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The Pakistani government has of course protested, but they ought to know better — Pakistan has its own problems with the Taliban and despite a successful counteroffensive inside their own country, has shown little ability to secure its border with Afghanistan. Sending armed helicopters into Pakistan is certainly an escalation over and above the usual missile strikes by unmanned U.S. drones (which also continue), but is a logical escalation of the war. If Pakistan cannot close down its border with Afghanistan to free movement by the Taliban, NATO must do it for them. There can be no victory in Afghanistan until NATO’s enemies are denied their safe harbor. The missile and gunship attacks should continue, both to deny the Taliban their sense of impunity along the border and to impress upon the Pakistani government, long believed to be in bed with the Taliban, that NATO will no longer tolerate an open border.
This message should be heard loud and clear in the corridors of Pakistani power, especially since it has recently been confirmed by U.S. officials that the CIA has created a secret army of 3,000 Afghans believed to be reliable. They have waged a secret war along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, exploiting the same vulnerabilities and ease of access, that has for too long aided the Taliban, to locate and kill high-value terrorist leaders. Little is known about this outfit, but they are described as well trained, effective and “one of the finest Afghan fighting forces.” If continued drone attacks, conventional airpower and this secret army can help to seal the border with Pakistan, defeating the Taliban around Kandahar City and throughout the entire country will be made a much easier task.
Easier, but by no means easy. Afghanistan is already America’s longest war, and many allies, even traditionally steadfast ones, are tiring of the seemingly endless struggle. Even in the midst of this expanded effort in Pakistan and the current offensive near Kandahar, the U.S. military is warning that any progress towards victory against the Taliban will come slowly. The current efforts, even if completely successful, will not win the war, but will buy time for the Afghan government and military to continue developing its own strength.
How this gradual improvement will play with the frustrated American electorate is still unclear. President Obama made much of his taking ownership of the Afghanistan War. With midterm elections imminent and the presidential vote in 2012 coming up fast, combined with the President’s hopes for a drawdown of American forces starting in 2011, it remains to be seen whether or not successes on the ground will be matched by a firmness of resolve in Washington.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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