The Pakistanization of the Afghan War

The Los Angeles Times is reporting in a marked shift for US policy towards Pakistan that the US military has begun flying armed Predator drones inside Pakistan in partnership with the Pakistani military. Furthermore, under this new joint operation Pakistani officers have significant control over targets, flight routes and decisions to launch attacks.

For the U.S. military, the missions represent a broad new role in searching for Islamic militants in Pakistan. For years, that task has been the domain of the CIA, which has flown its own fleet of Predators over the South Asian nation.

Under the new partnership, U.S. military drones will be allowed for the first time to venture beyond the borders of Afghanistan under the direction of Pakistani military officials, who are working with American counterparts at a command center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said the program was aimed at getting Pakistan -- which has frequently protested airstrikes in its territory as a violation of sovereignty -- more directly and deeply engaged in the Predator program.

"This is about building trust," said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the program has not been publicly acknowledged. "This is about giving them capabilities they do not currently have to help them defeat this radical extreme element that is in their country."

The Pakistanis, however, have yet to use the drones to shoot at suspected militants and are grappling with a cumbersome military chain of command as well as ambivalence over using U.S. equipment to fire on their own people.

The program marks a significant departure from how the war against Taliban insurgents has been fought for most of the last seven years. The heavy U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been largely powerless to pursue militants who routinely escape across the border into Pakistan.

But the initiative carries serious risks for Pakistan, which is struggling to balance a desire for more control over the drones with a deep reluctance to become complicit in U.S.-operated Predator strikes on its own people.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, on a visit to Washington last week, reiterated his nation's request for its own fleet of Predators. U.S. officials have all but ruled that out, and they described the new, jointly operated flights as an effective compromise.

According to the article, two missions under Pakistani direction have so far been flown but that so far no missiles have been fired causing consternation among American military planners that the drones are not being used more aggressively by the Pakistanis. That should change one way or the other for Army Lt. General Stanley McChrystal, named this week as the new top US commander in Afghanistan, expanded the use of Predators while in Iraq and is expected to do the same in his new post.

In the frontier areas, it has been the CIA heretofore who was directing the strikes. The most recent CIA strike came Tuesday, reportedly killing eight people in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Since August when the Bush Administration decided to increase the use of predator drones to target Al Qaeda operatives, the CIA has carried out at least 55 strikes, compared with 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined. President Obama expanded the use both in number and included for the first time elements of the Pakistan Taliban as targets shortly after taking office.

The Pakistanization of the Afghan War seems all but complete. It seems we are now fighting Pakistan's war or perhaps they are fighting ours. Either way, the end results are the same. There is a mission creep and what is eerie is how little this is noticed. Somehow we remain fixated on Afghanistan even as a wider war is quickly gathering steam. Take Senator James Risch, Republican of Idaho, who painted a grim picture today at a hearing with Ambassador Holbrooke, saying he was stunned by a lack of progress in Afghanistan, which he called a "black hole" with no bottom. If that's Afghanistan, what's Pakistan?

Tags: Afghanistan, Geo-Politics, pakistan, Predator Drone Attacks, President Asif Ali Zardari, Taliban, US Foreign Policy (all tags)



Re: The Pakistanization of the Afghan War

If we had not occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, would we now be worrying about the Taliban and Al-Queda gaining nukes? If we had only invaded to catch Osama bin Laden and not screwed up at Tora Bora, what would have been?

At least this new policy is an improvement over our policy of invading Cambodia during the Vietnam war.
The previous administration, under Vietnam retread Rumsfeld, was making the same mistakes they made thirty years ago.

by antiHyde 2009-05-13 05:57AM | 0 recs
Looks Like

The Ho Chi Min Trail all over again.  And Nixon's secret bombing of Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia brought us  . . .  the Khmer Rouge.

by kaleidescope 2009-05-13 08:34AM | 0 recs
Re: The Pakistanization of the Afghan War

It seems pretty clear that the task of wresting control of the NWFP and FATA from the Taliban is going to be a long and difficult one for Pakistan and any expectations of a sudden and dramatic improvement there is likely to be disappointed, especially considering that in Bajaur, apparently, the Taliban have reasserted their presence shortly after the winding down of the operations of the Frontier Corps in February.

According to a recent BBC analysis only 38% of this region is under the control of the Pakistani government and the very nature of the Taliban insurgency makes it difficult for the unwieldy Pakistani Army to effectively bring them to a decisive action, a tactical reality of the nature of the conflict that would have been well understood by British colonial generals well over a century ago.  And as for the cost it is interesting to note that the Pakistani claim, in response to our vexation over the presumed misuse of the infamous $10B of counter-terrorism funding spent there in the past decade, is that the actual cost to Pakistan has been $35B in the same period.  As black holes go it's a stunner.

About the only 'accomplishment' so far has been to persuade the civilian government, such as it is, to direct their undivided attention to the threat posed to Pakistani sovereignty by the Taliban and see them mobilise significant resources to counter it, with the military doing their job and not meddling in politics.  So far this seems a promising development with the coalition parties voicing support for this shift in emphasis, more or less, and public opinion awakening to the importance of reasserting the secular 'writ of government' rather than letting events take their course.

It is obvious that the solutions to our crises of foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan are political, not military, as the Taliban have understood from the beginning.  And the resolution will conseqently be slow and incremental requiring a continued military presence until political and developmental improvements take hold.  Whether we have a strategy for success or not remains to be seen, though there is every evidence we are attempting, at least in Afghanistan, the infrastructure-oriented approach which has been lacking.  In the meantime we are at a crossroads.  Public opinion will expect significant signs of improvement, and soon.  In many respects our financial resources are limited, if not nearly exhausted.  And the outcome of many of our global diplomatic initiatives may depend on successfully negotiating this difficult transition in Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Asia generally.

Looking at this through the domestic prism, however, one thing seems clear, to abdicate this challenge in Afghanistan and Pakistan would do the one thing Republicans seem incapable of themselves; unite them around an issue which could very well bring them electoral success on grounds of national security and responsible management of US foreign policy.  It's our move.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-05-13 01:59PM | 0 recs


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