America's stake in the forthcoming US-led Kandahar offensive in June has shot up since a smoking bomb car was discovered off Broadway, New York, Saturday, May 1.
Little did President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their strategists imagine – when they put the finishing touches on their new military strategy and surge plan for Afghanistan in December 2009 – that they would have to reckon with Pakistani Taliban terrorists fighting back inside American cities. Now, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's source, they must decide whether to bring the offensive on the key southern Afghan city and Taliban stronghold forward from its June date, or postpone it.
(See DNW 443 of April 30: Afghanistan Veers out of Control – When Do US-Taliban Endgame Talks Begin?)
Before sending US Marines to fight for Kandahar, the war planners in Washington must determine how many terrorists Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullahh Mehsud is holding ready to strike US targets in Afghanistan and activate in America.
The young terror chief, faithful to the plan conceived by his late father, Baitullah Mehsud – before he was killed by a US drone – is in the process of widening the Afghanistan War, first bringing Pakistani cities into its orbit, then major urban centers in the United States.
The assembled explosive device left in a parked SUV on Times Square proved he means business.
Qari Hussain Mehsud, the top bomb maker for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said in a videotape aired 24 hours earlier on Friday, April 30, that operations were afoot to strike a "jaw-breaking blow to Satan USA." His boss, Hakimullah, referred to suicide bombers in the speech he taped on April 4.
Will Obama rethink his Afghan War strategy?
As president of the United States, Barack Obama faces a new challenge not experienced by his predecessor. During the five years (from 2003 to 2008) in which George W. Bush waged war against al Qaeda in Iraq, he was confident that the conflict was bound by Iraq's borders, albeit with logistical support from Syria, and never threatened to spill over into the United States.
Under the Obama administration, however, the Afghanistan War is taking a devastating toll on Pakistan and, for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, Taliban's arm has grown long enough to reach inside America. Whatever strategy he may opt for in the multiple Afghan war arenas, the US president must know that this peril is here to stay, even though tactical scenarios may vary.
Should Taliban leaders Omar Mullah and Hakimullah Mehsud find themselves with their backs to the wall in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they may respond by stepping up the TTP's terrorist offensive in the United States. But the opposite prospect may have the same result: The longer the Taliban can sustain the war stalemate, like the standoff in the southern Afghan town of Marjah in Helmand province, and the broader their areas of control in the two countries, the greater their appetite may be for disseminating death and destruction inside America.
Whichever scenario plays out, our Washington and counter-terror sources stress that the Taliban can bring terror to American with very modest, easily obtainable, resources – as President Obama and Hakimullah Mehsud both appreciate. Three or four "successful" suicide attacks or bombings in the heart of major American cities would suffice to turn the tide of popularity against the president, especially now that more than half the American public figures that the Afghanistan War is no longer winnable.
Can the CIA match the Taliban's international spread?
The president also recognizes that the Pakistani Taliban and Hakimullah are more than America's match in the intelligence war on terror. While US undercover services can keep track of Taliban forces in Afghanistan, they know nothing about the scale of TTP infiltration in the United States.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that the May 1 near-disaster on Times Square found US undercover agencies more or less on top of the tasks of weeding out lone wolf terrorists trying to enter the United States. But they have never been programmed to contend with an encroaching terrorist organization, one that is backed from afar by an irregular army organization with a logistics system based in two war-torn countries, i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan.
On Monday, April 26, five days before the sputtering car bomb turned up in Manhattan, Central Intelligence Director Leon Panetta announced his organization would be spending many millions of dollars in the coming five years to improve intelligence-gathering, upgrade technologies and bring analysts closer to spies in the field. The plan renewed the agency's year-old goal to increase the number of analysts and overseas operatives fluent in another language – the lack of which impaired the performance of military and civilian intelligence officers in the Afghanistan and Iraq arenas.
However, this plan had to be shredded before it left Panetta's desk.
The CIA is rushed off its feet, with little time to spare for recruiting all these case officers. It has its hands full with the war against Taliban and the attempts of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to spirit terrorists into the United States. Panetta will have to spread thin the inadequate pools of professional operatives working in the Afghanistan, Pakistani and Iraqi war arenas; one part must be diverted to surveillance of international transport routes to and from the United States from the Middle East, Europe and Asia; another used as back-up for extended FBI monitoring of ex-Pakistani communities in America.
Painful adjustments for Obama and the CIA
To perform these tasks effectively, the US intelligence community must radically rethink its evaluation of the Taliban and its global capabilities, acknowledging that its refusal to recognize these capabilities came close to letting Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad escape. He was pulled off a jet bound for Dubai in the nick of time, only because some members of that community were not blinded by the ruling misconception.
His new homeland war-front also obliges President Obama to review his policy toward Islamabad.
If until now, US-Pakistani cooperation in military and intelligence matters was, at best, limited and shot through with mistrust – particularly on the part of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI – Washington must now ask itself how much genuine cooperation can be expected from Islamabad in a showdown with Pakistani Taliban elements plotting terrorist attacks in America.
Outwardly, the Pakistanis are falling over themselves to help in the American investigation. But when it comes to the crunch, the US may find closed doors in Islamabad, as Britain did after British Muslims of Pakistani descent plotted a string of terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow. It was then that the UK government found practical Pakistani cooperation dwindling sharply, with no chance of permission for British agents to infiltrate Taliban strongholds.