Did We Just Invade Pakistan?

by Joshua Foust on 9/3/2008 · 3 comments

I’ve argued repeatedly that the individual soldier, and not an airplane dropping thousands of pounds of explosives, the most precise weapon in our arsenal. In fact, when discussing the challenges posed by decapitation strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas, I’ve argued that soldiers should be preferable to bombs or Predator strikes, precisely because they tend to produce lower casualties with higher target precision.

The way this incursion into Musa Nika, just over the border from Paktika, however, is troublesome. According to the Washington Post, which is quoting an anonymous Pakistani official, the target was the house of a local Taliban commander. In a pattern familiar to Afghanistan watchers, the governor is claiming women and children died at American hands, though for a welcome change the U.S. is not running its mouth off about a situation it is clearly unprepared to discuss (in this specific case, silence is far more valuable than spouting random numbers they can’t immediately confirm).

If this is true, and it must be taken with a big grain of salt, it is troublesome. For one, capturing a Pakistani Taliban might be outside the U.S.’s purview, because known Pakistani Taliban commanders, such as Baitullah Mehsud, haven’t actually claimed or been assigned blame for any attacks inside Afghanistan or against U.S. forces (Afghan Taliban commanders, and known al-Qaeda agents on the other hand, have).

For another, by the looks of initial reports this was really damned sloppy. Undertaking this raid during Ramadan is a silly move, since people wake up earlier to pray and eat before the daily fast; as a result, they lost the element of surprise since many neighbors were already up and organized protests of the troops’ presence. We don’t yet know what the exact time line is, and if the presence of protesters during this operation, which almost certainly involved Special Forces, contributed to the claims of civilian deaths (which stands, according to unconfirmed local reports, at ten out of a total of fifteen to twenty deaths).

Lastly, if American/NATO forces are to carry out raids into Pakistan, the rules of the game change. They lose the right to complain about cross-border attacks since they will be launching their own. They must be absolutely positive they don’t kill the wrong VIP, since there is a difference between the Afghan Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the many Pakistani Taliban groups, and regular old tribal militancy. Pakistan’s extremism scene, in other words, is actually much more complicated than Afghanistan’s—and they didn’t have the benefit of a straight decade of civil war to ruin their traditional social relationships.

Let us allow history to be a guide as well. The British had terrible luck fighting in Waziristan. They began a war against a militant demagogue in 1936 and, despite nearly 40,000 troops combing the hills never caught him. He was only marginalized after partition in 1947. So there is also a real danger of biting off far more than we can chew.

And all of this leaves aside the quite honest hope that we really do have a secret Memorandum or something with Pakistan that allows us to do this and both sides are unwilling to admit to it because of domestic politics. Because otherwise we’ve declared war on Pakistan.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

fnord September 4, 2008 at 1:33 am

Amen. The timing is unfortunate in another way as well, because it will become the buzz-talk wherever pakistanis are gathered to start the ramadan season. This will by many be seen as a direct insult to islam, no matter the facts on the ground. Three days before or three days after would have made quite a big difference, IO wise.

Ethan September 4, 2008 at 9:49 am

Soldiers over bombs: yes. Sloppy raid: yes. Poor timing: Yes. Dodgy border situation where we can only hope there is cooperation between GoP and the US: absolutely.

On another note, Baitullah Mehsud perhaps hasn’t publicly claimed responsibility for specific attacks. However, he has implied his involvement–albeit on a small level–in the “jihad” against the US and foreign troops in Afghanistan. See links:

http://www.dawn.com/2008/05/25/top3.htm
http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSISL274902

On the other hand, because he simply hasn’t claimed attacks doesn’t mean that we don’t have intelligence that links him to attacks. Attempting to publicly distance himself from, or at least offer lackluster moral support to, the “jihad” in Afghanistan could also be a political ploy. Perhaps he finds more moral authority and nationalist/tribal support when confining his public operations to anti-Pakistan government mode. Perhaps he fears direct U.S./NATO action against him if he pops up on the radar. Or, on the other hand, he may indeed not be involved in Afghanistan at all. However, given his location and AOI, it would be silly to think that he is not at least complacent, if not wholeheartedly engaged, in facilitating cross-border attacks, logistics, and safe haven. Just a thought…

TCHe September 4, 2008 at 2:34 pm

So, the locals are starting to fight against the Taliban, something the PAK doesn’t support by declaring a cease-fire because of Ramadan.
Because of the decreasing support the Taliban try to lure the West into PAK to present the Muslim world yet another example of “Crusader aggression” against a Muslim country. The US are actually doing exactly that during the holiest month in Islam.

Hmmm, while I can understand the motivation behind the attack, strategy that takes perception and the information sphere as an important battlefield into account SHOULD look different than that.

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