The map above is provided by the BBC. It shows real-time reports coming in from journalists and others on the ground as of 0900 Eastern on Saturday.
You can follow local coverage at www.dawn.com. This is one of the most trustworthy local English language media operations in Pakistan.
Another source of value-added and usually reliable information is Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal (www.longwarjournal.org).
The last time the Pakistani military moved into Waziristan they were badly bruised. When they withdrew, ancient antagonisms were given new ambition. This time the army leadership realizes they are probably fighting for the survival of the Pakistani state. This fight may also improve conditions for a successful outcome of the US/NATO operation in Afghanistan.
In any case, a victory will be hard-won, failure will come at a steep price, and anything in-between will be excruciating.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE:
With reports by Saeed Shah in Lahore, Emal Khan in Peshawar and Dean Nelson in London, The Telegraph has a helpful overview of the operation that was launched about midnight Saturday in Pakistan.
The long-awaited army ground offensive had been delayed for weeks as army generals agonised over how the country would cope with the militant backlash which would inevitably follow an all-out assault in the Taliban’s heartland.
The breakthrough came late on Friday night when, in a highly unusual move, the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kiyani, summoned the all the main opposition party leaders to a meeting at the home of the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani.
There, they were asked for united support for what would be one of the army’s most controversial operations: the use of overwhelming force against their own people – many of them tribal militants who had once been trained and encouraged by some of the leaders and generals now moving against them.
Pakistan’s militants are intent on nothing less than toppling the government, assassinating the ruling establishment, imposing an Islamic state and getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Regular readers of The Watch will recall that while I have long advocated Pakistani operations in Waziristan, I have not been surprised by the long delay. If not for the audacious Taliban attacks of the last two weeks, I wonder if delay might have continued right into the winter snows. M. Ilyas Khan, writing for the BBC from Islamabad, offers his explanation for the doubts that delayed Waziristan attack.
Ground forces launched the three-pronged push on Saturday, starting a much-anticipated assault in a bid to crush networks blamed for some of the worst attacks that have killed more than 2,250 people over the past two years. ‘The resistance is not as stiff as we were expecting, maybe because we are still moving and not yet reached the strongholds of the Taliban like Kotkai, Makin, Ladha and Kanigurram,’ one military official told AFP.
Jay Shankar reporting for Bloomberg has about the best, if still spotty, description of the tactical situation I can find. A couple of hours after Mr. Shankar, at about 9AM eastern, the BBC is providing a good update.
Shortly before 2:00 eastern on Sunday Jane Perlez’ update on the battle appeared in the New York Times. She reports,
… the Taliban said part of their strategy was to encourage the military to progress deeper into the militant enclave in the center of South Waziristan, and then tie the soldiers down with hit-and-run tactics that would keep the soldiers in a protracted campaign in the inhospitable terrain over the winter. The government forces would be hit hard once they penetrated further into the mountains, the favorite fighting areas for the militants, a Taliban organizer who is not involved in the current fighting said by telephone on Sunday from Wana, the capital of South Waziristan.
Gen. David Petraeus, chief of US Central Command, will arrive in Pakistan on Monday for consultations.
An official report on the first 24 hours of combat is available from the Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations website. The government operated Associated Press of Pakistan also provides details difficult to find elsewhere.
In a Saturday interview with CNN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “I’m very impressed with the commitment that the Pakistani government, both the civilian leadership and the military have made… They’re very much focused on also going into the heartland of where the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda are located and where these plots and these attacks are planned and directed.” The Secretary’s comments came in the context of several questions related to US strategy in Afghanistan. (CNN Transcript via the Boston Globe.)
Nick Meo has an interesting report in the Sunday Telegraph, Taliban’s Afghan allies tell Barack Obama: “Cut us a deal and we’ll ditch al-Qaeda’.
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE
From today’s edition of DAWN:
The army says it has surrounded the militants in their main zone, a wedge of territory in the north of South Waziristan, and soldiers backed by aircraft and artillery are attacking from the north, southwest and southeast… the offensive could be its toughest test since the militants turned on the state, and the army will be hoping Afghan Taliban factions elsewhere in South Waziristan and in North Waziristan stay out of the fight.
Declan Walsh reporting for The Guardian from Islamabad writes,
Soldiers are attacking the Mehsud territory from Razmak in the north, Jandola in the east and Wana in the south. Officials estimate the drive will take a minimum of six weeks and could stretch through the winter. The non-Mehsud parts of South Waziristan, which are controlled by the rival Wazir tribe and border with Afghanistan, have not been affected.
Dean Nelson, writing in the Monday morning Telegraph, offers a sobering analysis of the situation facing Pakistan, including,
After the American-led offensive in Afghanistan that ousted Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime in 2001, several key Taliban figures were protected by the Pakistan army, which still regards them as “strategic assets”. Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, are among them. They continue to organise attacks on Nato forces from Waziristan, unmolested or challenged by the Pakistan army.
The Pakistan military believes the Americans and the British will withdraw from Afghanistan – and when they do they will need old Taliban friends such as Haqqani once again to minimise the influence of its Indian enemy in its Afghan back yard. It is for this reason too that Islamabad has turned a blind eye to the presence of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura, the ruling council that co-ordinates the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan from a hideout close to the Balochistan state capital.
These leaders are what the Pakistan military have in mind when they talk of “good” and “bad” Taliban – those who pose a threat to Pakistan and those who do not. Those who pose a mortal threat to British and American troops over the border can still be “good Taliban” in Pakistan.
It is the rise of the “very bad Taliban”, such as Hakimullah Mehsud’s pro-al-Qaeda Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – which threatens both Pakistan and Nato forces in Afghanistan – that has brought the largest deployment of Pakistani troops to the tribal areas since the British Indian Army arrived in the Thirties to crush the Faqir of Ipi’s jihad against the Raj.
Senator John Kerry is in Islamabad and Rawalpindi for discussions with Pakistani leadership (as is Gen. Petraeus). This morning’s Pakistani media is giving significant attention to Sen. Kerry’s comments Sunday morning on State of the Union with John King. Here’s what DAWN is reporting:
Asked if he believed that a ‘giant US presence’ in Afghanistan would do more harm than good to Pakistan, the senator said: ‘there is a legitimate question about whether or not a certain number of troops, depending on their mission, might drive people into Pakistan, and thereby present further difficulties in the western part of that country or even fuel the extremism there.’