Escalation

by Joshua Foust on 9/30/2010 · 23 comments

More NATO helicopters have crossed into Pakistan, though this time they fired on Pakistani troops—members of the Frontier Corps. The target this time was in Kurram Agency, in the “parrot’s beak” of the FATA, an area, according to the AfPak Channel, that has seen very little drone activity.

For once, Pakistan has followed through on its threat and has “cut” the supply line that runs from the port city of Karachi through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Pakistani officials supposedly say it’s not retaliation, but rather to protect convoys from attack by the Taliban (ABC’s Nick Schiffrin says otherwise). Sure they are, just like when they protected those convoys from all the other attacks they’ve had to suffer through.

It remains to be seen if these cross-border raids represent a major escalation of the war or not. They could, like the last few, be relatively isolated incidents meant to pressure the Taliban in unexpected ways and demonstrate to the Pakistani government NATO’s resolve. They could, on the other hand, indicate the war is about to get a lot less nasty. If the U.S. stops being shy about cross-border raids, there remains very little reason for the Pakistanis or the Taliban to become shy about them either; the result could quickly spiral out of control. Closing one of the only two supply lines for the war is the least of how Pakistan could seriously undermine the war if it got angry enough.

What’s worse is, there remains little indication these raids materially affect the war (unless one were to argue a hypothetical, like it could be a LOT worse). So what exactly is the U.S. trying to accomplish here?


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

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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{ 23 comments }

Steve Metz September 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

Perhaps what the U.S. is trying to accomplish is to (finally) send the message to Islamabad that if it does not deal with the terrorists it provides sanctuary for, the U.S./NATO will. In other words, the message is, “There’s more where that came from.” Eventually, the Obama administration is going to pay a political price for a strategy in which the keystone ally supports terrorists who kill Americans.

Joshua Foust September 30, 2010 at 8:16 am

You mean like Bush did? I don’t buy that. We’ve done these sorts of things before. Unless they escalate quickly, they won’t mean much. And what do we do if we lose the Khyber as a supply route? The NDN isn’t nearly good enough to pick up the slack.

Positroll September 30, 2010 at 8:47 am

Don’t know whether it applies here, but I remember reading from time to time reports that some members of the Pakistani boarder police / frontier guards were in league with the Talis and helped them by firing e.g. mortars at ISAF troops.
My guess: U.S. troops pursuing Talibs at the frontier were shot at, helicopters were around and returned the fire without discriminating between Talibs (bad) and border guards (“good”?).

Caleb Kavon September 30, 2010 at 9:52 am

Well the Pakistanis…have responded to our escalation, they have detained 150 container loads at Torkham today. Not sure when they are going to get them moving again. It looks like they are sending a message to our message. Interesting development, it looks like “retribution” goes two ways now.

http://www.realclearworld.com/news/ap/international/2010/Sep/30/pakistan_cuts_nato_supply_line_after_border_firing.html

It is a pretty astute counter move. It looks like this is going to get very interesting since 90% of everything comes in through Karachi supply wise. It is a quick shot accross our bow, and they are playing hard ball for the first time in a while. At least, our “strategic partner” is finally showing their real feelings finally.

E2 September 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I’m hoping this was a one- time statement to the Frontier Corps that their assistance to the local villains has not gone unnoticed. If we start making a habit of shwacking Pakistani troops, things could go south real fast.

I also want to know how pissed off the local Afghan govt/power brokers will become if traffic at Torkham doesn’t get unstuck quick. The amount of money they’re losing in “taxes” collected from each supply truck must be quite significant.

Boris Sizemore September 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

I was surprised they reacted so fast. It might be combination of the CTM force doing missions in Pakistan and the Apache strikes.

Very troubling move, they know our weak spot. Kiyana was trained at Leavenworth after all. I would not want to speculate
on how long this goes on and the potential supply hit we might take. Maybe closing the Burger King was a good idea after all.

But, we can also hold back funds so tit for tat is possible, they are needing a lot of aid after the flood and an IMF rescheduling. Probably will go back to normal in a few days.

IT is very sad. I really liked Peshawar before.

Realist Writer September 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm

“They could, on the other hand, indicate the war is about to get a lot less nasty.”

Don’t you mean a lot MORE nasty?

Abdullah September 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm

This is great news, Looks like there will be some new surplus at the bazaars this weekend.

Prithvi September 30, 2010 at 11:22 pm

See kids? Pak is whack.

Sorry, I meant a paranoid, duplicitous, ultra-militarized deep state engaged in cynical machinations is whack.

Steve Maghribi October 1, 2010 at 1:48 am

This is a pretty grim reminder of how deep our “strategic alliance” is with Pakistan. It also comes during Panetta’s visit and highlights just how bad our diplomacy is these days. When you put Holbrooke, Patterson, and Mullen together on a project what you get is complete and total dysfunction.

We are funding Pakistan to record levels and at the end of the day have NO LEVERAGE to avoid this kind of dramatic counter response. Incredible.

We so need to work with both Governments and when you add in the Eikenberry disaster in Kabul have nothing with both. Incredible.

Cutting supply lines is just like sticking a knife on our jugular. It is not funny and is as serious a counter measure as we could ever expect to see short of outright hostilities.

The US needs to relook completely what it is doing with both leadership groups and change the complete diplomatic staff now. They are directly responsible for a whole scale diplomatic failure on all levels.

This is no small counteraction. This is a serious statement of disregard for the “joint nature” of our relations. The cards are out on the table now. It is just not “business as usual” we have a crisis in relations with the Pakistanis as of yesterday.

Pakistan is financially bankrupt. They have 1.5 months of salary to pay their Government workers. Financial pressure is deeply in order to avoid any thought of such a response again. This is a serious development.

I hope someone wakes up at Foggy Bottom and kicks some butt. This is a full up, no hesitating, slap across the face from a government we are literally funding. There is no need to describe this as anything else.

We can back down or respond. But we must be clear on the potential results of each course. It is a clear and decisive moment in our relations with Islamabad.

Don Anderson October 1, 2010 at 2:33 am

Steve,

All good points…

But they are probably just going to back down and bide time until Zardari falls which is very soon.

There is no need to provoke a crisis. Pakistan is already in crisis. The Administration is praying it does not explode.

They are as bankrupt and unpopular as any Government could be outside of Uzbekistan and something is going to bust out soon. The military will in all likelihood step in, though there is talk of just calling for another election.

This will blow over. We will beg them and say sorry and just wait till the PPP Sand Castle collapses on the beach.

Caleb Kavon October 1, 2010 at 2:39 am

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/cia-chief-promises-to-respect-pakistan/story-e6frf7jx-1225932585041

Yes, they are backing down. Panetta is the point man for the apology. “Anything to avoid a total meltdown”-is the motto for
our relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan now.

Boris Sizemore October 1, 2010 at 9:37 am

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/14-nato-supplies-in-pakistan-blocked-for-second-day-zj-04

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/19-un-s-rescue-helicopter-crashes-in-manchar-lake-hh-01

I guess it is not a contradiction to close off UN/ISAF supplies to Afghanistan while the same UN is feeding Pakistanis suffering from the flood. In Pakistan anything makes sense.

It also is not a contradiction to fund the ISI while they fund the Taliban that is killing American Soldiers.

Pakistan is pushing the Americans in a big way. I guess there is not choice but to back down.

But this is the real story of “Sleeping with Wolves.”

In a perfect world, we should take their nukes away. The sooner the better. There-I said what everyone else is thinking. I should just have kept it to myself.

Boris Sizemore October 1, 2010 at 9:43 am

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/tough-us-warning-on-militant-attacks-into-afghanistan-100

Now this. Maybe there is a change going on. Just maybe. President Obama did say we need to focus on Pakistan.

FINALLY…maybe….maybe…maybe….finally..

Caleb Kavon October 1, 2010 at 10:22 am

Now I am concerned. I hope this situation deescalates very soon.

That letter is pretty strong, maybe it is what tipped off the Torkham and not the Kurram strikes.

I hope Don is right and this blows over. Pakistan is a real mess right now.

Boris, this is not a good time to go ballistic no matter how much they deserve it. This is indeed the worst nation in the world to be nuclear capable right now. Iran looks like a solid responsible citizen in comparison to Pakistan. Not sure how the Administration can be any more clear about this than they have been.

Holbrooke has just stepped in it here. No reason to have such a massive decline in relations when the Aid program is so big. No reason at all.

Not sure what is going on. Any more pressure and this could get Guns of Augustish in a hurry.

The letter itself on top of Mullen’s threats after the NYC attempt paint a picture of a new hard line policy on Pakistan, but this is just not the time. They are collapsing internally and really no need to push this forward more.

That is unless some sort of strategic decision has been made. But Panetta’s so sorry does make it seem like a back down.

Fascinating situation developing, and a new Ambassador coming in very soon. Hope we do not have a repeat of the 1979 attack on the Embassy. Anything, really anything could happen now.

So much for a stable policy and development in the region. This is a real mess. Afghanistan looks so much better in retrospect than our relations with Pakistan at the moment.

TS Alfabet October 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Excuse me, my ignorance is showing, no doubt, but… er, isn’t there some value in Pakistan collapsing from a purely, U.S. strategic point of view?

Prithvi October 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm

How? Like it or not it’s a country much more connected to the rest of the world than Afghanistan and its collapse would have more than regional consequences. For one, the collapse of central authority would probably precipitate refugee crises for its neighbors. Islamic militants would find even more safe havens.

And of course Pakistan’s vast amount of conventional weaponry would fall into the hands of whomever is bold enough to just take them. I don’t even want to think about their atomic armaments. And one would have to round up their nuclear scientists to stop them from freelancing.

Capt. Monkey October 2, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I’m amazed that as a military we’ve put all our eggs in a single basket. The bulk of supplies for our ISAF partners do not travel through the Karachi logistical lines but rather come in through Central Asia. We could have hedged our bets for 8 years by sending some of our supplies by ship to Turkey and then by rail and truck to Uzbekistan and in from the north. In fact, with the volatility of RC-East and Pakistan and the frequency of pilferage, it’s rather dumbfounding that we haven’t.

Capt. Monkey October 2, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Secondly, I doubt this represents a significant departure from the operational status quo. CJTF-101 has already directed a review of escalation of force, rules of engagement, and tactical directives–focused at the border. Additionally, they are trying to increase the situational awareness of troops as to where PAKMIL positions are.

E2 October 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I highly doubt it’s conventional forces that are most likely going to make a habit of crossing into PAK. It doesn’t matter what CJTF 101 comes up with if JSOC/CIA aren’t on board.

Capt. Monkey October 4, 2010 at 5:04 am

True, but that overlooks the efforts within CFSOCC to create a better unity of effort and unity of command by having they special guys directly supporting the BSOs. Now, I have no idea how deep into the “special guy” territory that applies. It may be only white SOF that is bound to this while black SOF still gets to play cross border, as necessary.

Shah Mojadedi October 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm

The Supply attacks are not going to be regular. The Torkham/Khyber road is/has been in a war zone for several years basically. Convoys are being attacked with increased frequency.

This is/should not be surprising at all. Nato is just going to have to shift the Riga Train corridor and pray/be thankful for Russian/Kazahk/Uzbek support in this effort.

It is not a game changer but a plan changer.

I think both sides were doing a little posturing, and it does not really make a difference as the route is now fully compromised and Pakistan will note the traffic loss sooner rather than later.

In the long run, it is Pakistan’s coffers that will suffer and not the Afghan effort. However, there is no room to be anything other than perfect citizens with Russia and the other transit routes at the moment. They should also consider to beg/bring the Chinese in via Kazahkstan, if any way possible.

Caleb Kavon October 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

The trucks are moving 11 days after the shut down. Some 500 trucks are missing somewhere as Dawn reports today.

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/probe-launched-into-500-missing-nato-vehicles-100

Looking back at this situation I believe it was as Joshua Foust indicated a crossing of the rubicon. Has Pakistan decided to up the ante on its efforts in Afghanistan between now and the US drawdown realizing that now is the best time to make its move?

Gilliani indicated that Pakistan had contemplated a whole range of other options.

Mullah Omar called last month for an increase in activities and the employment of more heavy weapons. Has Pakistan decided to supplement more actively the insurgent forces with Pakistani advisors and/or proxy forces? We are certainly seeing more rocket attacks in the East in Jalalabad, Khost, Ghazni, and Kunar.

If there has been a decision by Pakistan what can the ISAF expect in this direct replay of 1986 in Afghanistan? Or, are the insurgents content with a slower steady expansion knowing that 2011 is just about here and winter is coming with time for a buildup for next spring?

Either way, things will be coming to a head soon in many places.

When will the first provincial capital fall? This attack and when it occurs will tell the real story of their intentions, fast or slow and if Pakistan has decided to make a forceful move now.

Talking peace is an old cover for many things in South Asian history. Lets hope the folks at ISAF are considering each angle in advance.

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