For seven years, the Bush administration has pursued al-Qaida but done almost nothing to hunt the Afghan Taliban leadership in its sanctuaries in Pakistan. That has left Mullah Mohammad Omar and his deputies free to direct an escalating war on the U.S.-backed Afghan government, U.S. and NATO officials said, and has let the Taliban regroup, rearm and recruit at bases in southwestern Pakistan.
Since the puritanical Islamic movement's resurgence began in early 2005, it has killed at least 626 U.S.-led NATO troops, 301 of them Americans, and thousands of Afghans, and it has handed President-elect Obama a growing guerrilla war with no end in sight.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since 2001; the Taliban and other al-Qaida-allied groups control large swaths of the south and east; NATO governments are reluctant to send more troops; and Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces an uncertain future amid fears that elections set for next year may have to be postponed.
Still, a U.S. defense official told McClatchy Newspapers, “we have not seen any pressure on the Pakistanis” to crack down on Omar and his deputies and close their arms and recruiting networks. Like seven other U.S. and NATO officials who discussed the issue, he requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
“There has never been convergence on a campaign plan against Mullah Omar,” said a U.S. military official. The White House, he said, miscalculated by hoping Omar and his deputies would embrace an Afghan government-run reconciliation or “wither away.”
Many U.S. and NATO officials, in fact, are convinced that while Pakistan is officially a U.S. ally in the war on Islamic extremism, sympathetic Pakistani army and intelligence officers protect and aid the Taliban leadership, dubbed the Quetta shura, or council, after its sanctuary in the Baluchistan provincial capital of Quetta.
Wounded Taliban fighters are treated in Pakistani military hospitals in Baluchistan, and guerrillas who run out of ammunition have been monitored dashing across the frontier of sweeping desert and rolling hills to restock at caches on the Pakistani side, the U.S. and NATO officials said.
Omar, the one-eyed founder of the Taliban movement that imposed Islamic rule on Afghanistan with Pakistani and al-Qaida support in the 1990s, and bin Laden fled to Pakistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Bin Laden and followers crossed into the Federally Administered Tribal Area, which borders eastern Afghanistan. Omar and his lieutenants crossed into Baluchistan, which abuts the southern Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, the heartland of the Taliban insurrection, U.S. officials said. From Baluchistan, Omar and his council are thought to direct the Taliban's broad military and political strategies and to arrange arms and other supplies for fighters in southern Afghanistan.