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Week of 1.8.10

Transcript: Targeting the Taliban

BRANCACCIO: President Obama is sending as many as thirty thousand more troops to combat Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan this year. Pentagon war planners acknowledge, though, that many of the enemy fighters are based not in Afghanistan but across the border in Pakistan. The U.S. administration has a plan for that - it wants the Pakistani military to take on those insurgents. But there's a big problem: the Pakistani army isn't going along. Rohit Ghandi reports from Pakistan's remote - and dangerous—border.

GHANDI: These soldiers are clearing a house they suspect of being a Taliban hideout. But these are not U.S. troops, and this is not Afghanistan. We are with a Pakistan army swat team in the province of South Waziristan. Very near to the Pakistan/Afghan border. The Pakistani army is launching is multi pronged attack against the Taliban, deep inside Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas—a remote area where the army and the government rarely venture into. The army pushes forward towards a village which has been a base of operations for the Taliban. We watch for sharpshooters. An engineers officer, trained in detecting land mines, drives us. He is on the lookout for improvised explosive devices or IED's. As we drive along the rugged road, an alert. A suicide bomber...We scan for a motorcycle, a car, even a bicycle, driven by a man who wants us dead. But we see no sign of people here. It is stark empty. The military had asked the civilians to evacuate before the fighting began. We reach our objective: the village of Makeen, where the 57th Punjab regiment of the Pakistan army readies itself to launch a coordinated strike.

We are under fire here from the Taliban. We are in a forward position, and they are making sure that this village gets cleared in a few hours. The sound of artillery fire engulfs the valley. As we move forward with Alpha and Charlie Company of this infantry unit, an IED is detected. These explosive devices are systematically planted. The Taliban have become expert in this kind of long-distance death.

SOLDIER: I repeat Target 1. Target 1 engage, one round gunfire, over.

GHANDI: Today's operation is successful. The village falls to the Pakistani army and a huge cache of ammunition is recovered.

MAJOR IMRAN: A number of compounds in a particular village, when we go in, in those compounds we find weapons. We found major weapons like RPGs, rocket propelled grenades launchers, and same way 82 mm mortar.

GHANDI: The Pakistani army says the Taliban are bringing weapons and ammunition from Afghanistan in huge quantities. From Makeen, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is only a few miles away. But it's virtually non-existent. As the American troop surge ramps up across the border, the likely result is that more Taliban will retreat into Pakistan...putting Pakistan's already stretched army under more pressure. The worry is that the Taliban will camp out here, cause widespread destruction and then simply move back to Afghanistan again when the U.S. troop presence winds down. This wouldn't be the first time that the Taliban have used Pakistani territory as a rear-guard retreat. The tribal areas are their most sympathetic refuge. Most people here are from the Pashtun tribe like the Afghani Taliban. I meet up with one of the key officers overseeing the Pakistani army's move into the border areas. Brigadier Shafiq has a long beard and no moustache, a sign of a devout Muslim, but he is determined to wipe out the Taliban. Shafiq is commander of the Jhandola flank. He takes me on an aerial tour of the rugged landscape of South Waziristan. It is dotted with small, isolated villages like Makeen. It is impossible for the army to control them all. The atmosphere is tense. A cobra flies escort, watching out for Taliban rockets that could shoot us out of the sky. The mountaintop we land on was a key Taliban holdout. The Pakistani army took it over, in two days of heavy fighting. The Pakistani military is now coordinating its maneuvers from here.

SHAFIQ: But now we have our forces which have taken Makeen and have come up to this track...

GHANDI: How many extremists are stuck inside this triangle?

SHAFIQ: The exact numbers I cannot get now, but my rough estimate, close to 2,000 should be there.

GHANDI: And how well armed are they?

SHAFIQ: Oh they are very well armed.

GHANDI: 50 helicopters, 80 tanks, and dozens of armored vehicles were deployed in South Waziristan for the fighting. Army figures show that close to 500 terrorists have been killed. Dozens have been captured. Last month, this offensive was declared a success but it is far from over. There have been dozens of Taliban attacks in recent weeks. But the bigger problem is that the main Taliban leaders have slipped away to other tribal areas. The U.S. says the Pakistan army is not doing enough. These soldiers on the ground disagree.

MAJOR IMRAN: They can come over here, sit with us, and see what we are doing. The things are right in front of you. This is an unconventional war. What we are doing, we are not doing for ourselves, for Pakistan, rather we are doing for the whole world.

GHANDI: But in spite of the army's offensive, Taliban keep retaking villages like Makeen. As the night falls, Taliban begin resurfacing and moving. The army does not sleep either, pounding them with 130 MM artillery shells. These rugged mountains must be cleared village by village, ridge by ridge, again and again. This was the home of Baitullah Masood, the most notorious Taliban leader in Pakistan. He headed the Tehrik-e-Taliban, a once 5,000 member strong force. In August 2009 he was killed in a U.S. drone attack. Baitullah is believed to be responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Today his house has been flattened by the army. They found a large quantity of weapons stored in an underground bunker. Just a few hundred meters away, a disturbing scene. A complex that was the indoctrination center for teenage suicide bombers. MAJOR SHAHZAD: This may be the stages room, from one room to another beautiful room, to another beautiful room.

GHANDI: The rooms depict Jannat - or heaven.

MAJOR SHAHZAD: Somebody being prepared for a terrorism act, somebody for big terrorism act, somebody for biggest terrorism act.

GHANDI: A vision of the afterlife that these young kids are told lies in store for them after they blow themselves up.

MAJOR SHAHZAD: You can see the milk is coming out, and these beautiful mountains, and whatever the people who will die, who will do the act of suicide and whatever else who will die, they will be groomed like this, the pictures of women that this that there are beautiful women there. This is all what you can see...

GHANDI: This is the concept of 72 virgins that they may get after they go to heaven.

MAJOR SHAHZAD: Yes, this is the image they wanted to falsely portray.

GHANDI: The Taliban brought boys as young as 13 and 14 to this center. Morphine and other drugs were used to send them off on their final journey.

This is written in blood?

MAJOR SHAHZAD: Yes this is written in blood.

GHANDI: Before taking off for the suicide mission, each of these children would write his name on the wall, the ink, his own blood. Inside the compound, another horrifying sight.

MAJOR SHAHZAD: So this is a place, where the terrorists used to bring in the innocent people...

GHANDI: The killing pit of the Taliban. Here they chopped off the heads of the enemy, the infidels, and the munafiq's or hypocrites, who were people they considered false Muslims.

MAJOR SHAHZAD: You see this blood is not a finger blood, it has been made by a brush, so large quantities of blood.

GHANDI: On the walls the killers wrote with the spilled blood of the infidels. Here it says: "this is what they deserve". Makeen is cleared, but its residents cannot yet return. The area remains a war zone. It shows that people left in a hurry because if you see, everything is still spread around, slippers, mats, even pillows, people left as the Pakistani army gave them very short notice to exit the city, to make sure they were safe. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the border areas and taken refuge in towns and refugee centers. It's become a huge problem for Pakistan. We go in search of the families who fled the village of Makeen. They belong to the Pashtun tribal group called Masood. After flying for an hour and a half we've landed here in Dera Gazi Khan. What we're here for is to meet the internally displaced people, or the refugees. They're not far from here approximately a few kilometers from here they've set up tents to distribute aid to them. We drive, with heavily armed guards, through the streets of Dera Ismail Khan. This town is located over 250 miles from Makeen. Our destination is a stadium, where government aid is being distributed to the people of the Masood tribe. Nearly 300,000 Masoods have escaped the fighting in South Waziristan. It is their extremist brethren who form the core of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, now led by this man Hakimullah Masood, who replaced Baitallah Massood after he was killed.

Like most of the tribes in this region, the Masoods have close ties to tribes in Afghanistan. But the people at this stadium have no role in the fighting. Still they are carefully frisked as they enter the site. This is a prime target for Masood terrorists, who would punish their own tribesmen for accepting government help. Masood tribesmen and children who come here receive supplies meant to last for a month. Women are not allowed as the tribe does not permit them to come and collect aid. But one or two still slip in; they have no one left in their family to come collect for them. Many Pashtuns who resent the military's presence in their land let their sympathy for the Taliban show. This group includes Gulbahadoor Masood, a Pashtun, but a former Pakistan military soldier, who says his former employer should stay away from his territory.

GULBAHADUR MASOOD: The Pakistan Army has come here now, just like the British army did once upon a time. This army should do what the British did then: stay in their camps and leave us alone!

GHANDI: America is very unpopular among the people here. If Gulbahadoor's attitude is a good indication of the Pashtun stance, the winning of hearts and minds will not be an easy task.

GULBAHADOOR MASOOD: America has come here and messed things up. What do they want here? Brother, leave us to defend our own land! I am 75 years old, and I swear to God I can still hit a target.

GHANDI: Is it possible to convince villagers that the Taliban is the enemy? We travel to the valley of Swat to find out. This area was taken by the Taliban in 2007. They held it until the Pakistani army cleared Swat in July 2009. The hustle on the street is back, but houses are riddled with bullet holes. A reminder of what the area has seen. But the Taliban did not shoot their way to power. Their talk about the Koran and Islamic law captured the attention and support of the locals. But once in power, the Taliban turned to violence. They targeted this girls' school. Village head Saifullah remembers the night the Taliban smuggled in an explosive device, destroying the classrooms, the courtyard, the library, where 200 girls had studied.

VILLAGE HEAD SAIFULLAH: They are against girls' education. But they are also against the education of boys. They preach "take up arms and fight against Pakistan", instead of staying in school and studying.

GHANDI: The cleanup of the place has now begun. The villagers hope to have the school up and running in a few months. Malala Yusuf Zai, a 12 year old, is a victim of the regressive policies of the Taliban.

MALALA: The Taliban came in 2007, and they used to give sermons on the FM radio, and they usually talked about how girls should not go to school, and education is not important for girls.

GHANDI: Malala was frightened but she risked her life to keep learning.

MALALA: We used to hide our books under our shawls, and we used to wear our home dresses instead of our school uniform.

GHANDI: The consequences, if she were found by the Taliban, were grim.

MALALA: I was thinking, if the Taliban caught me they can throw acid on my face, and they can kidnap me. They can do anything, because they have slaughtered many peoples in the square and hang them upside down.

GHANDI: The village head of Totanobandai now travels with two Kalashnikovs by his side. He introduces me to his Village Defense Committee. The Defense Committee was formed once Taliban brutality began to turn people against them. They say the terrorists will never be able to return. The villagers and the military have now destroyed every home owned by families who had helped prop up the rule of the Taliban in the area. Sending a clear message, please do not return. The Pakistan army points to Swat as a success story, saying a combination of negotiation, patience and military action paid off. General Tariq Khan, of the Frontier Constabulary, is in charge of the tribal areas. He is a Pashtun who hails from the tribal region.

GEN. TARIQ KHAN: There was no public support for military operations. we took a long road of deals, negotiations, agreements that weren't very good, but were necessary in order to give peace a chance

GHANDI: But the problem of the Taliban has spread. There have been dozens of suicide bombings in Pakistan's major cities over past two years. In Rawalpindi, Abu Bakhar Zahid, an 8 year old comes to this mosque everyday. His father, an army officer, died in a suicide bombing while praying here one afternoon, just a few weeks ago. Abu comes here to see his fathers slippers, left at the entrance before the bomb went off. Suicide attacks in Pakistan in the last two years have killed over 2,000 people. The landscape of Pakistan's cities has been altered, for a long time to come. Parvez Hoodbhoy is a respected political-defense analyst based in Islamabad. He says Pakistani public opinion has turned against the Taliban and they now tolerate U.S. drone attacks in tribal areas.

PARVEZ HOODBHOY: The fact is that Baitullah Masood, who was a killer of Pakistanis, those who were praying in mosques, attending funerals, and so forth was killed by an American drone. GHANDI: The U.S. administration has been pressuring the Pakistani military to attack the Haqqani network, the main threat to the U.S. in Afghanistan. They are headquartered in North Waziristan. Osama Bin Laden is also suspected to be hiding in North Waziristan. The U.S. accuses Pakistan of not mounting any major offensive directed towards these threats. The priority, army says, is to kill or capture the Taliban elements that have targeted Pakistan.

PARVEZ HOODBHOY: Those who attack the Pakistan army are the bad Taliban, they've got to be targeted, cleared out, killed, whatever. In spite of a lot of American pressure, the Pakistan army has absolutely refused to touch the Haqqani group, the people in North Waziristan who are not attacking Pakistani, but they're attacking the Americans.

GHANDI: The Pakistan Army insists it can't take on all groups at once, and must protect their citizens first. General Athat Abbas is the spokesman for the Pakistan military.

GENERAL ATHAT ABBAS ATHAR: It is said first things first, so the terrorist organizations which are directly affecting the state, the government, the public, and so is the case of Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan of Baitullah network. This organization is responsible for all acts of terrorism in our country, and therefore government decided to move against this organization.

GHANDI: This may not be good enough for the U.S. If Pakistan does not move soon against the Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents based inside Pakistan's borders, the U.S. signaled it may send American troops across the border into Pakistan in hot pursuit. Parvez Hoodbhoy says that would turn Pakistani public opinion completely against the U.S. He says Pakistanis know it was the Americans, and the CIA, that got this all started in the first place.

PARVEZ HOODBHOY: If you were to say, where does the genesis of global jihad I will point it squarely at the United States. It had made the fight against the Soviets a religious war. The fact is CIA distributed hundreds of thousands of Korans to madrasas, to those it was seeking to influence in Afghanistan. It succeeded brilliantly, but look at what enormous cost.

GHANDI: Pakistan's military leaders describe this as a guerrilla war with a wily enemy, where brute military force alone cannot succeed. Waziristan is not Swat. In Swat, the Taliban were outsiders. In Waziristan, they are insiders. There are no Village Defense Committees helping the Army here. Dealing with the Pashtun tribesman will need political will, deal-making, money, and cultural understanding.

GEN. TARIQ KHAN: You can take a tribal to hell with love but you can't take him to heaven with anger. He loves music and holds all musicians in contempt. He loves to fight, but hates to be a soldier, he is a very good friend and a very, very bad enemy. So this is the kind of person you're dealing with, someone who is ruled more by his traditions than by laws.

GHANDI: The U.S. is part of a conflict that has roiled this remote border region for decades. The tribal areas are a kind of Wild West, one of the last holdouts against the seemingly inevitable expansion of the modern globalized world. The ambitions of the British, and then a century later the Russians, foundered here in the face of local resistance. The challenge, for America and for Pakistan, is to convert local resistance into local support. It won't be easy.

BRANCACCIO: What do you think of Pakistan's role in the war on terror? If you could, respond to our weekly q. Find it on our homepage through And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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