Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Foot Soldiers of a Different Kind of Surge

I think we have options in Pakistan to wage the Taliban War that spans the Afghanistan-Paksitan border regions.

I've argued that it makes no sense to surge troops to Afghanistan. Given that the main targets are in Pakistan where tribesman supply recruits and space for the Taliban and al Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan, adding American troops to Afghanistan where our supply lines are tenuous would be folly.

Certainly, a few brigades of Western troops could make sense to help control the border, but even this would only be a defensive effort that would just mean years or decades of bleeding to stop thrusts across the border whwn the jihadis felt strong enough to attack.

We need an offensive inside Pakistan, so that our troops on the border are an anvil against which we smash the jihadis inside Pakistan's frontier areas. But we aren't talking about sending more than a few more brigades to the area, which are insufficient to invade Pakistan. And we can't risk too many troops given the supply situation that relies on moving supplies through Pakistan and Russia.

So are we really just planning to add troops with no real hope for success? Is it all about looking like we are doing more to "get" Osama bin Laden with no real strategy?

I've speculated that we are planning a new style of post-Westphalian campaign inside Pakistan that bypasses the Pakistani central government which does not have de facto control over the border tribes despite legal sovereignty:

It is about more than bin Laden. But without routinely violating the border to attack targets inside Pakistan and without accepting perpetual defense as we do in Iraq in the face of Syrian and Iranian aggression, we may have an opportunity to use a post-Westphalian Lexington Rule to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan.

If we can't get Islamabad to control the frontier area, it is time to bypass Islamabad and deal directly with the tribes who don't recognize the control of Islamabad in the first place. We cannot allow the fictions of sovereignty to keep us from defending ourselves from fanatics who straddle the gray boundary that lies between reality and international law.

Using limited military assets such as special forces and drones to back civilian armed assets such as the CIA or contract personnel (with either former or seconded special forces from Western countries, or perhaps even hiring security companies to provide the personnel) or even Arab special forces that would live and work inside the frontier areas, we may be able to turn the frontier tribes against the jihadis who target us.

We should be able to start at the Afghan-Pakistan border and extend the network of anti-al Qaeda tribes toward the interior of Pakistan.

So it is with some interest that I read this development:

Pakistan's Taliban might be getting stronger, wreaking havoc along the country's border with Afghanistan, but they are also growing wildly unpopular, inciting their own tribesmen to turn against them.

In the latest of a series of incidents, a lashkar, or private army comprised of Pakistani tribesmen, torched the houses of Taliban commanders in Bajaur, near the Afghan border, vowing to fight them until they are expelled, the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, reports. ...

The Bajaur lashkar might be the largest of its kind, but it is not the only such force to have turned against the Taliban, according to recent reports. The News, a leading Pakistani daily, reported two weeks ago that several such lashkars have arisen throughout the North West Frontier Province, where the Taliban are increasing their hold.

Is this really just a local development? Or are we assisting these laskhars?

I've read in the past that we planned an Awakening strategy to win in Afghanistan. Clearly, we couldn't repeat the effort since we needed tens of thousands of American Marines and soldiers to knock back al Qaeda so locals could stand up and fight the jihadis.

Is this lashkar awakening the beginning of that effort? Are these tribal fighters the source of a surge in troop strength to take on the jihadis in Pakistan's frontier areas? Is the recent rather impressive Pakistani ground and air offensive an effort to knock down the jihadis so that an Awakening will stand a chance against a weaker jihadi force?

I'm just speculating. But what course of action could lead to success given the limitations we have on sending troops to the region and the limits on what we can do with any troops we send?

The Lexington Campaign seems to be afoot.