All the attention to White House strategy meetings may divert attention from an apparent operational plan for U.S. special forces to go after and kill Mullah Omar and eliminate the Taliban leadership based in Quetta, a congested city of 750,000 in the Pakistan province of Baluchistan.
Mullah Omar leads of the Afghan Taliban, known to the Pentagon as the Quetta Shura Taliban [QST] who refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden eight years ago. Though sheltered in Pakistan, the Taliban faction led by Omar is described as having "significant and growing" influence over Kandahar City and its approaches in the recent report by Gen. Stanley McChrystal on the crisis in Afghanistan.
Last week U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, urged that Pakistan "eliminate" Omar, according to the New York Times, and said that if Pakistan failed to act, the United States would.
On Sunday, Gen. James Jones, U.S. national security adviser, said that attacking insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan would be "the next step" in the military's strategy.
The use of Predator strikes, or secret commando operations by special forces or private contractors, in a densely-populated area would generate unpredictable civilian damage and an angry response from Pakistan officials and general public.
U.S. officials are emboldened by their success in killing 11 of their "top 20" list of Taliban commanders in the past year. However, killing or capturing virtually all the Iraqi insurgent leaders identified on the Pentagon's 2004 "deck of cards" did little to quell the raging violence that left devastation across most of Iraq.
But any possibility of capturing or killing Mullah Omar -- and in their deepest fantasies, perhaps Osama Bin Laden -- is an opportunity too exciting for the Pentagon and the president to resist.
Opinion in Pakistan already seems beyond salvaging. July-August interviews with thousands of Pakistanis showed 80 percent opposition to U.S. assistance to Pakistan's military, a 19 percent jump since March, and 76 percent opposition to partnering with the U.S. on missile strikes from drones. The survey did not include the Northwest Frontier Province or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where hatred of the U.S. is greatest.
If the planned operation in Quetta is successful, it may cause a disruption, but not the elimination of the Taliban's networks and supply lines, while causing the greater alienation of Pakistan's public. If the US fails to succeed in its declared objective of eliminating Mullah Omar, it will be a greater defeat than the Bay of Pigs.
In any event, an assault on Taliban sanctuaries is not equivalent to taking down al Qaeda, which has operated networks from the Hindu Kush mountains to apartments in Germany. Having driven al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, the U.S. might next drive them out of Pakistan - to secret sites closer to their Western targets.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on October 8, 2009.