An even better account of a trip to Damadola after the missile strikes is that of Syed Saleem Shehzad in today’s Asia Times1 The Bajaur Agency borders Kunar Province which is of significance to the US because it is likely that Osama Bin Ladin and Zawahiri are or were in hiding in the forests of Kunar or Nooristan. Shehzad explains why the region is also of strategic significance to the Taliban:
Unlike in Helmand province, in Kunar the Taliban do not independently run districts. However, among the craggy outcrops and lush green forests, they have established safe havens and also have the support of large sections of the population. This allows the Taliban to maintain an edge against the American forces in the area by launching daily attacks on their bases, as well as those of the Afghan National Army and intelligence centers.
Kunar and Nooristan provinces also serve as the start of a natural route up to the northeastern province of Kapisa, from where, ultimately, the Taliban hope to enter into Kabul.
All regional intelligence agencies are certain that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still in this area. The US considers it pivotal for the success of the “war on terror”. The Taliban on the other hand have built all their resources all around this region.
And neither side wants to give up ground.
In January 2008, Shehzad also reported2 on the recently completed US base in Kunar (on the Afghan side).
KARACHI – Another piece of the United States’ regional jigsaw is in place with the completion of a military base in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational. (This correspondent visited the area last July and could clearly see construction underway.[…]