Tuesday, December 21, 2010

US Seeks To Expand Military Strikes In Pakistan

NYTimes: U.S. Military Seeks to Expand Raids in Pakistan. The US is looking at expanding raids in Pakistan to deal with the ongoing Taliban threat. It is one of the policies and hallmarks of the Obama administration that has carried out UAV airstrikes more frequently than his predecessor. However, Pakistanis aren't likely to go along with the change unless additional aid is forthcoming. It is also likely to result in additional problems for Pakistan in the frontier provinces where the Taliban maintain their safe havens.

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These raids wouldn't be the UAV airstrikes we've seen in the past, but special forces operating deep behind the national boundaries of an official ally, even though Pakistan doesn't maintain strict and authoritative control over the frontier provinces. It's a sticky wicket that deserves closer scrutiny and the issue has come up numerous times in the past few years, including during the 2008 presidential campaign when then candidate Barack Obama called for invading Pakistan. Now, some of his military commanders are pushing for that very strategy to go and eradicate the Taliban threat posed by those safe havens. Pakistan has long refused to go fully after the Taliban clans that frequently cross the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the last time they made a concerted effort, the Pakistani military didn't come off very well.

This news may be an effort to spur the Pakistani government to once again take more action against the Taliban.

The Times report is most notable for a new development on the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda - the US has been backing Afghan militias that carry out cross-border raids:
Additionally, in recent years, Afghan militias backed by the C.I.A. have carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan’s tribal areas. These operations in Pakistan by Afghan operatives, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, have been previously reported as solely intelligence-gathering operations. But interviews in recent weeks revealed that on at least one occasion, the Afghans went on the offensive and destroyed a militant weapons cache.
This latter bit may prove to be quite problematic since it shows that the US is backing groups that attack those living on the Pakistani side of the border, and Pakistan may not take kindly to such actions in their official response even if they give them a wink and nod unofficially because the Pakistani government in Islamabad can't directly deal with the Taliban or al Qaeda for fear of upsetting the Islamists who dominate the country.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that NATO is denying the reports that the US wants to expand special forces operations into Pakistan.
A spokesperson for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan today rebuffed a report that senior US military officials in Afghanistan are seeking to expand raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas.

"There is absolutely no truth to reporting in The New York Times that US forces are planning to conduct ground operations into Pakistan," Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said in a statement from Kabul, according to Reuters.

The Los Angeles Times adds that Smith's "sharply worded statement underscored the extreme sensitivities surrounding the subject of militant sanctuaries in Pakistan."
US allies are wary of potential repercussions because their logistics are so thinly stretched and are reluctant to engage in directly fighting the Taliban - leaving those efforts up to the US. Supply lines in Pakistan have come under attack on numerous occasions in the past couple of years, destroying convoys of vehicles and equipment destined for NATO troops in Afghanistan. It is possible that the Times report was accurate, but efforts to win NATO commanders over to the idea hasn't gained traction, which is why the denial was issued.

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