This story has been updated with additional reporting and quotes.
AMMAN, Jordan — Two battle-hardened commanders, a general from Pakistan and a colonel from Lebanon, debriefed participants Monday at the Middle East Special Operations Commanders Conference (MESOC) here on key operations which, while vastly different, concluded with nearly identical lessons in the war against jihadi terrorism:
Pre-empt. Persist. Grant no sanctuary.
That's what Pakistan did in its nearly two-year Operation Zarb-e-azb targeting al-Qaida and its offshoots in North Waziristan, at a tremendous sacrifice of some 780 special forces, according to Maj. Gen. Tahir Masood, commander of the Pakistani Special Services Group (SSG).
In that interminable operation conducted over 15,000 square miles of "nonpermissive" tribal area terrain, Masood's SSG and supporting forces killed more than 3,400 terrorists, destroyed nearly 1,000 safe houses, raided another 16,600 suspected hideaways and netted a treasure trove of ammunition and explosives.
Masood said SSG and supporting forces have effectively "eliminated" sanctuaries on its soil, but the threat is far from over considering the emerging strategic environment as well as the nature and history of such threats.
"We do not claim to be the best," Masood told MESOC participants. "But we are the most battle-hardened and experienced in fighting terrorism and we'd love to share our experiences and train with like-minded friends and allies."
And that's essentially what the Lebanese Strike Force — the elite commando arm of Lebanese Armed Forces intelligence — did at the end of last month, in an April 28 raid that killed a major Islamic State operative, one of his associates and led to the arrest of another associated with the group, known by its Arabic acronym Daesh.
Col. Fadi Kefouri, Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Strike Force commander, said the LAF routinely conducts pre-emptive operations against militants from Daesh and Nusra Front, and no longer hesitates to go into Palestinian refugee camps and other places that were once considered "no-go areas."
In addition to raids, the LAF routinely conducts aerial and ground surveillance, targeting and shelling operations "in a sustained manner against any extremist militant activities in our area of operations."
"The key is to be pre-emptive and not to relent. We must make the terrorists feel they are constantly hunted," Kefouri told Defense News.
In his MESOC presentation, Kefouri provided a detailed account of a particularly ferocious August 2014 battle in Arsal on the Lebanese-Syrian border in which the LAF killed more than 60 militants from the Nusra Front and Daesh. The cost was high, Kefouri noted, with 19 soldiers killed and 27 taken captive, two of whom were later executed.
"This did not deter us. LAF units maintain pre-emptive operations against ISIS and Nusra Front militants in Arsal's outskirts to this day," he said.
Last December, in a Qatari-brokered deal, Nusra Front released 16 Lebanese security forces held captive for more than a year. Nine remain held by Daesh, and the LAF "remains adamant about freeing them," Kefouri said.
Both Masood and Kefouri stressed that no single country can win the fight against terrorism on its own.
"The threat is transnational and accordingly, all the willing and capable should coordinate and cooperate," Kefouri said.
For instance, Masood told Defense News that Pakistan is communicating on a constant basis with Afghanistan to prevent Daesh from planting roots in Pakistan and to break up its alleged foothold in Afghanistan.
US Army Gen. John Campbell, when he was the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander in Afghanistan, said that Daesh possibly establishing itself within the country presented a good opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to enhance cooperation.
"There have been visits and lots of exchanges even at the summit level," Masood said. Having eliminated most of the sanctuaries for terrorism in Pakistan, he added, "we are improving the border control situation." This is no short order given the geography of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border's high mountains.
"Still the cross-border movement is still on and even now there are occasions when there are cross-border infiltration from the terrorist camps inside Afghanistan," Masood admitted. "However the best part is now that whenever there is any such occurrence, we [the Afghans and Pakistanis] jointly fight them."
And intelligence sharing is also a source of "great cooperation," Masood said.
"We cannot straight away overlook the possibility that ISIS will definitely try to come into Pakistan," he said, but the "current environment in Pakistan is not ripe or encouraging for ISIS. ... We are very hopeful they will not be able to find a foothold."
Jen Judson contributed to this report.