January 06, 2008

SOF to Pakistan?

NYT is reporting that the US is considering sending special operations forces to the tribal areas in Pakistan. This has obviously been discussed before, but it's thought that President Musharraf may be newly amenable to the idea.

But at the White House and the Pentagon, officials see an opportunity in the changing power structure for the Americans to advocate for the expanded authority in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country. “After years of focusing on Afghanistan, we think the extremists now see a chance for the big prize — creating chaos in Pakistan itself,” one senior official said.

The new options for expanded covert operations include loosening restrictions on the C.I.A. to strike selected targets in Pakistan, in some cases using intelligence provided by Pakistani sources, officials said. Most counterterrorism operations in Pakistan have been conducted by the C.I.A.; in Afghanistan, where military operations are under way, including some with NATO forces, the military can take the lead.

The legal status would not change if the administration decided to act more aggressively. However, if the C.I.A. were given broader authority, it could call for help from the military or deputize some forces of the Special Operations Command to act under the authority of the agency.

Now if this was going to be a low-key, under-the-radar affair like our work in the the Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) or the excellent program in Mindinao in the Southern Philippines (JSOTF-P), Charlie would be on board. But there are two conditions that support those operations that simply are not present in Pakistan.

  1. 1) A welcoming and cooperative government, whose armed forces take the lead in ground operations.
  2. 2) Little in the way of media coverage or Pentagon/Foggy Bottom meddling.

Unfortunately, the 10,000 mile screwdriver will be in full effect in Pakistan, no matter how covert the program wants to be. There was a time where aggressive, kinetic counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan could have been effective. We've long since past it. Which is exactly why Musharraf might let us in now. We'll go ahead and add NWFP and FATA to our ever-growing list of "too little, too late."

Update: One further question: what would be the SOF mission in Pakistan? The easiest (and only by comparison) might be snatch-and-grab operations. But they're also the least strategically significant; they don't change the endgame of a growing Jihadi movement directed against the Pakistani government (and one divorced from the older Islamist establishment). At worst, a never ending game of a whack-a-mole feeds jihadi recruitment and further undermines Musharraf. Does the Bush administration want to try and own the tribal areas? You and whose army? No literally, which army? It's not gonna be ours (take a number). And the Pakistani one is alternately busy focusing on India and getting kidnapped by the very Taliban they're supposed to be fighting. As Craig Cohen from CSIS says,

“The need is immediate, but there’s not probably any short-term solution,” Cohen said. “That’s the reality. Counterinsurgency is a long-term effort, with no quick fix. Incorporating a part of their society that has historically been separate is going to take time.”

To say the least.

But time is just one of the things we don’t have in Pakistan.

So, what gives? Anyone seen a mission statement around here?

Finally, and not to sully all of this with presidential politics, but isn't this proposal rather similar to one made by Barack Obama earlier this summer? For which he was roundly criticized? Charlie obviously still thinks its a bad idea (unless it's the train, organize, and equip mission discussed earlier this fall). Politics make strange bedfellows, indeed

Update: Cross-posted to Danger Room.