Saturday, September 20, 2008

Land of Many Paks

"Pakistan" is our crucial ally in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda. Hundreds of Pakistani troops have died fighting the jihadis, many civilians have been killed by jihadi bombs, and our supply lines need Pakistani support to maintain.

"Pakistan" is our enemy in Afghanistan. They've supported terrorism inside Afghanistan, they've allowed jihadis to carve out sanctuaries inside Pakistan, and they've protested limited efforts by our forces to strike inside Pakistan.

The problem is, "Pakistan" is a collection of sub-national entities. Some of them help us and some oppose us. Which makes the idea of a sovereign Pakistani government controlling all their territory rather farcical. Yet we're expected to respect that sovereignty and not take direct action inside Pakistan.

Here is an example of overt Pakistani support for our enemies:

Pakistani military forces flew repeated helicopter missions into Afghanistan to resupply the Taliban during a fierce battle in June 2007, according to a Marine lieutenant colonel, who says his information is based on multiple U.S. and Afghan intelligence reports.

The revelation by Lt. Col. Chris Nash, who commanded an embedded training team in eastern Afghanistan from June 2007 to March 2008, adds a new twist to the controversy over a U.S. special operations raid into Pakistan Sept. 3.

Pakistani officials strongly protested that raid, with a statement issued by the foreign ministry calling it a “gross violation of Pakistan’s territory.”

But fewer than 15 months earlier, Pakistani forces were flying cross-border missions in the other direction to resupply a “base camp” in Nangarhar Province occupied by fighters from the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Hezb-i-Islami faction led by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Nash told Army Times in a Sept. 17 telephone interview.

And it is worse:

But according to Nash, the helicopter missions were just the tip of the iceberg of the support the Taliban and its allies in his area of operations received from Pakistani forces. That support included training and funding — he notes in his briefing that the average Taliban fighter makes four times the average monthly income of an Afghan — in addition to logistical help and, on numerous occasions, direct and indirect fire support, he said.

“What [the Pakistanis] bring to the fight is not only tactical expertise, but [because of] how they’re arrayed along the border, they can easily provide support by fire positions that our enemies are able to maneuver under,” Nash said. “We were on the receiving end of Pakistani military D-30.”

The D-30, as the article explained, is a 122mm artillery piece.

But as I noted, this isn't a Pakistani war, as another source noted even as he confirmed the elements of the story:

“I’m not saying that any of that is sanctioned by the government of Pakistan,” he said. “What I’m saying is this is occurring,” the officer said.

The U.S. government official who closely follows Afghanistan and Pakistan also said it was difficult to gauge exactly who in the Pakistani government was giving the go-ahead for such extensive support of the Taliban.

We simply can't let the Wesphalian fiction of Pakistani unitary control of all of Pakistan's nominal territory stop us from fighting our enemies. I've argued this point for many months now:

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.

Strategypage notes that we certainly have the building blocks in place for such a strategy, with an intelligence network inside Pakistan's frontier areas:

The U.S. intelligence network in Pakistan, along the Afghan border, has been under construction for more than a decade. While the Taliban and tribal unrest has made it easier for the government, and the U.S. (via the Special Forces or CIA) to recruit informants in the Pakistani border areas, the Taliban has responded by launching witch hunts, killing unpopular or suspicious tribesmen, after accusing them of being spies. The point is made, even if justice is not served.

The informant network is getting lots of key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders killed. Several times a month, GPS guided missiles are fired from Afghanistan, or from UAVs overhead, and kill people who appear to have been identified by locals. The Americans pay large rewards for information that leads to a successful attack. While the Taliban are killing anyone they suspect of being an informer, most of the dead appear to be innocents who simply looked guilty to increasingly paranoid Taliban.

So we have the resources to recruit allies inside Pakistan and not just informers.

And we have potential foot soldiers for our surge, too, it seems, with private armies (lashkars) inside the tribal areas.

I could be way off, but I don't see what three more American brigades can do inside Afghanistan unless it is to control the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and act as an anvil against which the lashkars in our service (and supported by our artillery, UAVs, and Coalition special forces) will hammer the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Late next year, after our three additional brigades are in place, we may see this Lexington Campaign. Or is it to be a pointless surge that simply perpetuates short-term stalemate at a higher level of violence?