Washington: While keeping the option of targeted raids on top Haqqani leaders on the table, the US administration has opened a new more aggressive approach towards the Afghan insurgent group, it asserts is supported by Pakistan government.
The part of the new strategy is to carry out denser missile attacks near the Haqqani headquarters in the North Waziristan capital of Miranshah, a city rarely targeted in the past by American drones, Washington Post reported quoting senior Obama Administration officials.
The opening salvos of the new approach have already been launched in the form of intensified drone strikes over North Waziristan. The US drones have struck the area four times in three days, claiming a toll of 19 Haqqani insurgents, including a ranking member Janbaz Zadran alias Jamil.
Zadran was a lieutenant of Badruddin Haqqani, the brother of network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani and was in-charge of communications and logistics for the Haqqani network.
The decision to strike Miran Shah was made at a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Barack Obama two weeks ago and was intended to "send a signal" that the United States would no longer tolerate a safe haven for the most lethal enemy of US forces in Afghanistan, or Pakistan`s backing for it, the post said quoting several US officials.
The strikes were made possible by focusing intelligence collection to "allow us to pursue certain priorities”, the official said.
The senior Haqqani figure, Zadran, was selected along with other targets to "demonstrate how seriously we take the Miran Shah" threat. Officials said military options debated at the September 29 meeting were set aside for now, including the possibility of a ground operation against Haqqani leaders similar to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
Although the administration has left the raid option on the table, the potential negatives of such an operation - including the possible collapse of Pakistan`s military leadership and civilian government - are seen as far outweighing its benefits.
Even as it cracks down on the Haqqani network, the White House has authorised more intensive reconciliation efforts with its leaders and those of other Afghan insurgent groups, leaving open a track initiated in August when US officials met in a Persian Gulf kingdom with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of the group`s patriarch.
The meeting was arranged by Pakistan`s intelligence chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who also attended, American officials said.
The Post said along with military options, the US was also pursuing a drive to enlist South and Central Asian countries, including China, to join and support an international reconciliation effort in Afghanistan.
With major international conferences on the war scheduled for November 2 in Istanbul and December 05 in Bonn, Germany, "what we want to do is provide an international basis of support for a political outcome in Afghanistan" that will match the military timeline adopted by NATO last November, the administration official said.
There has been widespread speculation that insurgent representatives may attend on the margins of either or both meetings, although "I wouldn`t hazard a prediction at this point," the official said.
An additional outcome of the NSC meeting, officials said, was an order for various players - the Defence Department, the CIA, the State Department, and the White House itself – to stop sending mixed messages to Pakistan and others about the administration`s war policies.
In a series of meetings with the national security team the following week, the White House reviewed long-standing options in Pakistan, ranging from outright attack to diplomacy, along with the likely ramifications of each, a process that culminated in the September 29 NSC meeting.
Obama had gradually lost faith in Pakistan and its weak civilian leadership, officials said. But the core goal of their efforts, the president reminded his team, was the elimination of Pakistan-based al Qaeda. It was important, he warned them, that "nobody takes their eye off the ball”.
Officials were instructed to calm European partners, telling them that while there would be more "edge" to the administration`s approach toward Pakistan, there would be no dramatic policy change, a European diplomat said. The
Europeans, another said, were assured that no ground attack was in the offing.
Obama`s national security adviser, Thomas E Donilon, conveyed administration resolve to Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani at a secret meeting in Saudi Arabia. The United States wanted a relationship with Pakistan, officials said Donilon told Kayani, but it also wanted the Haqqani attacks to stop.
Pakistani officials said Donilon offered Kayani three choices: kill the Haqqani leadership, help us kill them, or persuade them to join a peaceful, democratic Afghan government.