By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 2007
The political turmoil in Pakistan is threatening to undermine a new long-term counterinsurgency plan by the U.S. military aimed at strengthening Pakistani forces fighting Islamic extremists in the country's tribal areas, according to senior military officials. The officials said the initiative involves expanding the presence of U.S. Special Forces and other troops to train and advise the Pakistanis, who have been largely ineffective in battling the hard-line militants.
Even as the Bush administration reviews aid to Pakistan in light of Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule last weekend, U.S. military officials are moving forward with the plan -- ordering equipment, surveying training facilities outside Islamabad, and preparing to send in dozens of additional military trainers, who are expected to begin arriving early next year.
"This train has already left the station," said a senior military official familiar with the effort. "We on the ground are moving ahead under the ambassador's guidance."
But senior military officials have privately voiced concern that the unrest in Pakistan threatens to disrupt the plan's momentum -- both because of developments in Washington, where members of Congress seek to restrict aid, and in Islamabad, where the emergency rule has focused Pakistan's military on curbing popular dissent.
"There is a segment of the population on the Hill that hate Musharraf and are looking for any opportunity to cash in on this thing," said one senior military official. And during a visit to Pakistan last week, Adm. William J. Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, warned Musharraf that Congress could move to cut aid if he declared a state of emergency, the official said.
Top military leaders from both countries have reviewed the counterinsurgency plan, developed over the past year amid close cooperation between U.S. and Pakistani military officials.
The vice chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani -- considered a possible successor to Musharraf as head of the armed forces when Musharraf relinquishes his military role -- is supportive of the effort, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Fallon was briefed on the plan while in Pakistan, officials said.
And although the Pentagon postponed a high-level defense meeting scheduled for this Tuesday and Wednesday, senior U.S. and Pakistani military officials met quietly during the week to discuss the plan's details, one official said.
The initiative is unprecedented in recognizing the challenge in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as an entrenched and spreading insurgency, not solely a counterterrorism issue. The Pentagon considers the rugged, virtually impenetrable tribal region along the Afghan border one of the U.S. military's top concerns -- not only as a sanctuary from which al-Qaeda fighters and Taliban insurgents can stage cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and potentially plan strikes elsewhere, but also as harboring a growing threat to the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The initial program is to last five to seven years. It extends beyond security to span broad-reaching economic development, health-care and literacy efforts by several U.S. and Pakistani agencies under a plan integrated by U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson. The plan, developed over the past year, recognizes that "there is a full-blown and complex insurgency in the FATA," said one official. "It's not just a bunch of foreign fighters running around conducting terrorist acts."
The security elements of the initiative are expected to cost $75 million to $100 million a year, including the cost of trainers, training facilities and light infantry weapons such as machine guns, as well as mortars, body armor, helmets, radios and trucks.
Currently, U.S. Special Forces teams make occasional trips to Pakistan for about six weeks at a time to train different groups of Pakistani soldiers. Under the new plan, the 12-man teams would be stationed there for longer assignments, without gaps in between, and they would work consistently with the same set of local troops. The teams would step up their training of the Pakistani military's Special Services Group, a strike force for conducting raids against insurgent training camps and leaders.
Other trainers would teach basic skills to Pakistan's Frontier Corps, the tribally recruited paramilitary force that patrols the tribal regions. Training would include marksmanship as well as how to set up checkpoints and gather basic intelligence, while providing the force with helicopter support such as medical evacuation by the Pakistani army.
About 400 U.S. military personnel currently work in Pakistan, and the total is expected to grow by dozens under the new initiative.
In the days since Musharraf invoked emergency powers, senior U.S. military officers have spoken publicly about the need to safeguard and strengthen counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan. "We would certainly not want to see . . . jeopardized in any way" the "very valuable" cooperation between the two militaries, Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, said Wednesday. U.S. military officials in Islamabad, along with their Pakistani counterparts, Ham said, are "exploring a wide range of options that could improve operations" in the tribal areas, where Pakistani efforts have been "mixed."
The U.S. military also has a critical interest in preserving bilateral ties because it depends heavily on Pakistan to facilitate air and ground transit for more than half the fuel and other supplies for the 25,000 U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, U.S. officers said. Many military supplies go through the Pakistani port of Karachi, while fuel is trucked by Pakistani contractors over the mountain passes into Afghanistan. "We, obviously, are very interested in making sure that that stays open," Ham said.
Military officials said they worry that Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule is weakening, not strengthening, his ability to conduct military operations in the tribal areas, in part by directing troops toward a crackdown on domestic protests.
"Whereas he is saying that state of emergency will allow him to prosecute more aggressively against the counterinsurgency in the Taliban areas, I would say it is the opposite," said a senior military official with experience in Central Asia.
Within Pakistan's military, moreover, there is a lack of enthusiasm for increased operations in the tribal areas, where scores of Pakistani soldiers have been killed or kidnapped by Islamic groups in recent months, the officials said.
Nevertheless, U.S. military officials said that Kiyani, Musharraf's possible replacement as head of the military, is supportive of the counterinsurgency plan in the tribal areas, which he visited within days of assuming his current post last month. Kiyani has also indicated an openness to having the Pakistani military focus on missions other than conventional operations aimed at the threat of India, which senior U.S. officers consider diminished. "He has a different view," said one senior military official. "I'd expect he will step up and be head of the army, and there will be some changes."
The idea for the plan to strengthen and increase the Frontier Corps, along with economic development in the tribal areas, was unexpectedly raised by Musharraf during his meeting with President Bush in March 2006.
Some initial funds for the efforts have been cobbled together -- relying in part on Pentagon counternarcotics funding -- but officials familiar with the plan say the goal is to redirect current military aid toward the counterinsurgency plan.
U.S. assistance for Pakistan has totaled about $9.6 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to Pentagon officials. That includes about $300 million a year for purchases of weaponry and other equipment, and about $2 million a year for military education and training.
In addition, there is about $80 million a month in "coalition support funds" -- reimbursements to the Pakistani government ostensibly for food, fuel, ammunition and other supplies for its counterterrorism operations. Those funds have totaled about $5.3 billion since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan began in 2001, and outside analysts say oversight of the money has been limited.
Military officials stressed that under the new plan, U.S. officials will manage and direct the money to specific counterinsurgency goals. "The funds will be controlled by us," one official said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.