The Afghanistan war can be won without Pakistan's army moving against militants in North Waziristan, the No. 2 American general for the war effort said Tuesday. The comment by Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez publicly signaled that the United States is resigned to the idea that Islamabad will not take on that terrorist haven militarily.
Rodriguez stopped short of recommending more U.S. strikes in the border region, which has been under assault from a well-known but unacknowledged U.S. bombing campaign carried out largely by CIA drones. He agreed, however, that there would have to be "some plan, some way, and some effect to decrease the impact of the safe haven," including greater efforts by the U.S. and Afghans on the Afghanistan side of the border.
The United States has pressed Pakistan repeatedly to mount an offensive in North Waziristan, a region that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the "epicenter of terrorism" where militants gather to plan attacks that they then carry out across the border in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his principal leaders are believed to be hiding in that region.
'Doable without' Pakistan
We need them to do more, we're going to encourage them to do more," Rodriguez said, speaking about Pakistan. "But I think it's still doable without them decreasing what they've being doing the past year, which is significant." He said if Pakistan goes "into every place but North Waziristan, that would be significant and really helpful to us."
Pakistan's leaders have repeatedly insisted that their military is stretched thin by its operations against militants in other border regions as well as continuing flood relief efforts and a long-standing presence along the border with India.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Rodriguez said U.S., Afghan and Pakistani forces must continue to coordinate attacks against militants along the border, as broader efforts continue to secure major provinces around the country, and turn security over to the Afghanistan forces.
He predicted that Taliban fighters will attempt in coming months to reassert themselves by focusing more on assassinating Afghan political leaders in order to undermine support for the government.
He said he believes that after a winter lull, the Taliban will bring on a new strategy in the spring that probably will include what he called assassination hit teams. Similar efforts in the past, he said, focused on Afghans or lower rank-and-file militants who are now working with the Americans.
"There's a hierarchy of the most committed to the least committed," said Rodriguez, "and they have been going after the people who were part of their efforts before, but who are on the lower scale, who are trying to turn over and support their government."
President Barack Obama last year ordered a buildup of U.S. troops with the promise that they would start leaving the country in July.
Defense officials have been careful not to say how many forces can be pulled out, or provide any timeline, saying it will be based on conditions in Afghanistan.