We are doing it wrong, an LT’s attempt at Strategery.
The American Military and Intelligence services have long known about the trifecta of chaos that is Pakistan, the shadow government of the ISI, and the lawless tribal areas and how that interplay has impacted Afghanistan and American relations in the region for decades.
In response to Adm. Mike Mullen’s recent reiteration of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency’s support for the Haqqani Network, Senator Lindsey Graham appeared on Fox News Sunday and voiced his belief that if the military decided to increase its strikes into Pakistan there would be bilateral support in Congress to support those actions.
The situation in that region is exceedingly complex and has spawned numerous books about the interplay of terrorism, religious extremism, regional politics, and geo political issues that continue to destabilize the region to this day; most notably the Pulitzer prize winner, Ghost Wars, which I consider required reading for anyone who wants to better understand the links between Afghanistan and terrorism after the Soviet Invasion.
Our current beef with the ISI is their aforementioned continued support for the Haqqani Network. While the ISI continues to fund the group and offer safe haven, America has flipped on the group as it has become the single greatest military threat to ISAF personnel in Afghanistan. Led by the aging Maulvi Haqqani, the group was successful at establishing relationships with like minded governments as Maulvi resisted the Soviet Invasion, even visiting the White House during the Reagan administration. The elder Haqqani was only a loose ally of the Taliban after the Soviet retreat and reluctantly established a closer relationship after the Taliban took control of the country, accepting a cabinet level post in the government.
Currently his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani leads the military wing of the group which bases its command and control in Pakistan’s ungoverned tribal region where it plans and supplies operations in Afghanistan, including the recent “Media-Kill” attacks at the International Hotel and American Embassy in Kabul. The Network is not dumb, and has learned that high profile attacks, even if unsuccessful, have a resonating impact on American media. Why attempt to overrun a well defended military outpost in some remote valley? Most attacks like that are not successful and the media story is always reported as just another battle on page 13F in a newspaper. Attack somewhere that has civilians with cameras and you break into the 24 hour news cycle. Images of Apache helicopters blasting insurgents off a hotel are priceless in terms of its effect on the most vital of American military resources, political will.
The ISI maintains its support for the network, planning for an Afghanistan after US forces withdraw. They need a dog in the perpetual fight to control the country, and the Haqqanis are a pit bull, though in all likelihood rabid and uncontrollable. Both the US and Pakistan are attempting to influence events to shape them towards their individual best interests and there has never been much overlap between those goals. Yet, just like the ISI’s and CIA’s attempt to influence the Taliban in the eighties, Haqqani is a double edged sword. He and his sons were and are more than willing to take arms and support from any source but are exceeding hard to direct. They are fanatic believers in both their cause and religion, as their unfaltering willingness to continue to engage US forces despite horrific losses and a dismal kill to death ratio demonstrates.
Asking the government of Pakistan to reign in the Haqqani Network is like asking Obama to reign in Fox News, it not only won’t happen, it can’t. The democratic government of Pakistan can barely control its own military, much less the ISI. Try to tell the generals to do things they don’t want to do, what they perceive as not in their interests of countering the “Indian threat” and they simply stage a coup. Pakistan’s population is rabidly anti American and ever wary of India, they demand to have a hand in the ruling of Afghanistan as India has poured untold millions of dollars into Karzai’s government (to counter Pakistan’s influence in the never-ending mobius strip of power struggles between the rivals).
One method of eliminating Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani network would let Pakistan have a more direct role inside Afghanistan, something that the US is unwilling to do. India, unlike Pakistan, is an important geo-political partner, as evidenced by India’s recent proposal to financially aid the struggling Euro-zone. The prevailing political calculus leans towards not stressing the good relationship with the regional economic powerhouse just for a chance to repair the increasingly frayed relationship with Pakistan, a quick regional fix is just not worth it.
So what will the US do? If I had to guess (and this is just a wild one) America will increase its drone attacks in the tribal areas and hopefully would not pursue unilateral military incursions in addition to it’s technically deniable CIA drone platform. If Senator Graham’s offer of political support for more military action is acted upon, then hopes of pulling out the majority of US combat power by 2014 will dwindle away.
Afghanistan is an empire killer, and we are an empire. Obama’s emerging doctrine might be the only practical solution to the problem of terrorism emerging in failed states. Our superpower status and power projection capabilities are more than sufficient to conduct small strikes on extremist targets anywhere in the world and why other nations might protest, they can’t do much to prevent it.
The same technological advancements that allow us to enact such a strategy is the same thing that enables international terrorism. In years past, if you wanted to enforce your will on the world you had to be charismatic and politically astute, you had to convince a nation to follow you, you needed massive resource base to accomplish that goal, and you needed an army. America knew that, we were able to create massive armies to fight and win world wars but those days are past.
These days you just need an ungoverned hellhole in which to sleep, an telecommunications network to plan and coordinate, and a dozen followers armed with box cutters to achieve the same effect, massive armies are not a solution to enemies of that scale. Such are the unintended consequences of globalization.
Maybe one day Americans will learn that not all terrorist attacks are preventable and that a government capable of preventing every attack is not a government we want, the best we can do is empower our intelligence services and federal law enforcement agencies, judiciously employ our special forces, work to improve the good governance capabilities in failed states with the aid of the international community, and learn to cope with the inevitable attacks that manage to slip through our net. Massive invasions are just not cost effective and are at best only a temporary patch slapped on a handful of geographic hot spots. Playing Terrorist whack-a-mole with hundreds of thousands of troops is nowhere near as effective as just one seal team, which recent history bore out to be true, we need to do the same things the FBI did to counter the mob in years past, we need to focus on infiltrating groups abroad rather than just luring our domestic Muslim populations into an endless series of honey pots.
One day we will realize that our domestic Arab and Persian populations are perhaps our greatest tool in this fight. The FBI succeeds in countering organized crime because its agents are from the same culture and neighborhoods as they people they take down. If we employ those citizens that have the same cultural knowledge and language skills as the people who seek to attack our nation rather than embrace a training program rife with Islamaphobia, we may have greater success in defeating extremist Islam and even create American heroes from that minority who we all can respect and admire.
Conflict in my generation is not likely to be decided on large battlefields, it will be decided in cities throughout the world by small teams of highly trained individuals. War has gone global and there is no going back, it exists on websites and in cultural ghettos the world over. The military has perfected the execution portion of such a strategy but our amazing signals intelligence abilities can only go so far.
We don’t need massive deployed armies, we need spies.