The long-rumored “spring offensive” against al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan seems already to be underway:
There is a “renewed sense of urgency” in the hunt for top al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives and it is only a matter of time before Osama bin Laden is captured, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
As Pakistan interrogated al-Qaida and Taliban suspects caught in a military sweep through its rugged border region, Lt. Col. Matthew Beevers dismissed speculation that American forces had closed in on bin Laden. If coalition forces knew where bin Laden was, “we’d already have him,” Beevers said.
In their latest operation, Pakistani security forces raided an area near the town of Wana, 190 miles west of the capital, Islamabad. The six-hour sweep Tuesday was a hunt for clues on the whereabouts bin Laden and his top lieutenants.
Pakistan put the region bordering Afghanistan under surveillance last year after receiving unconfirmed reports that bin Laden’s top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been spotted there, an intelligence official told the AP on condition of anonymity.
On Tuesday, they moved in, using helicopter gunships and artillery to level three housing compounds near Wana after tribal elders in the town refused to hand over suspects sought by Pakistan’s government. Weapons, ammunition, foreign passports and audiocassettes were also seized.
Pakistan could have pursued al Qaeda in its border regions more aggressively long ago, of course. It appears that what caused Musharraf’s new determination to root out the terrorists was their repeated attempts to assassinate him. This may have been a blunder of historic proportions, analogous to Hitler’s needless declaration of war on the United States after Pearl Harbor.
Which illustrates an important point about the terrorists: the same qualities that make them frightening and difficult to combat–their irrationality, their obliviousness to death, the impossibility of deterring them by conventional means–also make it hard for them to pursue effective long-term strategies.