- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A longtime adviser to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan says now is the time for President Obama to change strategy and target Taliban leaders ensconced in Pakistan, using drones and other tactics employed to kill al Qaeda operatives over the past 10 years.

“We kill them. We use drones to kill them, just like we did al Qaeda,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, just back from a two-week tour of the battlefield and consultations with U.S. commanders. “The president has to change the policy and issue a ‘finding’ that this is a covert operation under the province of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.

Gen. Keane pointed out one of the great ironies of the long war in Afghanistan: The main U.S. foe is the Taliban, but senior Taliban leaders have untouchable safe havens in Quetta and Peshawar.

Taliban leaders in Pakistan work out of command centers and conduct conferences, or shuras, with lower-level commanders on tactics for killing NATO troops and bringing down the elected government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“A lot of these guys command from the rear, if you will, telling their guys by orders what to do and what not to do,” a U.S. briefer said to visiting officers last year.

Until now, the U.S. has not targeted senior Taliban leaders for fear of alienating Pakistan, whose intelligence service helped put the Taliban in power in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Pakistan will not target them because of tribal loyalties and fears that such action could destabilize the country via a militant uprising.

What Gen. Keane is recommending is a war campaign in which the intelligence community, principally the CIA and the National Security Agency, focus spies, communications intercepts and satellites on Taliban commanders inside Pakistan. Once a commander is located, a Predator drone would be sent to kill him with a Hellfire missile.

“If we don’t start targeting the Taliban leadership now … the risk is much too high in terms of our ability to sustain the successes that we’ve had. We cannot let that Afghan Taliban leadership that lives in Pakistan continue to preside over this war and recruit and provide resources,” Gen. Keane said.

“We’ve got to get involved in disrupting those functions. We have to target them like we have done al Qaeda. We would not have to conduct on-ground operations, but we have to change their behavior by targeting them.”

‘A persistent campaign’

He added: “Once you turn all of our intel systems on a priority target, we start to get a considerable amount of information, and the people who run these operations know how best to deal with it.

“We’re talking about a persistent campaign that puts the Taliban leadership at risk, which would change their behavior, and as a result of this, they would no longer be able to control operations effectively in Afghanistan.

“For 10 years, we have been unwilling to do this because we have believed this would destabilize Pakistan. The result is, we are destabilizing Afghanistan, and that is really tragic.”

One of those who would be targeted presumably is a Taliban leader whom the U.S. once held at the military detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Qayyum Zakir returned to Afghanistan after his release in 2008 and eventually became the underboss for Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

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