Pakistan frets about U.S. attack
Speculation the United States is preparing to send commandos into Pakistan’s tribal areas to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban militants is gathering momentum. Pakistani fears of a U.S. attack were reinforced by a surprise visit to Pakistan this weekend by the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he was reported to have expressed U.S. frustration that Islamabad was not doing enough to tackle militants on its border with Afghanistan.
The Daily Times says in an article from Washington that Mullen had been expected to “read the riot act” to the government. It quoted an unnamed “well-informed source” as saying that U.S. patience was close to running out. When it did, the paper said, there would be unilateral US military action, both covert and overt, in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Dawn quotes a senior Pakistani official as saying that while the “possibility” of direct American military action in the tribal areas was always there, now the “probability” has suddenly increased. It says President George W. Bush might want to be able to tell the American public before he leaves office that Osama bin Laden or one of his top lieutenants had been captured or killed.
And the Houston Chronicle last week quoted three Texas congressmen briefed during a trip to the region as saying that American commandos are poised to stage “hot pursuit” raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas to stem mounting Taliban attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and to disrupt efforts by al Qaeda to plan strikes against the United States.
The United States has already stepped up patrols by unmanned Predator aircraft in the tribal areas, angering Pakistan which sees it as an invasion of sovereignty and terrifying the local population who do not know when the drones are likely to unleash missiles on suspected militant hideouts.
But sending in ground troops would be a major new departure with highly unpredictable consequences. In a comment in an earlier blog I posted on this subject, Pakistan military expert Brian Cloughley says any decision to send in U.S. special forces would lead to disaster.
“Anyone who knows the Federally Administered Tribal Areas,” he writes, “realises that the presence of even Pakistani troops excites resentment — to put it mildly. If a score or so of US Green Berets (or whatever) were heli-landed or parachuted in, there would be tribal reaction of the utmost ferocity. If they tried to walk in from Afghanistan it would be the duty of the Frontier Corps or the Pakistan army to repel them. And US ground forces, these days, are incapable of fighting without massive air support. So if they called in airstrikes within Pakistan the PAF would have no alternative but to support their own kin, and use their American-supplied F-16s to counter violations of Pakistan’s airspace by US aircraft.”
And this is what a former CIA officer had to say about a plan, called off at the last minute, to send in commandos in 2005. According to the New York Times, he had “told the military guys that this thing was going to be the biggest folly since the Bay of Pigs.”