Pentagon mulls independent action

WASHINGTON-Frustration with Pakistan's new leadership and belief that extremists are flourishing has reignited a debate on whether the US should act on its own in tribal areas, according to a media report. The Los Angeles Times said the Pakistani refusal to accept a US military training mission for the Pakistani army is also a factor in the US re-thinking of its policy. Any Pentagon support for more direct action in Pakistan would be a significant shift for the military brass, who for months have resisted a push from other parts of the US govt, primarily counter-terrorism officials within the CIA, who have favoured large-scale covert operations to go after the al Qaeda leadership, the newspaper said. The internal debates, it said, have taken on new urgency amid US intelligence warnings that al Qaeda and other militant groups are flourishing in northwestern Pakistan. At the same time, there is a growing belief within the US govt that the new leadership in Islamabad has proved to be ineffectual and is preoccupied with internal squabbling in the wake of former President Pervez Musharraf's resignation, according to the report. 'Radical terrorist groups in the border regions have undermined and fought against the govt of Pakistan and carved out sanctuaries and training bases', an unnamed senior US. officer in Afghanistan was quoted as saying, referring to the suicide bombing in Wah Cantonment. 'They have come back, and they are presenting a significant challenge'. 'US military leaders have resisted suggestions for direct intervention in Pakistan out of concern that it would alienate what is supposed to be a friendly govt and might lead to an explosion of anti-US sentiments, and possibly violence, among Pakistanis', The paper added. 'In a less provocative step, the US had proposed to send US military trainers into the region'. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more than two months ago that a team of as many as 30 trainers would be sent to Pakistan this summer to operate out of a base near Peshawar, where a 'significant number' of Pakistani military and Frontier Corps personnel would be put through a counter-insurgency training programme. A military official who has worked on the programme said the training mission was to be the first step in a long-term plan by Mullen to broaden military ties with the Pak Army and enable them to take on the radicals, which include not only al Qaeda but militant groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba and fighters loyal to insurgent leader Baitullah Mehsud. But Pentagon officials said the training has been blocked by the Pakistani govt for months, in part because of lingering anger over the June killing of 11 Frontier Corps members in a US airstrike along the Afghan border, according to the dispatch. Pakistani officials, the paper said, insist they have responded to recent US demands for more aggressive action, demands issued in a series of visits by US military and intelligence officials to Islamabad as well as in recent meetings with Pakistani officials in Washington. In recent weeks, the Pakistani army's XI Corps moved into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to counter militants and supplement the poorly trained Frontier Corps, the militia group that patrols the area, it pointed out. And senior Pakistani officials said they were planning to send a US-trained unit of its Special Service Group into the tribal regions as well. But US officials remain skeptical that the Pakistani military is committed or prepared to perform such a mission, the dispatch said. One former top Pentagon official said that the new Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has resisted additional training from US special forces, and that Kayani's intentions have been harder to read than those of his predecessor as head of the Army, Pervez Musharraf. 'Kayani is very proud', said the former Pentagon official.'He's not likely to take gifts, if you would, with strings attached: Give me the tools, don't give me the training'. Complicating matters further, the US leverage with the Pakistani military is extremely limited, The Times said. Years of sanctions against Pakistan after nuclear tests have produced a generation of officers who have had little or no interaction with US counterparts and " unlike those of Kayani and Musharraf's age " are highly skeptical of US intentions in the region. 'You hear it all the time: I don't know that the Pakistanis completely trust us', said the military official working on the training mission. 'We've left the region before; are we using them just for the war on terror, and once Afghanistan becomes a stable environment we're going to go away?'. US officials said al Qaeda and other extremist groups have exploited this assumption, spreading word that the US will soon abandon Pakhtun tribesmen in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, just as it did in 1989 after expelling Soviet forces from Afghanistan, said a senior State Department official involved in South Asia policy. Several senior US military officials believe Pakistan's inability to disrupt Islamic extremists in its tribal regions has led to the recent increase in violence against US troops in Afghanistan, a view that has prompted a new round of discussions on the advisability of unilateral action. 'We are truly conflicted', said a senior military official involved in the Pakistan policy discussions. At the CIA, there is widespread skepticism toward the Pentagon's hopes of a retrained Pakistani military handling the problem, the dispatch said. The agency's operatives have long argued that the Pakistani Army has almost no counter-insurgency training and lacks equipment for the mission.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt