Just a reminder: Success of U.S. airstrikes on AQ depends on U.S. presence in Afghanistan

A superb point from Tapper, playing off my post yesterday about the unusual spike in successful Predator strikes over the past 18 months.

Sources say this success is largely because of better intelligence, stemming from greater cooperation by the Pakistani government and a stronger U.S. counter-insurgency program on the other side of the border in Afghanistan.

That added pressure creates the conditions for better intelligence on the ground as to where Taliban and al Qaeda forces are, sources say.

“They’re squeezed,” a Pentagon source says of individuals on the border region. “And when people are squeezed, they talk.”

But military officials who support Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s proposal for a larger counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan are concerned that some in the White House interpret this success as a reason to focus entirely on counterterrorism using drones…

Military sources worry that the success of the predator strikes will be seen as “happening in a vacuum,” with insufficient credit given to the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

In other words, the White House debate over counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency is a false dichotomy. If you want to succeed at the former, you had better succeed at the latter first, at least well enough to scare jihadists across the border into staying out of Afghanistan. I think Bob Gates does a tremendous job at Defense but I hope that message is trickling up to him, especially now that we know he’s wavering on securing Afghanistan too.

As a further follow-up to yesterday’s post, Bill Roggio has released updated stats on the success rate of U.S. airstrikes through September. Note how low the number of civilian casualties is; if you wanted more proof that our intelligence has gotten unusually good lately, there it is. The one lingering question I have about U.S. decapitation strikes is why none have been tried in southwest Pakistan in or near the city of Quetta, which has been Taliban HQ for ages now. WaPo ran a profile of the jihadi presence there just this past weekend, calling it the Taliban’s “new haven” inside the country and quoting intel officials as saying we have no presence there — which is, er, mighty alarming considering that newspapers have been writing about how the city’s crawling with terrorists since forever. Here’s a snippet from a New York Times magazine article published all the way back in 2006:

Today, Quetta has assumed the character of Peshawar in the 1980’s, a suspicious place of spies and counterspies and double agents. It is not just the hundreds of men in typical Afghan Pashtun clothing — the roughly wound turbans, dark shalwar kameez, eyes inked with kohl — who squat on Thursday afternoons outside the Kandahari mosque in the center of town, comparing notes on the latest fighting in Helmand or the best religious teachers. Rather, as I wandered the narrow alleyways of the Afghan neighborhoods, my local guides would say, “That’s where Mullah Dadullah was living” or “That’s where Mullah Amir Khan Haqqani is living.” (Haqqani is the Taliban’s governor in exile for Zabul Province.) Mullah Dadullah is now a folk hero for young Talibs like A. And all the Taliban I met told me that every time Dadullah gives another interview or appears on the battlefield, it serves as an instant injection of inspiration.

A Taliban spokesman captured by Afghanistan claimed that Mullah Omar himself was living in the city — under the protection of Pakistani intelligence — in early 2007. That’s how open a “secret” it is that the Taliban are based there. And not just the Taliban, maybe: There have been reports of Zawahiri being in the area too, which makes sense given that it’s a no-go zone for U.S. intelligence. Why infiltration isn’t a top priority for our side, I simply don’t know, but now that that WaPo piece was published, maybe it’s becoming more of a priority. Keep your eye on the upcoming Pakistani offensive into southern Waziristan, a.k.a. the Taliban’s “epicenter,” which borders Quetta’s province to the north. If the jihadist leaders there bug out in the teeth of the offensive and head south, it may finally force the U.S. and Pakistan to get serious about action inside the city. And once that happens, some very big fish are likely to get caught.

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