Hohenfels, Germany The world’s worst safe havens problem is in Western Pakistan and America appears to have launched cross-border raids to do something about it. But — as White House sources have told HUMAN EVENTS — there may be as many as one million Islamic fighters there and no apparent “kinetic solution.” So what will the cross-border raids accomplish?
Reportedly, the Bush administration has authorized military operations inside Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in order to kill and capture terrorists. The New York Times reports that such raids are increasing and are being authorized without securing Pakistan’s approval.
Arguably, the Bush administration should have taken this action long ago because the war in Afghanistan is not going well. Besides, doing nothing about Pakistan’s safe haven consigns victory to the terrorists and a long war for the coalition.
The FATA is a mountainous region separating Pakistan and Afghanistan which is home to Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists like Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. US officials have indicated that those fighters use the region for launching attacks into Afghanistan but also for planning attacks overseas.
The most recent raid took place on Sept 4th in the FATA’s South Waziristan region against a complex of houses which comprised a madrassa, an Islamic school. The attack claimed 23 lives, including that of a very senior Taliban commander, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, who ran a major network of fighters and suicide bombers in Afghanistan.
One of the primary reasons the US has stepped up cross-border operations is because the Pakistanis are unable or unwilling to root out the terrorists. The US Defense Department’s General Counsel has interpreted international law to authorize unilateral action under these circumstances. A 1999 General Counsel assessment of legal issues in information operations states, “If a neutral nation is unable or unwilling to halt the use of its territory by one of the belligerents in a manner that gives it a military advantage, the other belligerent may have a right to attack its enemy in the neutral’s territory.”
This problem has been frustrated by suspicions about the commitment of the Pakistani military and particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), to the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. There is also long standing conjecture that some in the ISI have been assisting al Qaeda.
For the past few years, the Pakistani government has made only a tepid effort to rid the region of terrorists even though the US has poured more than $10 billion into that nation to support the war effort. To its credit, Islamabad has brokered peace deals with the Taliban in exchange for recognition of government authority, halting attacks and the hand over of foreign militants. But those efforts haven’t reduced the terrorists’ cross-border activities.
Pakistan’s failure to take decisive action to slow the flow of fighters in Afghanistan has created a dilemma for America. The US either risks loosing a valued war partner by continuing cross-border raids or it accepts the long-term problem of jihadists coming into Afghanistan and the likely extension of the war.
Consider some of the strategic risks associated with more raids and the potential tactical accomplishments.
The most significant strategic risk is that the raids could seriously damage US-Pakistan relations. Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s military chief, warned, “No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside of Pakistan.” Another Pakistani general said his country would use force to protect its territory.
The US also runs the risk that Pakistan might abandon the war on terror altogether. “We need at this time to make it clear to foreign countries that Pakistan will not tolerate such actions,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a Pakistani lawmaker. “If it continues, then Pakistan can consider pulling out completely from this war on terror.”
Then there is the possibility that the raids risk creating a domestic crisis for Pakistan’s recently elected president, Asif Ali Zardari. He is concerned that the crisis could lead to a dispute between the civil and military authorities which could destabilize his government.
The root problem for the US has been Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to stop the Islamic fighters. For years, American commanders in Afghanistan have complained that militants use sanctuaries in Pakistan from which to attack American troops.
Failing to correct this problem will only prolong the war. “I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “I am convinced we can.”
Mullen told Congress that "We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan … but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."
The cross-border raids do accomplish a number of purposes. Most raids are launched when there is good intelligence about the location of high valued targets like one of Bin Laden’s lieutenants. Over the past seven years of war many high valued Islamic extremists have been killed or captured in or near the FATA but as the White House suggests their numbers are growing.
The raids also tend to keep the militants on the Pakistani side of the border and out of Afghanistan. Keeping them out is becoming more important because their fighting effectiveness and numbers have increased. Over the past six months the US and coalition forces have confronted up to battalion-sized Taliban units aggressively using good small unit tactics and equipped with quality arms and munitions.
American raids also communicate an important message – there is no safe-haven for terrorists. Our unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator have successfully killed many unsuspecting terrorists hiding in hard to reach mountainous havens. But ground operations like the Sept 4th raid potentially bring home useful intelligence for follow-on operations. That’s why ground operations are key to decapitating the terrorist networks.
The White House statement to Human Events that there is no “kinetic” solution to the safe haven problem is correct. Killing a million jihadists if that many really exist in the FATA is a mission impossible. We need to find a more realistic goal.
Admiral Mullen suggests that “…these two nations (Pakistan and Afghanistan) are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them.” Bilateral agreement on this view should foster cooperation and a joint effort such as the following two part solution.
First, the coalition in cooperation with the Afghan government should create a network of interlocking artillery bases along the border with the goal of containment. Observers and high-tech detectors located between the fire-bases will call for artillery fire on suspected cross-border insurgents. This containment effort is possibly the best way to slow the flow of fighters through that porous border and to shrink the areas where they hold sway.
Second, there must be a non-kinetic political and economic effort that severs the population from the radicals. A similar problem was resolved in Iraq’s Anbar province. The Iraqi locals became so disgusted with al Qaeda that they turned on the radicals. Pakistan’s challenge is to seed that divorce with al Qaeda and the Taliban and the West should help Islamabad with encouragement and aid.
America’s next president must decide whether Islamabad is for us or against us. A cooperative Pakistan will slow the cross-border flow of insurgents thus speeding up the end of that long war. Alternatively, the US can seek tactical objectives via cross-border raids and containment via fire bases or abandon the battlefield and allow the region to return to its pre-9-11 role of mothering global terrorism.