May 03, 2011

Hard Decisions Ahead For Pakistan After bin Laden Raid

Osama bin Laden's death could cause serious damage to the Taliban insurgent networks fighting the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, experts said Monday. How severe that damage is will depend on whether Pakistani officials police their side of the border.

"It will have an impact," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "What will that impact be and what magnitude?"

For years, Taliban fighters have used havens in Pakistan to rest, train and re-equip themselves. An offshoot of the Taliban, the Haqqani terror network, has had ties to the Pakistani intelligence service.

Pakistan must decide whether to cooperate in finding terrorists, or risk further embarrassment and international censure for harboring terrorists, said John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, retired Army officer and expert on counterinsurgency.

"Pakistan is making those decisions right now," Nagl said. "There's a real chance that Pakistan, which is embarrassed, will make the hard decision and will give us some of what we're asking for."

That would include the locations of Ayman Zawahri, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader, and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, both of whom are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, Nagl said. Pakistan could also commit itself to helping dismantle the Haqqani network and gain control of its lawless frontier region that serves as a safe harbor for the Taliban.

"Those would be enormously significant actions," Nagl said. "NATO and Afghan forces are sufficient to deal with the Afghan Taliban if it no longer has sanctuary in Pakistan."

There are about 100,000 U.S. troops and an additional 40,000 from allied countries in Afghanistan. The Afghan army and police have about 280,000 members. President Obama has vowed to start bringing home U.S. troops, beginning in July, and handing over more security responsibilities to the Afghans.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said that bin Laden's death will re-inforce Obama's desire for a "robust" reduction in U.S. forces.

But committee member Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., warned that too quick a withdrawal risks repeating mistakes made in the 1990s. At that time, the Taliban took over the country, invited al-Qaeda and allowed the 9/11 attacks to be hatched there, he said.

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., cautioned against conflating success against bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Pakistan with fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"We have to be very careful not to find these national security issues that happen either for the positive or the negative to define all the other things that we have to do," Rogers said.