Combating Al Qaeda in Pakistan
David Ignatius notes that al Qaeda has “all but disappeared” from Afghanistan and “is on the run” in Iraq and thinks we can draw lessons from these facts.
First, al-Qaeda isn’t a permanent boogeyman; it’s losing ground in Iraq and Afghanistan because of U.S. counterinsurgency tactics, especially the alliances we have built with tribal leaders and the aggressive use of Special Forces to capture or kill its operatives. These anti-terrorist operations require special skills — but they shouldn’t require a big, semi-permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq or Afghanistan. Local security forces can handle a growing share of responsibility — perhaps ineptly, as in Basra a few weeks ago or in Kabul last weekend, but that’s their problem.
Second, the essential mission in combating al-Qaeda now is to adopt in Pakistan the tactics that are working in Iraq and Afghanistan. This means alliances with tribal warlords to bring economic development to the isolated mountain valleys of the FATA region in exchange for their help in security. And it means joint operations involving U.S. and Pakistani special forces to chase al-Qaeda militants as they retreat deeper into the mountains.
The solution isn’t to send a large number of U.S. soldiers into Pakistan — indeed, that could actually make the situation worse — but to send the right ones, with the right skills.
Rusty Shackleford diagnoses Ignatius with “Delta Force Syndrome,” a malady wherein “the sufferer delusionally believes that all of America’s enemies can be defeated by sending in small units led by Chuck Norris.”
Iraqis are now and have always been much more secular & forward looking than Pashtuns in the so-called tribal areas of Pakistan. For Iraqis, the horror of living under forced sharia was something they hadn’t experienced for 100 years or more and was enough to turn the tide of public opinion about who the greater enemy was: the Great Satan and their allies in Baghdad or al Qaeda and their local Islamist allies. But in Pakistan, local tribal rule is virtually synonymous with Taliban-like sharia. Tribal alliances with Islamabad do not put an end to the horrors of sharia, only reinforce them. It is the status quo, and the Pakistani strategy of “turning” the tribes into allies does nothing to change this.
The alliances formed between our “allies” in Pakistan and the “tribal leaders” have never born any positive fruits and are counterproductive. We may be able to exploit the petty political ambitions of one tribal group against another for temporary tactical gains, but aside from inter/intra-tribal wrangling the vast majority of “tribal” Pakistan have two things in common: devotion to an 8th century version of Islam and a hatred for America.
Such a culture does not give one much hope for an “Anbar awakening” in tribal Pakistan.
That’s probably right. The question, then, is What will work? There might not be an answer.