Truth or Consequences: Closing the Pakistan Border

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

General McNeill has said that the insurgency in increasing in Afghanistan, but along with the factual analysis he gives us the same warning concerning the Pakistan border region we have heard for months now.

The outgoing top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Friday that attacks increased 50 percent in April in the country’s eastern region, where U.S. troops primarily operate, as a spreading Taliban insurgency across the border in Pakistan fueled a surge in violence.

In a sober assessment, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who departed June 3 after 16 months commanding NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, said that although record levels of foreign and Afghan troops have constrained repeated Taliban offensives, stabilizing Afghanistan will be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgent havens in Pakistan.

The Taliban is “resurgent in the region,” particularly in sanctuaries in Pakistan, and as a result “it’s going to be difficult to take on this insurgent group . . . in the broader sort of way,” McNeill said at a Pentagon news conference.

Clashes in the east pushed U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan in May to 15, and total foreign troop deaths there to 23, the highest monthly figure since last August.

Indeed, comprehensive data released by the NATO-led command show a steady escalation in violence since NATO took charge of the Afghanistan mission in 2006, spurred in part by more aggressive operations by the alliance and most recently by U.S. Marine battalions in the heavily contested southern province of Helmand. ISAF troops in Afghanistan increased from 36,000 in early 2007 to 52,000 now, while the Afghan army grew from 20,000 to 58,000 soldiers.

Overall violence has increased and attacks have grown more complex, according to the data and U.S. military officials. The number of roadside bombs increased from 1,931 in 2006 to 2,615 last year. Attacks peaked during the months of the warm weather fighting season, with more than 400 in the peak month of 2005, more than 800 in 2006, and about 1,000 in 2007.

As violence has risen, it has remained concentrated geographically in a relatively small number of districts, the data show, in predominantly Pashtun areas. Afghanistan has 364 districts, and last year about 70 percent of all attacks took place in 40, or about 10 percent, of those districts, McNeill said. For the first half of this year, he said, about 76 percent of attacks took place in virtually the same 40 districts, with some shifts in Farah and Nimruz provinces.

The district data has helped drive the deployment of NATO forces, with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit focusing on a district in southern Helmand that shows extensive enemy activity. “We knew it was a dark hole and we had to get to it; we simply didn’t have the force,” said McNeill, noting that ISAF remains short of combat troops, helicopters, and intelligence and surveillance equipment.

Troop numbers are low compared with the size of the insurgency, which includes many part-time fighters. There are an estimated 5,000 to 20,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, plus an estimated 1,000 each for the insurgent groups led by Siraj Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to ISAF intelligence.

More worrisome than the Taliban expansion in Pakistan is the threat of more cooperation between homegrown insurgents and outside extremist groups, McNeill said. “The greatest risk is the possibility of collusion between the insurgents who are indigenous to that region and the more intractable, the more extreme terrorists who are taking up residence there in the North-West Frontier” Province of Pakistan, he said.

McNeill criticized Pakistani efforts to crack down on that threat, and — offering his unofficial view — described the political situation in Islamabad as “dysfunctional.”

He also criticized efforts by the Pakistan government to negotiate peace deals with insurgents on the frontier, saying past agreements have led to increased attacks across the border in Afghanistan. McNeill said the 50 percent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan in April compared with the same month last year is “directly attributable to the lack of pressure on the other side of the border.”

But is McNeill’s assessment true?  Well, yes and no.  It is true that “stabilizing Afghanistan will be impossible without a more robust military campaign against insurgent havens in Pakistan,” as long as NATO has only 52,000 troops in theater, and as long as restrictive ROE prevents the Germans from taking offensive actions against the Taliban, and as long as NATO lacks a coherent overarching strategy, and as long as half of the force is employed in force protection rather than counterinsurgency.  What McNeill doesn’t really know is whether the campaign could be successful – regardless of disposition of the issue of the Pakistan Taliban – with the force size present in Iraq.

We should be careful and deliberate here.  After all, The Captain’s Journal has been quick to point out that Syria and Iran must be confronted if the campaign in Iraq is to be successful.  But also to be fair (and we still take this position), Pakistan doesn’t have the goals of regional hegemony that Iran does.  In Conversation with a Jihadi, we learned from his perspective that “If NATO remains strong in Afghanistan, it will put pressure on Pakistan. If NATO remains weaker in Afghanistan, it will dare [encourage] Pakistan to support the Taliban.”

If we are engaged in fighting against a transnational insurgency, then we cannot realistically complain that the insurgency is transnational and recognizes no borders.  We can continue to pressure Pakistan, but the one available avenue of kinetic operations against the Taliban – Afghanistan – must be the focus of our efforts.  Until we have ramped up force projection within this theater, we do not know whether our actions in Afghanistan can be dispositive concerning the Taliban, and thus we have no real leverage with Pakistan.  After all, if we haven’t committed to the campaign, then why should they?  Or so they are left to think.

Let’s take first things first.

  • Warbucks

    To the extent that the insurgents are playing off the politics and/or trying to enfluence the politics of the US Presidential Campaign in the US, they may be in for a surprise.

    While Senator McCain’s positions on stabilizing the region are well know, Senator Obama is the only candidate that actually stated and I paraphase, that he would consider taking strong military action in the Frontier Area of Pakistan on good intelligence if Pakistan failed to act to do so itself.

    The noble Pashtun jurga carries a collective wisdom far older than the transistory recent history of the perversion of Islam by radical, violent Jihadists.

    The Pashtun want to preserve a culture; they will soon be faced with an epic choice that will either lay the seeds of their cultural demise or not. They will discover, I believe, that their long term interests need to be reevaluated vis-à-vis the current opium/radical-jihadists syndrome in which they currently find themselves.

    And I think they will discover that any new US President will be driven by the fury of campaign rhetoric to prove himself to the country that he means what he says. The jurga would be wise to settle up on this point with the current US President than to confront the unknown.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Obama is neither the savior of the U.S. nor of the campaign in Afghanistan. His ego is writing checks that the country can’t cash. He cannot withdraw forces from Iraq as fast as he claims, and he will not invade Pakistan, a sovereign country.

    Rather than fighting just the Taliban and AQ, we would be fighting a uniformed Pakistani army. If you think COIN in Fallujah and Ramadi has been tough, consider it in the streets of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. It would cost us 100,000 dead and 250,000 casualties. It won’t happen.

    Further, as best as I can tell, the Pashtun people are not the heroic saviors in this instance either. They have shown their hand, and it is to appease the Taliban.

    The answer is neither Obama nor the Pashtun tribes, both of which will prove to be fickled. It is force projection to kill Taliban in Afghanistan, thus putting pressure on the Taliban in Pakistan. It will be a war of attrition, and the rate of attrition needs to increase by an order of magnitude.

  • Dawg

    Interesting development in Pakistan;

    Pakistan Taleban ‘kill 22 rivals’

    Authorities in north-west Pakistan say they have found the bodies of 22 tribesmen who were kidnapped by local Taleban militants on Monday….

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7472612.stm

    Interesting…


You are currently reading "Truth or Consequences: Closing the Pakistan Border", entry #1147 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Pakistan,Taliban and was published June 15th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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