November 09, 2007

The COIN Fight in Pakistan

Finally. The Washington Post has a piece today focusing on the way in which political turmoil in Pakistan is affecting the U.S.-supported counterinsurgency fight against Islamist militants.

The political turmoil in Pakistan is threatening to undermine a new long-term counterinsurgency plan by the U.S. military aimed at strengthening Pakistani forces fighting Islamic extremists in the country's tribal areas, according to senior military officials. The officials said the initiative involves expanding the presence of U.S. Special Forces and other troops to train and advise the Pakistanis, who have been largely ineffective in battling the hard-line militants.


Currently, U.S. Special Forces teams make occasional trips to Pakistan for about six weeks at a time to train different groups of Pakistani soldiers. Under the new plan, the 12-man teams would be stationed there for longer assignments, without gaps in between, and they would work consistently with the same set of local troops. The teams would step up their training of the Pakistani military's Special Services Group, a strike force for conducting raids against insurgent training camps and leaders.

Other trainers would teach basic skills to Pakistan's Frontier Corps, the tribally recruited paramilitary force that patrols the tribal regions. Training would include marksmanship as well as how to set up checkpoints and gather basic intelligence, while providing the force with helicopter support such as medical evacuation by the Pakistani army.

About 400 U.S. military personnel currently work in Pakistan, and the total is expected to grow by dozens under the new initiative.

... U.S. military officials said that [Ashfaq] Kiyani, Musharraf's possible replacement as head of the military, is supportive of the counterinsurgency plan in the tribal areas, which he visited within days of assuming his current post last month. Kiyani has also indicated an openness to having the Pakistani military focus on missions other than conventional operations aimed at the threat of India, which senior U.S. officers consider diminished. "He has a different view," said one senior military official. "I'd expect he will step up and be head of the army, and there will be some changes."

The idea for the plan to strengthen and increase the Frontier Corps, along with economic development in the tribal areas, was unexpectedly raised by Musharraf during his meeting with President Bush in March 2006.

Some initial funds for the efforts have been cobbled together -- relying in part on Pentagon counternarcotics funding -- but officials familiar with the plan say the goal is to redirect current military aid toward the counterinsurgency plan.

The COIN model the U.S. is using in Pakistan -- light footprint, heavy on advisory missions -- seems to be the same COIN/CT model the U.S. has been using in places like Algeria, where we have been very cautious about letting our military aid and activity become too overt. Abu Muqawama likes it. It's not aggressive enough for some presidential candidates, probably, but it makes more sense than sending a division of light infantry into the FATA.* The Pakistani Army would revolt if the U.S. took direct military action, but using Special Forces teams in advisory roles allows the U.S. to "fight" in the FATA without actually getting into any two-way live fires themselves.

In other Pakistan news, the IHT has two op-eds worth reading. The first is by the ever-sophisticated Pakistan observer Anatol Lieven, who explains what's been taking place in Pakistan from within a Pakistani context. The second is by the big-wigs at CrisisGroup, who say it's about time the West scrapped its Musharraf policy for a real Pakistan policy.

*FATA: Federally Administered Tribal Areas