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November 19, 2007

The Enemy of My Enemy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I have to agree with Shawn.  This idea of funding local Pakistani tribes against Al Qaeda is dubious at best and dangerous at worst.  First of all, this is being presented as a "new" strategy based on the Anbar Awakening in Iraq.  The reality is that there is a long history of the United States funding proxies in Aghanistan and Pakistan that they did not fully understand.  The U.S. originally funded the mujahedeen against the Soviet Union and eventually that played a major role in the creation of Al Qaeda and the Taliban (I highly recommend Steven Coll's Ghost Wars for a comprehensive history of what the United States did in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s).  The U.S. pursued similar strategies in Latin America during the Cold War and that also resulted in blow back.  The reality is, we don't understand the local politics well enough to be doing this type of thing and it may come back to haunt us.

Second, in Iraq there is no central government and the situation is so chaotic that you may not have too much to lose by organizing large groups of "concerned local citizens" who actually weaken the central government.  On the other hand, the fragmentation of Pakistan is specifically something that the United States should be working against.  Arming, organizing and funding a large group of fighters in the West will probably increase fragmentation and instability. 

All that being said, the central government and the military to date have been able to do little against Al Qaeda in the tribal territories.  So, I don't really know if there are any good solutions.

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As I recall, Coll's book documented that America's problems with the Afgahn mujahedeen types stemmed less from supporting them in the first place than they did from neglecting them (and failing to keep track of what their other sponsors in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were doing) after the Soviets left.

If what is reported as SOCOM's ideas on fighting al Qaeda types within Pakistan had emerged in 2002 I'd have been enthusiastic about them, but the passage of time and the weakening of Musharraf's position within Pakistan have introduced complicating factors.

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