(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – American military forces are stepping up cross-border ground attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In the last two weeks, the military has begun launching ground assaults in the Pakistani border provinces known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, American intelligence and military officials said. The region is believed by American and Pakistani intelligence to be hosting the leadership of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden.
While American special forces and military contractors have conducted raids in Pakistan, such actions were rare and required Cabinet-level approval. In July, the leadership of Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was given the sole authority to approve ground assaults in Pakistan. Late last month, the American military began launching ground attacks in the country on a near daily basis, depending on local conditions and intelligence, according to a military official who requested anonymity.
The escalation in Pakistan is due in part to the incoming leader of Central Command, General David Petraeus, who has been credited with changing the course of the Iraq war and is said to have the full trust of President Bush. Before formally taking the reins at Central Command, General Petraeus began meeting in June with Pakistani political leaders to develop an effective strategy for combating Al Qaeda in the border provinces.
Most important for the Bush administration, however, has been the political implosion in Islamabad since the resignation of America’s longtime ally, President Musharraf.
“With Musharraf gone, the policy of self-deterrence is now gone,” a former senior counterterrorism official for both the Clinton and Bush national security councils, Roger Cressey, said. “We would deter ourselves from doing anything for fear that any action would destabilize Musharraf.”
“The other point here is the brazenness and frequency of Taliban-led raids really required U.S. forces to be aggressive,” he said. “I think this is less about getting bin Laden than it is about responding to the Taliban.”
A spokeswoman for Central Command declined to comment for this article.
The ground presence of American forces also has led to more air attacks in the Pakistani border provinces. Yesterday a Predator drone aircraft fired missiles into a small town in the province of North Waziristan, killing at least nine people, according to the Associated Press. The target was a senior Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was believed to be living in the religious school struck by the missile. Mr. Haqqani escaped the attack, but three other Arab Al Qaeda deputies at the scene were killed, Agence France-Presse reported.
The use of Predator drone attacks in Pakistan has been a part of American policy since the beginning of the war on terrorism. The attacks, often launched from Afghanistan, have not been acknowledged publicly by American officials, and the Pakistani government has said the attacks are part of its own counterinsurgency efforts. But America’s intelligence on Al Qaeda in the Pakistani border provinces has been hindered by the lack of the kind of tribal allies that proved to be such a boon to the war effort in Iraq, reducing the effectiveness of the air war against the group. Many potential tribal allies in the Pashtun provinces on the border have been slain by Al Qaeda’s leadership to send a message to other tribal leaders who might consider cooperation with America and NATO.
The targeting intelligence so far has been, according to one American intelligence official, “shots in the dark.” The official, however, said ground operations in Pakistan at least offer the prospect of refining targets, so that missiles fired from the air would hit Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
Another factor in the escalation against Al Qaeda may be Mr. Bush’s desire to secure a legacy and capture Mr. bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
“There are all kinds of initiatives at work here, such as the end of the Bush administration,” the director of a consortium of university think tanks in Washington, the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies, Yonah Alexander, said. “What better way to score a victory, in terms of getting bin Laden or Zawahri?”
Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain have highlighted the front in Afghanistan on the campaign trail. As early as 2007, Mr. Obama called for bringing troops home from Iraq and sending more of them to Afghanistan. In July, Mr. McCain called for an Afghanistan “surge” of troops, similar to the successful troop surge he advocated for in Iraq. Both senators will be participating in a joint event in New York City to commemorate the seven-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
NOTE: This article was published at NYSun.com on Sept. 9.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Who is the U.S. military targeting with their attacks into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas – the border provinces between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
2. a) Until recently, what kind of approval was needed for launching ground assaults into Pakistan?
b) Who now has the authority to approve ground assaults in Pakistan?
c) What do you think of this transfer of authority – it it better for the military commanders or the president’s advisors to “call the shots?” Explain your answer.
3. List the three reasons given in the article for why the U.S. military began launching ground attacks into Pakistan on an almost daily basis. Be specific.
4. Why has the recent ground presence of American forces in Pakistan led to more air attacks in the Pakistani border provinces?
5. Why does the U.S. military not have the kind of tribal allies in Pakistan that they have in Iraq?
6. Which do you think is the most important reason the military has for sending ground troops into Pakistan? Explain your answer.
Pakistan’s remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (the tribal lands) have been a training ground for insurgents and a focal point for terrorism fears, particularly since the 9/11 attacks.
The semi-autonomous tribal lands consist of seven parts called “agencies” … There are also six smaller zones known as Frontier Regions in the transitional area between the tribal lands and the North-West Frontier Province to the east. The harsh, mountainous territory of the tribal lands runs along the Afghanistan border, drawn during colonial times by British Diplomat Sir Henry Mortimer Durand as a means to divide and weaken the eleven major Pashtun tribes and turn Afghanistan into a buffer zone between the British and Russian empires. (from GlobalSecurity.org)
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Pakistan.
For background information on Pakistan, go to the CIA World FactBook website here.
Read about CENTCOM at the website at centcom.mil.
(Read Gen. Petraeus’ biography at the Multi-National Force in Iraq website at mnf-iraq.com.)