Wednesday, March 18, 2009
America Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?
Two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to include a "major insurgent sanctuary" in and around the city of Quetta, according a report in the New York Times. With the potential risk of significant loss of civilian life in a large population center, such strikes on the provincial capital of Baluchistan would represent a major expansion in America's CIA-run covert war well inside Pakistani territory.
As President Obama considers any CIA recommendations to expand the war deep inside Pakistan, he should remember the following three of the five paradoxes from the US military's counter-insurgency manual:
Paradox 3: The hosts doing something tolerably is often better than foreigners doing it well.
Paradox 4: Sometimes the more force is used, the less effective it is.
Paradox 5: Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.
As the US seeks Pakistani cooperation in its Afghan war, the continuing American Predator strikes, strongly resented by the government and the people alike, represent the biggest stumbling block in the way of serious and committed US-Pakistan military alliance in Pakistan-Afghan border areas.
A serious but unintended and extremely dangerous consequence of the expanded US air strikes in Pakistan is that the militants are continuing to move further inland from FATA in to Pakistan's settled area such as Swat, Quetta and beyond. They are finding more new recruits for their cause and threatening to destabilize the entire country. A destabilized, nuclear-armed Pakistan will be far more dangerous to the interests of the US, the region and the world than anything we have seen in Afghanistan or Iraq.
So far, the Obama response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is to order more Predator strikes and thousands of more US troops. This assumes that the problems are mainly the lack of firepower and of troop strength. But it's likely to have the opposite effect. More Predator strikes and more troops mean more fighting which will lead to more American and Afghan civilian casualties. And it will only increase the public opposition to the US presence there, and make the entire region a much more powerful magnet to draw more global Jihadists from around the world. These "holy warriors" love nothing better than to kill the American soldiers and achieve "martyrdom" for themselves.
This latest reported escalation recommendation risks further enhancing support for the militants and insurgents fighting America's presence in Afghanistan. It will also make it less likely for the Pakistani military and the severely weakened Zardari government to turn a blind eye to such open provocation by the CIA in a major Pakistani city, especially if it results in mass civilian casualties.
Mr. Obama has inherited a messy war in Afghanistan. He should listen to the advice of former Bush adviser David Kilcullen offered in his book titled "The Accidental Guerrilla". Kilcullen's advice, as reported by David Ignatius of the Washington Post, consists of three "don'ts." Don't do it again; don't make it worse by overescalation; don't think you can pull out now without damaging U.S. interests. For Obama, that means a measured commitment, somewhere between a major escalation and a minimal force.
Any expansion of the predator strikes into Quetta will put the U.S. on a slippery slope of deeper and prolonged involvement in the region. I hope that President Obama will seriously consider the long term consequences of US actions to prevent a repeat of Indochina in South Asia, rather than give in to the short-term temptation of temporary gains against the Taliban in Afghanistan. No amount of the proposed US aid increase will compensate for such a reckless escalation by the CIA in Quetta.
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