Did it all start with an accident? Since Taliban military commander, Mullah Baradar, was seized by ISI on 8 February, a second prominent leader, Mullah Kabir, operating within the inner circle of Quetta Shura, has been reportedly captured. Now, the latest confirmation of the arrest of nearly half of the Taliban leadership (7 of 15), most of whom are thought to be active decision-makers in Quetta Shura, seems almost surreal. Andrew Exum, Fellow at CNAS and Author of Abu Muqawama even asked, "Woah, did Pakistan just arrest half of the Quetta Shura?"
You must read and bookmark as a reference Bill Roggio's intelligence report on Afgahn Taliban's top leaders. Bill raises an important point, stating, "It remains to be seen if the sustained US offensive and possible future detentions in Pakistan will grind down the Taliban's leadership cadre." I am concerned here with what is sustainable for US [and ISI] counterterrorism officials to dismantle and defeat not only Taliban leadership but also al-Qaeda leadership and the like, including but not limited to ASMM (Al Shabaab merger with Hizbul Islam), AQAP, AQIM, LeT, etc.
According to logic, the disruption of leaders within Quetta Shura shows us that if we capture a senior-level leader then we can exploit higher. Can this strategy take us all the way? "Much of the Quetta Shura [is] in custody now," but we should not fail to point out that it may really have begun with actionable intelligence targeting two shadow governors in Karachi. One aspect of our plan we must examine is whether the sustainable strategy is and/or remains to be a mid-tier one that enables counterterrorism officials to exploit personalities and sources, locations and havens, materials and routes.
Of course, the rule is to exploit higher when one has the sources and methods to do so. However, we must still strategically decide how to actively dismantle and defeat inner-circles of leaders in networks for which we do not have senior-level commanders in custody - either by accident or actionable intelligence - such as those mentioned above, ASMM, AQAP, AQIM, LeT.
In this case, due to the recognizable (but minimally measured) inter-network collaboration between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and LeT, it is possible that additional operations can disrupt planning and execution of plots or even lead to the capture of other personalities. As reported by The Nation (Pakistan) on 4 December, 2009;
“Al-Qaeda sees using the Taliban in Pakistan and groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba as ways to destabilise Pakistan and even try to provoke a conflict between India and Pakistan that would inevitably destabilise Pakistan,”US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Gates said the US has evidence which suggest that the al-Qaeda aims at destabilising Pakistan. “We have evidence that al-Qaeda is helping them pick targets, do operational planning, helping them in their effort to try to destabilise the Pakistani government,” Mr. Gates told lawmakers in response to a question. “The other piece of this that does not include the Taliban or that -- apart from the Taliban is, we also know that al-Qaeda is helping the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the terrorist group that carried out the bombings in Mumbai,” he said. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, said: “I certainly agree with the nexus (between al-Qaeda and the LeT), and I have watched it over the last year to two, that these groups are coming together... Secretary Gates talked about the linkage between the LeT and Al Qaeda.”
Shall we continue to advocate for a sustainable strategy of attack that targets mid-tier personalities? What promotes the best method of exploitation from here moving forward in targeting affiliate and/or other networks; North Africa, Somalia, Yemen? I will take an accident, especially one that leads to a surreal result, but I think it wise to plan according to the nature of the beast(s) and the threat(s) we face: Each operational environment varies, and is morphing (as seen in the recent growth of Al Shabaab).