Nov 19, 2007

New COIN Initiative in Pakistan

A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said.

If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States now has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach.

The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships can be forged without a significant American military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes.

Altogether, the broader strategic move toward more local support is being accelerated because of concern about instability in Pakistan and the weakness of the Pakistani government, as well as fears that extremists with havens in the tribal areas could escalate their attacks on allied troops in Afghanistan.


The tribal proposal, a strategy paper prepared by staff members of the United States Special Operations Command, has been circulated to counterterrorism experts but has not yet been formally approved by the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Some other elements of the campaign have been approved in principle by the Americans and Pakistanis and await financing, like $350 million over several years to help train and equip the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that has about 85,000 members and is recruited from border tribes.


The new counterinsurgency campaign is also a vivid example of the American military asserting a bigger role in a part of Pakistan that the Central Intelligence Agency has overseen almost exclusively since Sept. 11.


Until now, the Frontier Corps has not received American military financing because the corps technically falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a nonmilitary agency that the Pentagon ordinarily does not deal with. But American officials say the Frontier Corps is in the long term the most suitable force to combat an insurgency. The force, which since 2001 has increasingly been under the day-to-day command of Pakistani Army units, is now being expanded and trained by American advisers, diplomats said.


The training of the Frontier Corps remains a concern for some. NATO and American soldiers in Afghanistan have often blamed the Frontier Corps for aiding and abetting Taliban insurgents mounting cross-border attacks. “It’s going to take years to turn them into a professional force,” said one Western military official. “Is it worth it now?”

At the same time, military officials fear the assistance to develop a counterinsurgency force is too little, too late. “The advantage is already in the enemy hands,” one Western military official said.

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