How important are Taliban headquarters?

The Pakistani military reported that they entered and largely cleared the “Taliban headquarters” in South Waziristan today. The reported success is part of a large-scale offensive in the region, which is a stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban factions drawn together under the leadership of (the recently-killed) Baitullah Mehsud. The “headquarters” referred ...

577408_091106_waziristan25.jpg
577408_091106_waziristan25.jpg

The Pakistani military reported that they entered and largely cleared the "Taliban headquarters" in South Waziristan today. The reported success is part of a large-scale offensive in the region, which is a stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban factions drawn together under the leadership of (the recently-killed) Baitullah Mehsud. The "headquarters" referred to is the town of Makeen, which had been Mehsud's hometown.

How important is it to clear Taliban headquarters, whether in Waziristan or Balochistan? In an interview with FP, Sameer Lalwani, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, argues the answer largely depends on what comes next:

[Makeen] might have been the center of TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] organization, but I suspect that at some level, ‘headquarters' doesn't mean as much to an insurgency that's able to melt away and reappear down the road at different locations and continue operations... it certainly disrupts the organization of the group. [But] it's a very fluid network, they have alliances with other neighboring tribes, they're able to parlay their way, probably, for a safe haven within Afghanistan, or in the mountains, for a period of time.

The Pakistani military reported that they entered and largely cleared the “Taliban headquarters” in South Waziristan today. The reported success is part of a large-scale offensive in the region, which is a stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani Taliban factions drawn together under the leadership of (the recently-killed) Baitullah Mehsud. The “headquarters” referred to is the town of Makeen, which had been Mehsud’s hometown.

How important is it to clear Taliban headquarters, whether in Waziristan or Balochistan? In an interview with FP, Sameer Lalwani, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, argues the answer largely depends on what comes next:

[Makeen] might have been the center of TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] organization, but I suspect that at some level, ‘headquarters’ doesn’t mean as much to an insurgency that’s able to melt away and reappear down the road at different locations and continue operations… it certainly disrupts the organization of the group. [But] it’s a very fluid network, they have alliances with other neighboring tribes, they’re able to parlay their way, probably, for a safe haven within Afghanistan, or in the mountains, for a period of time.

So, it really depends on what the follow-up operations are…. I think this is one of the biggest demonstrations of Pakistani commitment, in their ground invasion of South Waziristan, and the most targeted, and probably one of the stronger efforts we’ve seen in recent years, but I’d still be apprehensive to say this is a categorical success, even [having] secured a few militant strongholds and, I guess, the center of operations, because the real question becomes ‘how long can they hold it?'”

The Taliban certainly isn’t handing the territory off. Responding to Pakistan’s recent military successes, a Taliban spokesman said simply, “We are prepared for a long war.”

Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

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