Syed Saleem Shehzad in Damadola

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.[…]

1Shehzad, Syed Saleem. (May 22, 2008). Ducking and diving under B-52s . Asia Times.
2Shehzad, Syed Saleem. (January 30, 2008). US homes in on militants in Pakistan. Asia Times..


Damadola after the NATO missile strikes

BBC Urdu Service reporter Rifatullah Orakzai has an article on the BBC website about his recent trip1 to Damadola in Bajaur district — the target of last week’s missile strikes by NATO.

We soon learned that after the missile strike, the militants had cordoned off all roads to the house that was hit, and allowed no one close to the site until the premises had been “cleared”.
So there is no way of knowing who was killed in the attack, and whether any foreign al-Qaeda militants were among the dead.
Taleban militants appear to be in complete control of two Bajaur sub-dsitricts, Mamund and Salarzai, and people seem to be reluctant to express their opinions freely.
There were hundreds of people as well as armed militants at the scene of the missile strike. They were unanimous in their condemnation of Nato troops for carrying out the attack.

The article notes that this is the third time in two years that Damadola has been targetted by US planes. A few weeks ago, I read a profile of the Tehrik-e-Taliban2 by Hasan Abbas in the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. In his profile of Baitullah Mehsud, Abbas points out that:

He came to prominence in February 2005 when he signed a deal with the Pakistani government that it termed as his surrender, although he interpreted it as a peace deal in the interests of the tribal regions as well as Pakistan.18 As part of the deal, he had pledged not to provide any assistance to al- Qa`ida and other militants and not to launch operations against government forces. The deal was short lived, and since 2006 he has virtually established an independent zone in parts of South Waziristan Agency which is widely believed to be a sanctuary for al-Qa`ida and the Taliban. In private discussions, Pakistani officials also blame the United States for direct military operations in FATA, leading to the collapse of some deals.

1 Orakzai, Rifatullah. (May 19, 2008). No easy answers after Bajaur raid. BBC South Asia
2 Abbas, Hasan. (January 2008). A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. CTC Sentinel Vol 1. Issue 2.