The Pakistan Problem
And the wrong solution.
11:00 PM, Nov 20, 2007 • By BILL ROGGIO
AS CONCERN BUILDS within Washington's political, military, and intelligence circles over the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan, the search for a proper policy to deal with the threat has come to the forefront. Earlier this week the New York Times leaked details of a classified recommendation for a new strategy to assist the Pakistani government in dislodging the Taliban and al Qaeda from their entrenched positions there, where the groups have effectively established a terror sanctuary. In short, the recommendation consists of funding and arming Pashtun tribes, reinforcing the paramilitary Frontier Corps, providing additional Special Forces trainers, and assigning additional teams from the Special Operations command to target high value targets whenever such opportunities arrive.
The plan is being sold as somewhat analogous to the highly successful counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar province, where tribal leaders and former insurgent groups banded together to fight al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies with the aid of Coalition forces. But the situation in Anbar is not comparable to the situation in the Pakistani northwest, and there is little reason to believe that a strategy like that reported in the Times will succeed in this more hostile environment.
The Pakistani counterinsurgency plan, on the other hand, explicitly calls for U.S. forces to take a hands-off role in the Northwest Frontier Province. Unlike Anbar, the closest U.S. troops would come to direct involvement in Pakistan would be the embedding of Special Forces trainers into the Frontier Corps and Pakistani military. U.S. forces would not be able to come to the direct aid of Frontier Corps units.
The proposed Pakistani counterinsurgency plan would instead rely on the Pakistani Army to conduct the counterinsurgency operation and to buttress the Frontier Corps, itself a failed counterinsurgency force with a long history of deserting, or surrendering to the Taliban outright, whenever the situation becomes difficult. The Pakistani Army's track record in battling Islamic extremists in the tribal areas is equally troubling.
The 2005 South Waziristan Accord (also known as the Sara Rogha Accord) and the 2006 North Waziristan Accord were both negotiated after the Pakistan military suffered a slew of defeats at the hands of Taliban and al Qaeda forces. After the signing of these "peace accords," the Taliban and al Qaeda conducted a vicious campaign against any tribal member suspected of working with the Pakistani government or U.S. intelligence. Beheadings of "U.S. spies" were a daily occurrence.
Given this history of capitulation, relying on the Pakistani military to protect those tribal leaders opposed to al Qaeda and the Taliban without the support of U.S. forces seems certain to place any anti-al Qaeda elements in grave and immediate danger. During the rise of the Awakening in Anbar province in 2006, the anti-al Qaeda tribal leaders were nearly defeated. The first iteration of the Awakening, called the Anbar Revenge Brigades, was routed after al Qaeda assassinated its leaders and murdered or intimidated its fighters.
The Awakening was only able to survive the al Qaeda onslaught with the direct support of the U.S. Marines and soldiers based in Anbar. U.S. forces provided protection for the group's leaders, as well as air support, financing, and communications and other equipment to bolster its efforts. U.S. forces also conducted joint operations with the Awakening's fighters and coordinated operations between the Iraqi police and Army. Despite this U.S. support, the Awakening was close to being defeated after al Qaeda conducted a massive terror campaign up and down the Euphrates River Valley in the winter and spring of 2007. Al Qaeda used suicide bombs, chlorine gas attacks, and targeted assassinations against the tribal leaders and their supporters.