Will Pakistan become a quagmire for the United States?

September 11, 2008

File photo of Pakistani soldiers at a post overlooking Wana in South WaziristanFollowing up on yesterday’s post about U.S. military action in Pakistan, I see the New York Times is reporting that President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in July allowing American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.

The new orders, it says, relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without permission.

The paper also quotes two American officials as saying that last week’s raid by U.S. troops involved more than two dozen members of the Navy Seals who spent several hours on the ground and killed about two dozen suspected al Qaeda fighters. ”Supported by an AC-130 gunship, the Special Operations forces were whisked away by helicopters after completing the mission.”

This is big stuff, with enormous potential for escalation, should the raids continue. What happens if a ground assault goes wrong and some U.S. troops are kidnapped and handed over to al Qaeda? An enormous publicity coup for al Qaeda, which would no doubt provoke more raids, in turn requiring air support to cover the U.S. troops on the ground.

According to a comment posted earlier on this blog by Pakistan military expert Brian Cloughley: “If they (U.S. troops) tried to walk in from Afghanistan it would be the duty of the Frontier Corps or the Pakistan Army to repel them. And U.S. 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.”

File photo of tribesmen in Pakistan’s border areasSo is the United States walking into a quagmire in Pakistan’s border areas? Or will a series of “surgical” raids be enough to destroy the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban and turn the war in Afghanistan back in Washington’s favour?

Much will depend on how Pakistan itself — both the new civilian government and the Pakistan Army –  respond to the American actions. The Pakistan Army is already carrying out its own military offensive in the border areas. But Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has warned the United States to keep out, promising that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost.”

And here’s a scary thought. Will the consequences of the U.S. operations in Pakistan depend on one of the more common variables in war, especially in rough hostile terrain: luck?



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