For years the U.S. has been carrying out Predator strikes against Islamist terrorists in Pakistan — but only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The rest of Pakistan has been out of bounds, including Baluchistan, where in the city of Quetta, the Afghan Taliban have established their operational headquarters. That may be changing. The New York Times reports today: “American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.”
It’s about time. In a Times op-ed today, RAND’s Seth Jones quotes a Marine he met in Helmand Province: “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us. Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”
I heard similar sentiments when I was in Afghanistan in October. Indeed, one senior American officer told me that many Afghans can’t figure out why we are giving a pass to Mullah Omar and the senior Afghan Taliban leadership when we are targeting leaders of al-Qaeda and even the Pakistani Taliban (including their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. strike in August). This has led to the spread of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Americans are somehow in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban. Crazy, I know, but those are the kinds of wild theories that are believed in tribal societies like Afghanistan.
In reality, I suspect, we have refrained from strikes on the Taliban leadership for fear of offending the Pakistani government. But if we’re going to get serious about turning around the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, we have to take the gloves off and send the Predators over Quetta.