Slouching Towards Islamabad

Fierce fighting continues between the Pakistani military and radical Islamist insurgents in the Swat Valley about 200 km northwest of the capital:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani Air Force fighter jets pounded militant positions in the Swat Valley on Monday as the military pressed its offensive on three Taliban-held districts northwest of the capital, the interior minister said.

Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, told reporters in Islamabad that 700 militants had been killed in the last four days of intense fighting — a far higher figure than has been reported by the military. No official reason was provided for the discrepancy.

At the weekend, the military put the number of killed militants at around 140 and has reported additional militants killed since then. The Taliban have not commented on their own casualties since the start of the latest offensive, and the death toll cannot be independently verified because aid agencies and journalists are barred from the conflict areas.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the fighting.

Meanwhile, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus notes that we have accomplished the objectives we had initially when we invaded Afghanistan:

The head of U.S. Central Command said Sunday that Al Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan, with its senior leadership having moved to the western region of Pakistan.

Gen. David Petraeus said affiliated groups have “enclaves and sanctuaries” in Afghanistan and that “tentacles of Al Qaeda” have touched countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. But he said the terrorist group has suffered “very significant losses” in recent months, and agreed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent assessment that there is no Al Qaeda based in his country.

That the stateless Al Qaeda should have pulled up stakes, crossed the border into Pakistan that we’re hesitant to cross ourselves, and set up shop there should have come as no surprise. Some criticize the Bush Administration for the situation in which we now find ourselves, pointing out that the resources which were deployed in Iraq could have been used in Afghanistan. That’s true as far as it goes but in my view it only means we’d have gotten to where we are now sooner.

Max Hastings writes in the Financial Times:

The Bush administration’s policies were dominated by a crude belief that democracy in itself promised Arcadian outcomes for Muslim societies. London and Washington now agree that this was a foolish delusion. But western governments find it extraordinarily difficult to define an acceptable alternative to, or modification of, democracy.

None of this is intended to suggest that either the Americans or British want to pack their bags in Afghanistan. On the contrary, there is agreement that the restoration of Taliban rule there would hasten an implosion of Pakistan. But even those of us who share this view are dogged by fears that US and British forces are fighting in support of an unsustainable Afghan political construct.

The allies’ enthusiasm for “putting an Afghan face on the campaign” must be right. But where are the uncorrupt, administratively competent Afghans to make this happen? Washington and London agree that “saving” Afghanistan requires a long-haul commitment, which may prove tough with flagging domestic enthusiasm for the war.

Unless some visible progress is achieved within, say, two years, all bets are off. Sufficient Afghans watch CNN and al-Jazeera to perceive this for themselves, whatever the British and American message on the ground.

I’m left with a host of questions. Will the Pakistani government try to subdue the ironically named Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Or will it be content to stop the current offensive? Defeating the insurgents in open battle won’t stop their insurgency. The typical practice of insurgents is to confront the military in open battle, conventional military conflict, when they’re strong enough to do so only to return to nonconventional strategies if they’re defeated. Can Pakistani officials be fool enough to believe otherwise?

Can Afghanistan produce a force of its own strong enough to prevent Al Qaeda and the Taliban from reasserting themselves in the country in our absence? Can we prosecute an effective offensive against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan without further weakening the Pakistani government? Or forcing their hands against us?

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    That’s true as far as it goes but in my view it only means we’d have gotten to where we are now sooner.

    True, and this is a point I made some time ago, when the subject of Democrats and their demands for increased commitments for Afghanistan first came up. If I’m not much mistaken, this also came up in a recent thread here.

    Will the Pakistani government try to subdue the ironically named Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Or will it be content to stop the current offensive?

    I suppose that to depend on the success of their current campaign.

    The typical practice of insurgents is to confront the military in open battle, conventional military conflict, when they’re strong enough to do so only to return to nonconventional strategies if they’re defeated. Can Pakistani officials be fool enough to believe otherwise?

    I doubt it. At the same time, what else to do, but defeat them in battle? In many ways the problems Islamabad faces are what Israel faces and for many of the same reasons. Like it or not, Pakistan, like the Israelis face the prospect of eternal vigilance, against an intractable enemy. All you can do is fight to survive.

  2. legion says:

    Will the Pakistani government try to subdue the ironically named Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Or will it be content to stop the current offensive?

    I choose C) none of the above.
    The Pakistan gov’t only barely exists right now; it will collapse completely under the slightest pressure. Whether that pressure comes from internal sources (like Taliban & tribal leaders) or external (like US/UN/NATO pressure to do something productive) remains to be seen.

    As far as what to do about it goes, I actually agree with Bithead on this – our military is built to take on other armies in field battles. If the Taliban want to form up and take us on on that stage – as opposed to working in the insurgency arena we’re so awful at – it sounds like a perfect way to kill a lot of them all at once.

  3. sam says:

    @Dave

    Some criticize the Bush Administration for the situation in which we now find ourselves, pointing out that the resources which were deployed in Iraq could have been used in Afghanistan. That’s true as far as it goes but in my view it only means we’d have gotten to where we are now sooner.

    @Bithead

    True, and this is a point I made some time ago, when the subject of Democrats and their demands for increased commitments for Afghanistan first came up. If I’m not much mistaken, this also came up in a recent thread here.

    Glad to see that the von Clausewitz of upstate New York weighing in with his observations. What you said in the previous thread was that the Democrats were stupidly anti-war:

    we now have a leftist congress and president, the entire party of which ran on an anti-war platform.

    Not anti-Iraq war.
    Anti-war. Period.

    Now you’re saying they’re stupidly pro-war. You can’t even keep your invective straight–why should anyone credit anything you say?

  4. Bithead says:

    Now you’re saying they’re stupidly pro-war. You can’t even keep your invective straight–why should anyone credit anything you say?

    No, I’m still saying they’re anti-war. I said at the time that such constration on Afghanistan while ignoring Iraq would have been counter productive at least… a point which current events have proven. (I also suggested at the time that serious control of Afghanistan without first controlling Iraq would be impossible…a point to which I still hold.)

    As for the rest, the best way to convince someone that a group of people are inept, or that a particular posicy is a bad one, such as the military solution… is to try and apply such in impossible ways. Example, consntrating on Afghanistan as the left wanted. Dumb, and I think intentionally so.

  5. sam says:

    I think it is true that had we brought more weight to bear in Afghanistan earlier, the rough beasts that are the Taliban and AQ would have in all probabilty done as they have, and we would have gotten to this point sooner. But maybe the greater gravity of our presence in Afghanistan might have goaded the Pakastani leadership into action sooner, too. As your lede indicates, they seemed now to be genuinely alarmed at the Talibani successes: Pakistan Pounds Taliban, Swelling the Tide of Refugees and From Air and Ground, Pakistan Strikes Back at Taliban.

    As to this:

    The typical practice of insurgents is to confront the military in open battle, conventional military conflict, when they’re strong enough to do so only to return to nonconventional strategies if they’re defeated. Can Pakistani officials be fool enough to believe otherwise?

    My reading tells me that the political stock of the Taliban in Pakistan is decreasing daily, and not just among the Pakistani elites. Will the Taliban fish find enough water to swim in in Pakistan proper and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? I think it’s less of a sure thing now than it was a few months ago.

  6. sam says:

    General Bithead plans a campaign in Afghanistan

    Gen Bit: Let’s review the plan.

    Aide de Decamp: As you can see on this map, the tanks are arrayed in arc formation. The arty is placed here–it should provide more than adequate protection. Machine guns are placed here, here, and here. Three companies of infantry are dug in here, here, and here.

    Gen Bit: I want a fourth company here.

    Aide de Decamp: That might strain our resources, sir.

    Gen Bit: Nevertheless, that fourth company is essential to success.

    Aide de Decamp: Very well, sir.

    Gen Bit: Air support?

    Aide de Decamp: F-15s will be on station at continuously; 2 squadrons on Apaches will orbit here and here.

    Gen Bit: Very good. The position seems well protected, but I think we need to armor it up some more.

    Aide de Decamp: What is your thinking, sir?

    Gen Bit: Well, this desk needs more steel plating. Really thick steel plating. And I want the sandbags around the office to be 4 deep and 12 high. And, just in case, I want a helo at the ready.

    Aide de Decamp: I’ll get on all that. I’ll have the Marines send over a Sea Knight from Kaneohe Bay–should be here in a 10 minutes.

    Gen Bit: Good. Can’t be too prepared, you know.

    Aide de Decamp: Yes sir.

  7. Bithead says:

    I’m sure you think that brought something to the discussion that was relevant.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Ahmed Rashid made the point on NPR this weekend that to some extent, Pakistan’s interest still are for the Taliban or a like group to be in charge of Afghanistan. That is, Pakistan seeks a potential client state that is decidedly not inclined to ally with India.

    What really struck me though was Rashid’s incredulity that the Bush administration did not heed his call for a generation-long commitment to the building and modernization of the Central Asian states. His two books are good IMHO, but if he thinks that they describe a landscape that Americans want to be involved in for decades, he needs to talk to Robert Kaplan about Balkan Ghosts.

  9. sam says:

    Pakistan’s interest still are for the Taliban or a like group to be in charge of Afghanistan. That is, Pakistan seeks a potential client state that is decidedly not inclined to ally with India.

    That makes sense. The Pakistanis are freaked that India is trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. I sometimes I think the key to the Pakistan mess is in India (I believe the more rational of the two nations). Of course, things like Mumbai don’t help much….or Kashmir….But still, if the India-Pakistan conflict could be resolved, that just might go some distance toward the solution of AQ-Taliban problem.

  10. legion says:

    And here’s another one to think about…

    Some criticize the Bush Administration for the situation in which we now find ourselves, pointing out that the resources which were deployed in Iraq could have been used in Afghanistan. That’s true as far as it goes but in my view it only means we’d have gotten to where we are now sooner.

    Yeah, but we’d be here with a military that hadn’t spent the last several years bogged down in Iraq, with the concomitant wear and tear on man & machine. In short, truly finishing off AQ and the Taliban from this point would be much simpler & less risky – Iraq has been far worse that a simple waste of time to this nation.

  11. steve says:

    Good questions Dave. I guess I would disagree that we were going to end here anyway. From the Afghan POV, it looks as though we once again left them. Faced again with a corrupt government, Karzai’s, it left an opening for the Taliban. Having enough force and economic aid in country may have forestalled the Taliban re-emergence. Too bad we will never know.

    I do not see the Afghans generating an effective force anytime soon. The biggest problem, IMHO, is the governing quality in Afghanistan. If the unexpected happened, and the Afghan forces suddenly came up to speed, they would still be directed by crooks. Corruption is endemic there on a scale we just do not understand. The culture is just alien to us. Hope you are reading Christian’s, Blue’s blogs especially on some of these cultural issues. Capt. Thompson’s pdf on deploying was very illustrative.

    Steve

  12. sam says:

    @Steve

    Hope you are reading Christian’s, Blue’s blogs especially on some of these cultural issues. Capt. Thompson’s pdf on deploying was very illustrative.

    Can you provide some links, buddy? I’d like a look at those blogs, too. TIA

  13. anjin-san says:

    >continued from an earlier thread

    And isn’t it interesting how a bunch of anti-war leftists are now suddenly experts in military tactics?

    Let’s set aside your rather childish attempt to pigeonhole people who disagree with you into an ideological box. Where would you like to start with our discussion of military strategy? The Peloponnesian War? The Battle Of Thermopylae? (I have been reading Herodotus, so I have Greece very much on my mind). The Punic wars? Julian’s campaigns in Gaul and Parthia?

    Let’s have at it. I Just finished Julius Caesar’s “Conquest of Gaul” and have started on “The Civil War”, so I have my game face on.

    Take you time Bit, do some Googling so you can sound informed when you get back to us…

  14. steve says:

    http://billandbobsadventure.blogspot.com/

    http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/

    http://www.registan.net/

    The second one is more anthropology, with a smattering of military and politics. The first is by someone who has served in Afghanistan and is more military oriented. All three write well and are knowledgeable. I have yet to find a good blog written by an Afghan. Would be nice to see what they think.

    Steve

  15. sam says:

    Thanks, Steve.

  16. Bithead says:

    Let’s set aside your rather childish attempt to pigeonhole people who disagree with you into an ideological box

    Not that YOU’D ever engage in such behavior, right, Anjin? Face it, you’re transparent enough to read fine print through.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Don’t have the stones to get into a little discussion on military strategy, eh Bitsy? Gosh, and I thought you were going to school us lefties 🙂 Guess you read through the fine print and it said “Run awayyyyyyyyyy chickenhawk”