Nixon adopted this tactic in Vietnam. It won’t work any better now than it did then

By: Patrick Cockburn   


Could US Special Forces make a lunge across the Pakistan border in pursuit of the Taliban just as American and South Vietnamese troops briefly invaded Cambodia in pursuit of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces in 1970?


The precedent is not good. What US officers have in mind for the Pakistan border regions is much smaller in scale than President Nixon’s venture, but is unlikely to be any more successful. Possible military gains are limited, while the danger of a political backlash is acute.

American frustration is great, because so long as the 2,500km Afghan-Pakistan border remains open, the Taliban can retreat to relatively safe havens to rest, re-equip and re-supply. Their fighters can recover from every tactical setback. It was this open border that prevented the Soviet army from crushing the Afghan guerrillas in the 1980s.

But would forays by US Special Forces or associated American-controlled Afghan militias really make much difference?

Even if it wanted to, the Pakistan military could hardly police a frontier through mountainous terrain that is as long as the distance from London to Moscow. Moreover the hinterland, of which the Taliban takes advantage, is not confined to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or the border of Baluchistan. It extends into a much wider area and includes the vast city of Karachi, with its population of 17 million and sizeable Pashtun minority. The purpose of the leaks may be to intimidate the Pakistan army into being more co-operative with the US in making a ground attack on North Waziristan, seen by the US as the main redoubt of al-Qa’ida and the Haqqani network.

So far the Pakistan army has resisted this and there is no evidence it is going to change its mind.

The US often focuses its criticism of Pakistan’s security policy on the ISI, Pakistan’s military security agency, or even pro-Taliban “rogue elements” in it, but in practice, covert support for the Taliban is the policy of Pakistan’s 600,000-strong army. Most ISI personnel are regular officers on secondment to the agency.

The White House under President Obama has long been aware that its main problem in the region is with Pakistan, but it has yet to find a way of dealing with it. Military aid – and the US pays a third of Pakistan’s military budget – has produced a modicum of Pakistani compliance with US needs, though not enough to tip the balance against the Afghan Taliban.

The army has been prepared to act against the Pakistan Taliban, which it sees as being entirely different. The main military action of the US in Pakistan is through CIA-controlled drones which take off from a base in Pakistan and have been effective.

The CIA also has a 3,000-strong Afghan army of its own across the border in Afghanistan.

The drones are only as effective as the intelligence on which their targeting is based and the CIA has built up an intelligence network in border areas.

At the same time ISI officers claim privately that up-to-date information enabling the drones to attack the houses and vehicles of militants comes from them.

(Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. Among the most experienced commentators on Iraq, he has written four books on the country’s recent history. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006 and the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009).



NOTE:This is a cross post from “The Independent”.

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  • Jeff Prager  On December 22, 2010 at 6:10 am

    Games played by psychopaths for resource acquisition and control to pander to the multinational corporations. A sticky wicket as the Brits say but Imperialism is always that. What a bloody mess.

  • Faisal Malik  On December 22, 2010 at 6:19 am

    “The White House under President Obama has long been aware that its main problem in the region is with Pakistan, ”

    Their main problem in this region is elsewhere. They have to look within themselves for the problems, and stop blaming others for their own mistakes. the day they start doing this, the sooner they will realize where the problem lies. and its certainly not in Pakistan.

  • Faisal Malik  On December 22, 2010 at 6:24 am

    “The main military action of the US in Pakistan is through CIA-controlled drones which take off from a base in Pakistan and have been effective.”

    if one can call hundred innocents dying for one terrorist, then certainly the drone attacks have been very effective.

    has it ever occured to the US military and political minds that these drone attacks are in violation of a sovereign state? and international laws? that they are committing a war crime over and over again? that they are by international law guilty?

    but then again, who are we kidding. the imperialist forces that can wage war over a lie, can do anything, and try to get away with it. and the world still believes them. this is what human minds have evolved into. ghastly.

  • Sarwar Sukhera  On December 22, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Where is the news here? Don’t we all know of this? Its all kiddie stuff. Why dont you, for change, write the wrong doings of us? ALL of us know which way NATO and USA are heading. We also know how the minds of ordiary citizenry are contolled by the business houses. You only have to see the ever changing ‘fashions’ (what to wear etc.) to become aware of the hold of the moneyed over the ordinary people. Dollar does not have a National Flag, nor does it carry a passport. You obviously have shifted to greener pastures. Now tell these Islamist Mujahideens to stop blowing us the ordinary folks into smithreens.
    Hey, Ms Hitler, you send us what you wish but never allow anything that us the hapless reciptients of your emails have to say. Aren’t you being dictatorial here? Look at yourself how you use the authority of running this website. Well, this is how the powerful justify all that what they do.
    Please publish what I wrote about Alberto, and this note of protest. If not, then unsubscribe me. Also, please introduce yourself.
    Sarwar Sukhera

  • KHAN ZIA  On December 22, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    This issue keeps cropping up. It may be an indication of the US military’s frustration at its inability to vanquish the Taliban and pin the blame for it on Pakistan. They leave it to Obama to deal with any political fallout from the proposed incursions. Given his weak position, there may be a danger that Obama could be tempted into giving in on the slim chance that it might bring some demonstrable improvement in the situation before the next election.

    For Pakistan, it will have dire consequences. The drones are already putting severe strain on the military’s credibility to defend the country. Any ground incursions will be the last straw on the camel’s back. The army will have little choice but to be seen to be resisting effectively, failing which there will be a strong adverse reaction within its rank and file, including loss of faith in the leadership and breakdown of discipline, not to speak of the disenchantment and further disillusionment among the people.

    One hopes that someone will make it plain and clear to the Americans so that they make an informed choice and not be tempted into taking a gamble based on a false premise. For Pakistan’s armed forces the choice is clear —- either they are for the country or for the Americans.

    It is by no means a happy situation but to be truthful one that was created in the first place by the army itself. Musharraf couldn’t have done it alone without backing from the rest. They got Pakistan into a war that was not hers, without knowing how it will end —- the epitome of stupidity in the realm of strategic planning, if there was any. It has already effectively destroyed the economy and there is no end to it in sight. Someone will have to step up to the plate soon before it destroys the country.

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