatures dip and the first snow hits, which means they’ll be back to air strikes, if that.
Another IDP crisis?
Secondly, the internally displaced persons. One of my major issues with the ground operations has been the lack of planning and thought that has gone into taking care of the residents that have to flee targeted areas to safer ground. News reports say that atleast 90,000 150,000 families have fled the area.
Given how badly the IDPs crisis was managed by the government and opposition parties during the Swat offensive, one can only hope that aid agencies will be better experienced from the Swat IDPs and cope with the likely humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, as with the Swat offensive, once the South Waziristan operation is over: what will the area’s residents be left with to come back to?
This is a vicious cycle that Pakistan seems to keep repeating. Pakistan should have learned its lesson with the Afghan war, or with the other battles that Pakistan has been fighting in the FATA region for years now, that it is as important to build an infrastructure for innocent civilians as it is to destroy the infrastructure of militant networks.
Crisis, what crisis?
Perhaps its just me but I feel that there’s a certain blasé attitude in the air. For a country that should technically be in a state of war, everything seems to keep going on as usual, including as Newsline magazine’s Nadir Hassan pointed out, the focus of Pakistan’s parliament.
Region: South Waziristan. Home to training camps for suicide bombers, cited to be one of the areas Al Qaeda’s top leadership operates from, the stronghold of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan which is responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on the country’s security facilities.
Manpower: The Pakistan Army is sending in 28,000 troops. The number for the militants varies between 10-20,000. Accrding to The National, “a senior military official said the initial objective was to establish footholds, but that three divisions of the military, paramilitary and police would be mobilised, eventually numbering up to 60,000 troops.”
Arms and ammunition:
- The army is likely to attack from three directions, with ground troops backed by jets, attack helicopters, tanks and artillery.
- The militants have had years to prepare their defences and hold rifles, machineguns, anti-tank weapons, especially rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and longer-range rockets.
- They are also experts in the use of roadside bombs and have been churning out a stream of suicide bombers.
For more on the battle specifics, BBC has a good Q&A on what lies ahead in South Waziristan.