The always vigilant John McCreary flags reports that one consequence of Pakistan’s ongoing counteroffensive against the Taliban in Swat is that it has driven up to 5,000 Pakistani Taliban fighters across the border into Afghanistan’s northeastern Konar province.
As we have reported here earlier, in the see-saw battles along Afghanistan’s mountainous border region, an influx of Taliban fighters prior to the summer fighting season is standard; but these numbers are higher than expected. McCreary says violence in Konar province has reached eight year highs and that some Afghan officials believe the province is lost, at least until significant U.S. and NATO reinforcements are sent to the area.
An ISAF compilation of key metrics, released this month via CSIS, vividly illustrates the deteriorating security situation in Konar province, where insurgent attacks average 4 per day; only Kandahar and Helmand provinces see more fighting. The ISAF numbers show a truly astounding jump this year in the number of insurgent attacks of all kinds across Afghanistan compared to the same time last year: IED attacks are up 81 percent; direct fire attacks up 57 percent; and indirect fire attacks up 44 percent. The Taliban offensive in Afghanistan comes in the face of a buildup of U.S., NATO and Afghan security forces. Helmand province, the heart of Afghanistan’s poppy industry, is still the scene of heaviest fighting, insurgent attacks there now average more than 10 per day.
Significant is the statistic showing civilian deaths have dropped by 44 percent, but U.S. and NATO deaths have risen by 55 percent and Afghan security force deaths are up by 25 percent. The Afghan insurgents appear to be moving from a terror campaign to directly confronting the U.S., NATO and Afghan coalition. IEDs remain the insurgent weapon of choice, and the Afghan provinces that have seen the highest rises in IED attacks are those that straddle the ring road, as bombers seek out targets of opportunity.
A highly troubling figure is that insurgent surface-to-air fire is up 103 percent over the same period last year. Speaking at CSIS last week, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said intelligence from Afghanistan indicates the insurgents have been “beefing” up their air defenses. That could have a serious impact on U.S. operations that are so heavily dependant on helicopters for movement and close air support. Remember, the decisive impact of the Stingers in mujahidin hands was that it forced the Soviets to change their tactics and fly above the missile’s threat envelope, reducing Soviet pilot’s ability to provide close-in fire support to ground troops. Almost overnight, the Soviets lost their biggest tactical advantage. I'm not saying the Taliban have something akin to the Stinger, but any increase in their air defenses is worrisome.
Despite the public proclamations of heavy Pakistani Taliban casualties in the latest offensive, McCreary questions the Pakistani government’s commitment to eradicating the Taliban because of a key dynamic he has noticed. In the past, when the Pakistani military mounted serious operations that truly threatened the Taliban, Pashtun fighters from Afghanistan moved into Pakistan to help their embattled kinsmen. The opposite is happening this time around.
Over at the Long War Journal, Bill Roggio quotes U.S. military and intelligence officials who say Pakistani government claims of Taliban killed so far in their offensives into Swat are grossly exaggerated. "The [Pakistani] military's engagements in Mohmand and South Waziristan have been defensive in nature," the military officer said. "They're responding to Taliban attacks, not taking the fight to them."