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Cablegate: South Waziristan Military Operation Imminent

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O 020432Z OCT 09


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/1/2019

CLASSIFIED BY: Candace Putnam, Principal Officer, Peshawar,
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) Summary: In discussions with PO September 30, FATA
Secretariat XXXXXXXXXXXX and NWFP Social Welfare Minister
Sitara Ayaz, said they believed that the long-awaited Army
operation in South Waziristan was imminent. XXXXXXXXXXXXsaid the GOP had made a decision to ""go for the kill"" this time. He said
that Commander Nazir's forces in North Waziristan largely had
been neutralized and would not join the fight. Surprisingly, he
predicted that the Mehsuds of South Waziristan would not fight
as a tribe but would do so individually; the big battle would be
between the Army and the Uzbeks who had found shelter in the
area. The Army, said XXXXXXXXXXXX would stay on until the FATA
Secretariat could recruit the sons of former maliks to return
and impose order; the goal was to prevent a power vacuum that
the Taliban could exploit. The big question is whether the Army
has enough forces to clear this difficult terrain against an
enemy who has been preparing for months, and whether the
Frontier Corps backed by local lashkars the FC hopes to create
can hold this area through the approaching winter. Whenever it
begins, this operation will be a big gamble for the Army.

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2. (C) In a welcome change, it appears the Army and the
civilian authorities are coordinating actions ahead of military
operations. During ""intense"" discussions with the 11th Corps,
Minister Sitara pushed for having the NWFP provincial
government, rather than the Army, register the IDPs expected to
flee combat. Currently, 80,000 Waziristan IDPs were in DI Khan
and other areas adjacent to the settled areas; XXXXXXXXXXXX feared most of the approximately 500,000 inhabitants of South
Waziristan would seek at least temporary shelter. Unlike the
Malakand IDPS who were welcomed by the NWFP population, however, no one wants the Mehsud IDPs because they have harbored terrorists. The only place to put them was Tank, where their
presence could block/interfere with the Army's supply route.
Both Sitara and XXXXXXXXXXXX hoped that UNHCR could help with
registration of these IDPs; with the Army declaring that it will
not allow NGOs into Tank at this time, efforts to provide food
and temporary shelter will be particularly challenging. End

3. (C) PO met September 30 with XXXXXXXXXXXX of the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Secretariat who reported that
the GOP had made a decision to ""go for the kill"" in South
Waziristan, and that Army operations could start as early as
this week. We will not be ""chatting"" (i.e., discussing a peace
agreement) with them this time, said XXXXXXXXXXXX. He said that
the Wazirs of North Waziristan largely had been neutralized and
that the Army did not expect the Mehsuds of South Waziristan to
fight as a tribe. (Note: On September 27, the media reported
statements by some Mehsud leaders that the tribe did not want to
be considered en masse as terrorists.) There would, of course,
be individual pockets of Mehsud resistance, admitted XXXXXXXXXXXX, but the big battle would be between the Army and the Uzbeks who had taken refuge in the area. The first week of fighting, predicted XXXXXXXXXXXX, would be particularly fierce.

4. (C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the Army will take the lead on
operations and will stay until the power vacuum can be filled. XXXXXXXXXXXX plans to recruit the sons of South Waziristan maliks who have been killed or forced out by the Taliban to come back and resume leadership of the area under the protection of the
security forces. Once the Army comes in, he predicted that
lashkars would be formed to support the hold force provided by
the Frontier Corps, just as they have done in other areas.

5. (C) In a separate meeting with PO, XXXXXXXXXXXX, the
Peshawar bureau chief for Dawn News, reported September 26 that
the Army was holding a meeting September 28 to make final plans
for the operation. XXXXXXXXXXXX had just met with both IG Frontier
Corps MG Tariq Khan and with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani;
both, said XXXXXXXXXXXX, were concerned about whether they had enough troops to clear, but especially to hold the area through the
winter. When PO asked XXXXXXXXXXXX if he thought the Army had
enough troops to take this battle on, the response after a long
pause was that the Army thought they had the capability and that
the U.S. could assist with continued strikes.

6. (C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the decision to go forward was based on several factors, including concern that TTP terrorists
based in South Waziristan continued to feed fighters and support
to militants across the FATA and Malakand Division in the
Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Interestingly, XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Kayani wanted to move now, before any possibility that the
U.S. would pull back forces from Afghanistan and thus give
militants greater operating freedom on the border areas.
(XXXXXXXXXXXX also said that Kayani told him he believed the Afghan Taliban wanted to become a political party and was willing to
cut its ties to al-Qaida, although Kayani was not clear on how
this transition would be managed.) Tariq Khan wanted to finish
up current operations in Khyber before launching the Waziristan
action but planned to start moving a Frontier Corps wing out of
Dir to support the operation. It is not clear if the Army
agreed to wait for Frontier Corps forces to be redeployed before
beginning the Waziristan campaign.

7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX explained he had recommended to the Army
that it: (a) avoid even small scale defeats because these
would have a corrosive effect on local attitudes; and (b) gain
control of the towns and leave the mountains until later. With
winter approaching, the militants will be on the run and easier
to spot when they build their fires in the hills. There was a
possibility that the militants will flee and blend into
populations in the settled areas, but this will mean that
Pakistan has moved on to a second and less dangerous phase of
the insurgency. Success in South Waziristan, he claimed, will
have a ripple effect on Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai and Bajaur, and
the militants will lose their training camps.

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told PO that Tariq Khan admitted there still is
a problem in Orakzai, home to Hakimullah and a source of
fighters bleeding into Mohmand, and in Kurram, where the
Iranians had been, until recently, facilitating the flow of
fighters in to Pakistan. PO noted that Tariq Khan and others
were concerned that if the TTP was pushed out of the
Waziristans, they would set up operations in the Tirah Valley,
especially in Orakzai; XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed and said this was why
it was so important that the U.S. launch strikes against Mangal
Bagh. Ongoing military operations had forced Bagh out of Bara,
and he had moved to the Tirah Valley where he can claim to be a
feudal leader and demand the support of the population. Now,
however, Bagh is trading Taliban protection for giving them
access to the Tirah Valley. If Bagh can be eliminated, his
criminal/terrorist followers will have no way to demand the
loyalty of the local population, insisted XXXXXXXXXXXX.

9. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX remains a strong advocate of U.S. strikes.
In fact, he suggested to PO that the U.S. consider follow-on
attacks immediately after an initial strike. He explained that
after a strike, the terrorists seal off the area to collect the
bodies; in the first 10-24 hours after an attack, the only
people in the area are terrorists, so ""you should hit them
again-there are no innocents there at that time."" His sources
report that the reported September 29 strike in South Waziristan
had been particularly successful; ""you will see that you hit
more than has been reported in the press both in terms of
quantity and quality."" XXXXXXXXXXXX also drew a diagram
essentially laying out the rationale for signature strikes that
eliminated terrorist training camps and urged that the U.S. do
more of these.

More IDPs Expected

10. (C) Over the September 26-27 weekend, FATA Radio Station
Razmak advised the population in four towns of South Wazirstan
to move out ahead of expected military operations. XXXXXXXXXXXX
said he had directed the FATA Secretariat to make an accurate
assessment of how many IDPs would flee; initially, he had
estimated that only those in the northern area of South
Waziristan around Makeen would move. After repeated publicity
about the operation, he feared that most of the South Waziristan
population (over 500,000) would want to escape the fighting.
These tribal people would not want to stay in camps but would
seek shelter from families, much like the Malakand IDPs.

11. (C) However, XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Mehsuds were creating a big problem. Unlike the Malakand IDPs who were given shelter
and support from the people of NWFP, no one wants the Mehsuds
because they are considered to have supported terrorists and
because of fears terrorists will use an IDP exodus as cover to
escape. This meant that the only area they could go to was
Tank, where an IDP exodus/presence could block or interfere with
the Army's supply route. Habibullah was struggling to come up
with a solution on how to care for these people. (Note:
XXXXXXXXXXXX said a similar problem affected the Bajaur IDPs;
because few NWFP and FATA Secretariat bureaucrats had much
sympathy for people who were thought to have been hospitable to
the Taliban, the government was reluctant to assist and
suggested the Bajauris be forced home.)

12. (C) In a separate meeting with PO September 30, NWFP
Social Welfare Minister Sitara Ayaz confirmed her belief that
the Waziristan operation was imminent. She had been in
""intense"" meetings with 11th Corps Chief of Staff BG Aamer all
morning about how to cope with the expected IDPs. The Army has
said clearly that it will not allow NGOs in Tank at this time;
PO expressed concern about the ability of UNHCR or the World
Food Program to operate there given the security situation.
Sitara agreed this could be an issue but expressed concern over
the Army's plans to register the IDPs, saying that this should
be the task of the civilian government. She offered the
assistance of her ministry or Pakistani NGOs working for UNHCR
to handle registrations. XXXXXXXXXXXX also indicated that he
hoped UNHCR would be able to handle registrations of IDPs
staying with families and said he had asked for assistance in
coming up with an appropriate methodology. Sitara felt the
problem was manageable but said it would require both an initial
registration and follow up with the host families to monitor who
would be eligible for assistance. Many of the current 80,000
Waziristan IDPs and the expected future wave had homes in the
settled area near Tank and DI Khan, so considering them as IDPs
was problematic. She did not believe it would be necessary to
set up an IDP camp for this group.

13. (C) Comment: Speculation about the start of a Waziristan
campaign has been rising since the death of Baitullah Mehsud,
with the Frontier Corps eager to begin and the Army reluctant to
initiate ground action until they had sufficient forces
deployed. We understand that the expected October 10 change of
command at 11th Corps has been postponed, perhaps in
anticipation of operations; Consulate sources expect the
operation could begin on/around October 7. However, so far we
have detected none of the military preparations that would
prestage an operation of this size, including renewed air
strikes, a change in operational readiness, or a significant
movement of troops.

14. (C) Comment continued: Regardless of preparatory work,
this will be a big gamble for the Army. TTP elements have had
months to prepare defenses in depth, and we know from experience
these are committed fighters regardless of any splits within TTP
leadership. Extending food and assistance to Waziristan NGOs
in Tank will be a difficult challenge given poor security; post
will contact WFP and UNHCR to assess current possibilities of
providing this assistance. According to UNHCR, as of September
26, military search operations and curfews in effect in Tank
have for several days made registration and assistance provision
impossible, although civilian authorities at the time expected
these disruptions to last for only a few more days. The fact
that the Army and the civilians appear to be coordinating
actions in advance of military operations is a notable and
welcome change.


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