December 29, 2011 | FDD’s Long War Journal

US Cannot Rely on Pakistan for Counterterrorism Operations

December 29, 2011 | FDD’s Long War Journal

US Cannot Rely on Pakistan for Counterterrorism Operations

Co-authored by Chris Radin

In CJ Radin's recent Threat Matrix report on US counterterrorism (CT) strategy, one area that stood out was the Obama administration's emphasis on partnering with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and allied terror groups, as set forth below in the “National Strategy for Counterterrorism”:

Our CT efforts in Pakistan have far-reaching implications for our global CT efforts. Al-Qa'ida continues to capitalize on its safe haven to maintain communications with its affiliates and adherents and to call on them to use violence in pursuit of its ideological goals. Therefore, the operational dismantlement of Pakistan-based al-Qa'ida will not eliminate the threat to the United States, as we are likely to face a lingering threat from operatives already trained as well as from the group's affiliates and adherents in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Disrupted terrorist attacks in 2009 and 2010–including al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's role in the failed December 25, 2009 aviation bombing and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan's involvement in the May 1, 2010 failed attack in Times Square–suggest that the determination of an expanded and more diverse network of terrorist groups to focus beyond their local environments may persist even with the ultimate defeat of al-Qa'ida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.

In Pakistan our efforts will continue to focus on a range of activities that are pursued in conjunction with the Government of Pakistan to increase the pace and scope of success against key al-Qa'ida and affiliated targets. It is unlikely that any single event–even the death of Usama bin Laden, the only leader al-Qa'ida has ever known–will bring about its operational dismantlement. Therefore, a sustained level of intensified pressure against the group is necessary. As such, U.S. CT activities are focused on working with our partners to ensure the rapid degradation of al-Qa'ida's leadership structure, command and control, organizational capabilities, support networks, and infrastructure at a pace faster than the group is able to recover as well as on further shrinking its safe haven and limiting access to fallback locations elsewhere in Pakistan.

There is one major weakness in this strategy, and that is its reliance on Pakistan “to increase the pace and scope of success against key al-Qa'ida and affiliated targets.” The reality is that the Pakistani government has reached the limits of its cooperation with the US, and the relationship is only going to get worse in the near term.

For years, the Pakistanis have rebuffed US pleas to attack the terror camps in North Waziristan; and in the wake of the US strike in Mohmand on Nov. 26 that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, it is safe to say that option is now off the table. In fact, the US gave up pressuring Pakistan on North Waziristan months ago after years of unrealistic declarations by US policymakers that Pakistan would move against terror groups in the tribal area.

While some US policymakers have believed that Pakistan would eventually 'come around' and see the wisdom of eradicating terrorist sanctuaries in North Waziristan, we at The Long War Journal take a less sanguine view, and find it unrealistic to think that the incentives the US can provide to Pakistan, such as money, will sufficiently influence the fundamental ideological component of the Pakistani establishment to convince it to withdraw its support for jihadi groups.

And the issue of North Waziristan is not trivial. Numerous terror groups, including al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and a host of smaller terror organizations, as well as a plethora of Pakistani terror groups, are based there. The Haqqani Network, which Admiral Mullen described as a “veritable arm of the ISI,” and which threatens the Afghan state while supporting the host of terror groups, is headquartered in North Waziristan.

As long as the Pakistanis are unwilling to move in North Waziristan, these groups will remain entrenched. Drone strikes can keep these groups off balance, but are insufficient for defeating them.

And, as we've noted numerous times here at LWJ, al Qaeda and allied groups are not confined to the small drone target boxes designated in North Waziristan and in South Waziristan (another terrorist haven, where Pakistan has taken only limited action against just one wing of the Taliban). As shown by the killings of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and Abd al Moeed bin Abd al Salam in Karachi, and the capture of Younis al Mauritani in Quetta, al Qaeda's presence in Pakistan is not confined to Pakistan's tribal areas.

And again, as we at LWJ have pointed out many times previously, this merely scratches the surface of the alphabet soup of terror groups that operate in Pakistan, many with the support of the state, and cooperate with al Qaeda [see Pakistan's Jihad, for instance].

While the current strategy is problematic, we acknowledge that most alternatives are also fraught with difficulties. There are no easy answers to the Pakistan problem. But, we should at least start with a realistic view of what we can expect from our relationship with Pakistan. Without that realism, we are more likely to just make a bad situation even worse.


Al Qaeda Pakistan