News / Asia

Analysts: Taliban to Attack More 'Soft Targets' in Pakistan

Sean Maroney

Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for a coordinated assault on the U.S. Consulate in northwestern Pakistan.  Our correspondent looks at the militants' strategy.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack against the heavily guarded U.S. mission in Peshawar.

The so-called Pakistani Taliban largely has limited its attacks in recent months to military outposts and police checkpoints.  But Marvin Weinbaum with the Middle East Institute here in Washington says that he expects the militants to increase their attacks on civilian targets, especially foreigners within Pakistan.

"They will look for 'soft targets.'  Naturally, they want to give the impression that they are in control, that they have not at all been defeated in these recent campaigns that have been mounted [and] that the [suspected U.S.] drone attacks have not put them out of business," said Marvin Weinbaum.

Since the beginning of the year, suspected U.S. missile strikes from unmanned aircraft have increased in frequency in northwestern Pakistan.

These strikes have killed several militant leaders, including the previous head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, last year.  In January of this year, there were reports that another missile strike killed Baitullah's replacement, Hakimullah Mehsud.

At the same time, the Pakistani military has increased pressure on the Taliban's strongholds in the country's semi-autonomous tribal regions that border Afghanistan.

Security analyst Caroline Wadhams with the Washington-based Center for American Progress says the attack on the U.S. Consulate is evidence that the Pakistani Taliban has regrouped.

"I don't think they are going away at this point," said Caroline Wadhams. "I do think though that they are under much greater pressure than they ever have been before."

She says the ferocity of the attack - which included car bombs, grenades and automatic weapons - had a level of sophistication that has not been seen in attacks against foreign targets in Pakistan in recent months.  She agrees with analyst Marvin Weinbaum that the militants probably will now attack more of a mix of domestic military and foreign civilian targets.

"Part of the reason that they are attacking aggressively is because they are feeling under siege; they are feeling threatened by Americans on the Afghan side," she said. "And they are definitely feeling under siege by the Pakistani military."

Lisa Curtis studies U.S.-Pakistan relations at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.  She says more attacks against U.S. targets in Pakistan might not have the effect the Taliban wants.

"I think that what we'll see is that it draws the U.S. and Pakistan even closer, and we will see that this partnership has strengthened between the two countries," said Lisa Curtis.

She points to the fact that U.S. officials have praised Pakistan in recent months for its fight against Taliban militants.  There also has been a number of reported arrests and deaths of top Afghan Taliban leaders, which analysts cite as evidence of increased coordination between American and Pakistani authorities.

But Marvin Weinbaum with the Middle East Institute says the United States will need to change its strategy in Pakistan, especially in the volatile city of Peshawar.

"Our operations in the city are going to have to be less visible," he said. "They are going to have to perhaps be more decentralized."

Weinbaum says American installations in Pakistan will be the most accessible targets for militants as they seek revenge for suspected U.S. drone strikes.   

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