The Pakistani military has launched a large offensive involving 30,000 soldiers into South Waziristan, one of the tribal agencies most hospitable to the Taliban and like-minded terrorists. Following frightening Taliban attacks on the Army headquarters and an air base suspected of storing nuclear weapons, the Pakistani government began a belated but aggressive campaign. In order for the Pakistanis to succeed however, the U.S. must demonstrate a similar determination to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan by launching a comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign.
The U.S. has been secretly helping the Pakistanis carry out their offensive, providing them with intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment. Up to 150 Special Forces are now in Pakistan training and advising their military, a two-fold increase over the past eight months. This assistance has significantly helped the Pakistanis trying to clear South Waziristan, but the U.S. inability to secure Afghanistan limits any gains.
The Pakistani military has complained that militants will escape into Afghanistan, where they will be able to create springboards back into Pakistan. General Ashfaq Kayani, the chief of staff of the army, has criticized the U.S. decision to dismantle eight checkpoints on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, including four that are adjacent to South Waziristan. The U.S. has responded by saying they were simply restructuring their forces. The specific Pakistani criticism may or may not be valid, but a United Nations assessment from April underscores the problem that the Pakistanis face.
The report shows that in the spring, seven percent of Afghanistan was under Taliban control and an additional third of the country was rated as under “high risk.” This means that the Taliban has a very significant foothold in Afghanistan that the U.S. and Afghan government have failed to dislodge. The infrastructure for the Taliban and similar militants will provide their allies escaping the Pakistani offensive a place of refuge, and a place to organize counter-attacks.
October was the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan since the war began. Like the Pakistanis, the U.S. must react by acknowledging that half-measures will not suffice. On the campaign trail, President Obama criticized Pakistan for not working hard enough to eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s safe havens.
Yet, today, President Obama is guilty of the same criticism. In General McChrystal’s August 30 memo, he warned that “failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) – while Afghan security capacity matures – risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” The memo did not give a specific amount of additional soldiers needed, but other media reports have consistently said that McChrystal is requesting at least 40,000.
President Obama has reacted by waiting two months to decide whether he agreed with the decisions of the general he chose to lead the war effort, whose plan is also supported by General Petraeus, who led the turn-around in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, and the United Kingdom’s top general in Afghanistan. If current reports are accurate, Obama has decided he knows better than Petraeus and McChrystal and will not send as many additional soldiers as requested.
The U.S. also won’t embark on a nationwide counter-insurgency campaign, instead focusing on about ten population centers and de-centralization permitting local control of territory, “perhaps including elements of the Taliban unaligned with al-Qaeda.” The Administration may try to equate such an action to the Awakening movement in Iraq, but those citizens and tribal leaders rejected radical Islamic ideology and their primary motive in fighting Coalition forces was opposition to a foreign presence. Surely there are tribal leaders in Afghanistan that can be persuaded to switch sides under the right conditions, but the Taliban is motivated by a desire to establish an Islamic state and unlike the members of the Awakening, will never cease to establish Sharia Law where it takes power and use violence to expand it. Today, the Awakening works with the Iraqi government and Coalition forces, something that the Taliban can never be expected to do.
The limited campaign will result in great improvements in Afghanistan where it is applied, but the threat from the remaining Taliban safe havens cannot be downplayed. They will continue to launch attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, harbor other radical Islamic terrorists, and continue to undermine efforts to secure the civilian populations—the key objective of counter-insurgency.
If the U.S. is to continue pressuring Pakistan to clear its tribal areas of Taliban and similar militants, then it must do the same on the Afghan side of the border. Should the U.S. fail to do so, it will not only be hypocritical, but will threaten to jeopardize the success of both ourselves and the Pakistanis.
Leave a Reply