Washington is redeploying thousands of troops and one-third of its equipment to Afghanistan from Iraq, where 97,000 U.S. troops are currently assigned.
The plan is to increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan from roughly 75,000 to about 98,000 by August, around the same time U.S. commanders are projecting to complete the initial clearing phase of military operations in Kandahar Province, scheduled to begin in June.
In preparation for the offensive, U.S. special forces and CIA operatives have been capturing and assassinating Taliban leaders throughout the province, Steve Coll reported in the New Yorker.
In addition to U.S. troops, 41 other governments have a total of 38,900 soldiers in Afghanistan32,000 of which are from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Poland, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, and Spain.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government launched a military offensive March 23 in the tribal agency of Orakzai, where many Taliban combatants and al-Qaeda allies reportedly fled during operations in other parts of the tribal areas. Pakistani officials say they killed more than 200 Taliban in the first eight days.
The offensive is being carried out by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which recruits from the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan and operates in the western regions bordering Afghanistan and Iran.
Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the Frontier Corps top commander, told McClatchy Newspapers that a series of smaller operations led by Pakistans regular army were taking place in North Waziristan Agency. Sporadic fighting continues in Pakistans five other tribal agencies, which Khan says have been brought under government control.
Khan said the initial clearing phase would last a couple months. Supplied with weapons from Washington, Pakistani troops have been relying heavily on air and artillery strikes in order to spare us the troopsa method that has resulted in high civilian casualties.
After clearing the two agencies, Khan said that he will place more boots on the ground to sweep through the tribal region house-by-house. Following Washingtons counterinsurgency strategy, the Pakistani government is seeking $1 billion in aid to repair and develop the area to win support for the government and its fight against the Taliban.
As in previous operations, the local population is caught in the crossfire. Pakistans News reported March 31 that according to local sources Taliban in Orakzai had destroyed a health clinic, two public schools, and 15 houses of government supporters. The sources also described Frontier Corps shelling two homes in which more than half of the casualties were women.
More than 30 percent of Orakzais population of 450,000 has been displaced as a result of the offensive. Some 198,000 had been registered by the United Nations as of April 2, having fled east from Orakzai and neighboring Kurram Agency to Hangu and Kohat districts outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This number is increasing by about 800 families (roughly 4,500 individuals) per day.
In Tank, a district adjacent to North Waziristan, the government issued an indefinite curfew March 31, another practice that has placed hardships on the population.
In the past, North Waziristan has not been a focus of Pakistani military operations. It is a base of operations for the Haqqani network, a major U.S. adversary in the Afghan war and longtime strategic asset of Islamabad. It is also home to a faction of the Pakistani Taliban led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, also a U.S. enemy. The Pakistani government maintained a peace agreement with Gul Bahadur during its operations in South Waziristan last year.
All of Washingtons aerial drone strikes in Pakistan this year have been aimed at disrupting these two groups in North Waziristan, while Pakistani forces have gone after antigovernment Islamist groups in the surrounding area.
In the first three months of this year Washington has conducted 26 drone attacks, more than any other such period since the war began, and double the average rate in 2009.
The Barack Obama administration is the first to publicly acknowledge and defend the strikes. The State Departments top lawyer recently declared them legal and the resulting civilian casualties justified, as long as they are not excessive in relation to the military benefit gained.
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