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November 19, 2007

Down the Rabbit-Hole in Pakistan
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Just when you thought things coundn't get any stranger, according to today's New York Times, DoD is planning to "expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, [and]directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force..."

Apparently this proposal is "modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar province in Iraq." The idea reportedly originated within Special Operations Command and has yet to be approved even there, so it's possible this proposal may never materialize once Congress and the rest of the government start to scrutinize it. 

It's hard to know where to start with this one.  First, the idea that one can replicate the so-called Anbar Awakening in the tribal areas of Pakistan seems to me wishful thinking at best.  The dynamics in Iraq are unique to Iraq, and the internal politics of Anbar were already well underway by the time the U.S. expanded it's advisory role there.  What happened in Anbar in late 2006 and into 2007 was clearly "enemy of my enemy" dynamics and it is far from clear that the Taliban have overstayed their welcome in Pakistan's frontier areas. On the contrary, after several years of conflict in the area between Pakistani forces and Taliban-affiliates, local residents are angry at the government and one might imagine this environment would not be conducive to an American military presence - however small.

Second, as Gordon describes in his previous post, this reflects a general trend towards greater involvement of the U.S. military in areas that once remained the sole purvey of either the intelligence community, the State Department, or USAID. According to SOCOM's most recent posture statement, its authority to 'synchronize' enables it "to arrange global military actions to ensure the optimum employment of force. This unprecedented and complex effort is maturing rapidly and all parties, both within and outside of DOD, are becoming accustomed to the process." I wonder if "accustomed" is the word other agencies would choose...

I doubt that this program will go ahead given the dubious proposition that local actors would welcome an American presence, the chance that a visable deployment of U.S. military trainers would supercharge the tension throughout this region, and the real possibility that this would simply further destabilize an already precarious situation in Pakistan. 

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