The mandate to give chase to the insurgents, at least
using Western ground troops, stops at the rugged, mountainous border.
Just across from Khowst and Paktika lie two of the most
insurgent-plagued of Pakistan’s tribal areas, North and South
Pakistani army commanders, after years of looking the other way
while militants had free rein in the tribal areas, are in the early
stages of what is billed as a major assault on South Waziristan, the
redoubt of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mahsud.
Pakistani officials say Mahsud, who is accused of masterminding a
campaign of suicide bombings in Pakistan and the assassination of
onetime Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, narrowly escaped a missile
attack last week believed to have been carried out by drones, the main
U.S. weapon for reaching across the border from Afghanistan.
Despite pressure on the Pakistani side of the border —
including not only the Pakistani military offensive, but U.S. drone
attacks and intertribal rivalries — insurgents continue to make their
way back and forth across the thinly guarded frontier.
But their comings and goings do not go unobserved.
“We know who they are, and we know where they come from,” said a
U.S. military official familiar with intelligence on cross-border
movement of Taliban commanders, foot soldiers and armaments.
Reversing the insurgency’s momentum has been a key
component of the new U.S. strategy, and thousands of additional troops
allow commanders to push and stay into areas where international and
Afghan troops had no permanent presence before.