On August 1, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said that America must be willing to attack al-Queda targets in Pakistan with or without the permission of the Pakistani government.
He told a press conference, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”
The terrorist attacks on hotels, train stations and the Jewish Center in Mumbai, India killed as many as three hundred. The rapidly-accumulating evidence — including the confession of the one terrorist taken alive — shows that this attack was made by the Lashkar e-Tayyiba (“army of the righteous”) terrorist organization, an affiliate of al-Queda, which is reportedly based in the town of Muridke near Lahore, Pakistan.
That conclusion is reinforced by US intelligence officials who have apparently corroborated that evidence and concluded that the Mumbai attacks were mounted from Pakistani territory.
Three months after 9-11, the Indian parliament was attacked by terrorists believed to be members of the Lashkar e-Tayyiba group. They were, like the 9-11 hijackers, well trained, funded and armed. Getting access by having the right security passes, five terrorists set off several bomb blasts and in a 45-minute gun battle, killed nine police officers and staff members before being killed.
LeT’s attack on India’s parliament nearly plunged India and Pakistan – nuclear adversaries — into war seven years ago and may yet this year. India is rightfully furious that Pakistan harbors terrorists and — according to the most recent reports — Pakistan is denying any responsibility despite information indicating that LeT is located within its borders and that its ISI — Inter-Service Intelligence agency — helped train the LeT terrorists for the Mumbai attack.
Saudi Arabia has been a source of LeT funding for many years.
The one terrorist captured alive is Azam Kasab, a twenty-one year old Pakistani who apparently has confessed to be an LeT member. He has told Indian authorities that the attacks were planned over six months and were intended to kill 5,000 people.
According to one report from the Times of India, intelligence sources intercepted conversations between the chief of operations for LeT and a person in Bangladesh, arranging fake ID’s and for the terrorists and SIM cards for use in cell phones either brought to the scene or to be seized from victims.
That report also said that a satellite phone found on the MV Kuber — a ship some of the terrorists seized to enter the port of Mumbai — had made calls to the city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan, to Zakir Ur Rehman, chief of training for LeT. Further, Indian intelligence reportedly told the Times that twenty-four terrorists — perhaps the group that attacked Mumbai – were training in a Pakistani village and that an agent of the ISI was involved in the training.
If America has the right to attack terrorists in Pakistan without regard to the Pakistani government — and Obama was right to say we do — why doesn’t India? It does, of course.
Only two days before Obama’s August 1 statement, a very senior White House national security official told me that as many as one million Islamist radicals were living a protected existence safe haven in Western Pakistan. I asked him if President Bush were content to leave office with that danger intact and he said Bush was not.
Since then, American forces have made small raids into Pakistan, usually by attacking specific targets with munitions launched from unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator or with small special forces units, and the Pakistanis have only occasionally objected. Though these attacks have killed some high-level al-Queda leaders, they are — in the context of the massive safe haven problem — mere pinpricks.
Diplomats – including Secretary of State Rice are busy pressuring Pakistan to cooperate with India in the “investigation” of the attacks. Nonsense. We should clearly ally ourselves with India in pressuring Pakistan to take action — hard power action — against the LeT network inside its borders. If it does not, India — with our help — should take direct action. It has more than enough justification to do so, despite Pakistan’s denials of involvement.
The Pakistani civilian government’s denials of involvement ring hollow, but may well be true because of two stubborn facts. First, the government lacks control of a huge section of its country. The Federally-Administered Tribal Area is the northwestern section where LeT and many other terrorists now abide.
Second, the Pakistani government also lacks control of the ISI, a government-within-a-government that has long and deep connections to Islamic terror groups including LeT. Though the civilian government of Pakistan may be sincere in its condemnations of terrorism, there is very little it can do about the terrorists who operate — apparently globally — from its territory.
On September 12, 2001, the Washington Times published a column I wrote — in anger and sadness — the afternoon before. It was titled, “No Sanctuary for Terrorists.” In it, I said that when America is attacked, as it had been the day before, it must strike back in a manner that is proportional to our size and strength, not the enemy’s.
I advised President Bush to give the Taliban — who were harboring bin Laden — an ultimatum, requiring them to either turn bin Laden over to us within 24 hours, or we would attack. (He did almost exactly that, and about three weeks after the Taliban refused, they faced an onslaught of American air and ground forces).
India has taken a step short of that, demanding that twenty of India’s most-wanted terrorists be turned over and Pakistan has demurred. But India should make clear — with an ultimatum — that Pakistan turn over the leaders of Lashkar e-Tayyiba, including its chieftain, chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (aka Jamaatud Dawa) or face military action against those groups inside its territory.
If Pakistan refuses because it cannot or will not do so, India should take direct military action against the LeT, beginning with its headquarters. And it would be a very good thing if we beat them to the punch. If a Tomahawk missile or two arrived in Muridke before the Indian Air Force can get there, so much the better. Because LeT is as much an enemy of ours as of India.
What I wrote on 9-11 is as true today as it was then: “We will have to take on other nations and other terrorist networks. We cannot let them have a moment’s peace…There must be no place for them to hide, and no hesitation to attack them or those who give them shelter.”
America’s power and influence are neither unlimited nor permanent. The danger Islamic terrorism poses — ideologically and kinetically — is an existential threat to our nation. We must use the power we have — economic, diplomatic and military — decisively to defeat the enemy in this global war. In the seven years since 9-11, we have not done so. The nations that sponsor terrorism — Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia — continue to do so.
Victory must be defined as defeating the Islamist ideology and ending state sponsorship of terrorism by whatever means necessary. No nation, no matter what its prevalent religion or ideology, can be exempt. If we do not fight this war in a manner calculated to win it decisively, we will lose it inevitably.