US and Pakistani forces operating along the porous border between Afghanistan’s Paktika province and the Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan’s tribal areas coordinated attacks against Taliban forces on Nov. 18. The cooperative effort is the second this week, and signals a renewed effort to stem the flow of Taliban fighters crossing the border is underway.
The US military contacted the Pakistani military after a US combat outpost and an Afghan checkpoint came under “artillery fire” from Taliban forces operating across the border in the lawless Waziristan tribal region on Nov. 18. “The Pakistani military then launched a mortar strike on the insurgents’ firing location inside Pakistan,” an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press release stated.
It is unclear if there were Taliban casualties, but no US or Afghan forces were killed or wounded in the initial attack. ISAF did not say if the attack was launched from North or South Waziristan. The powerful Haqqani Network and Taliban forces under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar operate in North Waziristan. Taliban forces under the command of Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Nazir operate in South Waziristan.
The Nov. 18 incident was preceded by another coordinated US-Pakistani strike. Taliban teams twice fired rockets at a US base in Paktika province on Nov. 16. The US military determined the rockets were launched from within Pakistan, “coordinated with the Pakistan military,” and fired 20 “artillery rounds” at the launch site in Waziristan, ISAF reported. “The Pakistan soldiers assured ISAF that they would engage any insurgents attempting to flee deeper into Pakistan.”
US and Afghan forces have fought pitched battles against the Taliban in Paktika, and Paktia provinces over the past week. On Nov.16, US attack helicopters killed a “large number of insurgents” after they attacked a combat outpost in Paktika’s Bermel district.
Operation Lionheart in the Kunar-Bajaur border region
The US and Pakistani military have also increased cooperation further north on the Afghan border. US troops operating in Afghanistan’s Kunar province are coordinating their efforts with Pakistani forces fighting the Taliban in Bajaur.
The effort, called Operation Lionheart, has US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade conducting simultaneous operations in the Kunar River Valley and along the mountain border crossings with Pakistan.
"The objective is to share intelligence and prevent the enemy from transiting the border, as they continue operations to defeat the insurgents in Bajaur agency,” said Colonel John Spiszer, the brigade commander at a Pentagon briefing on Nov. 18. “By conducting near-simultaneous operations on both sides of the border, we're making it difficult for the enemy to operate and eliminating his essential safe havens.”
The US military has refocused its “intelligence surveillance reconnaissance assets, to do everything we can to identify [insurgents] transiting across the border,” Spiszer said. He has conducted meetings with the Bajaur Scouts, a unit that is part of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, as well as with the Pakistani Army. “We are in coordination on a daily basis with the Frontier Corps,” said Spiszer.
Operation Lionheart was launched just as a report of increased cooperation between the US and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, according to a report in the Asia Times.
“High-level meetings between US intelligence and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have already been held at different levels to devise plans to cripple the support systems of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan,” the Asia Times reported. “Two prominent names came under discussion at these meetings: retired Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul and a former ISI official, retired Squadron Leader Khalid Khawaja.” Both Gul and Khawaja have a long history of supporting the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.
A senior US military intelligence official confirmed to The Long War Journal that talks are underway, and described the concept as “nothing short of a huge mistake.” ISI agents trained by Gul and Khawaja would sniff out such plans, and retaliate.
The pro-Taliban elements of the ISI have an extensive network inside Pakistan, and are believed to have aided in the numerous attacks on high-security Pakistani military installations, such as a triple suicide attack on the Wah weapons factory, multiple attacks inside the so-called military garrison city of Rawalpindi, several attacks on military bases housing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and a suicide strike at officer's dinner on a base operated by the Special Services Group, Pakistan’s elite counterterrorism unit.
As the news broke of increase US and ISI cooperation, Major General Amir Faisal Alvi, the former commander of Special Services Group was assassinated while driving to Islamabad. Alvi had eight bullet wounds, including three fatal shots to the head. His driver was struck with seven bullets and also was killed.