Jul 02 2008

US Special Forces In Pakistan – For Months Now

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) ran a reasonable article (for them) recently on the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces who retreated from Afghanistan into the Pakistan area and efforts over the years to deal with them. I want to take some key information from that article to lay out the case that we are seeing the final steps towards dealing with this last pocket of Islamo Fascism, and to answer a question posed today by Ed Morrissey:

Did Pervez Musharraf give George Bush permission to launch attacks on Osama bin Laden in Pakistan without seeking approval for the mission first?  According to Calcutta News, the Washington Post reported this — but I can’t find any reference to this in the Post.  If true, it would solve the problem of tipping off al-Qaeda through its informers in Pakistan’s intel service:

I actually began reporting on the CIA and special forces efforts in the tribal area of Pakistan in the fall of last year (2007) when news reports started hinting at these activities. For example, from November 20th of 2007:

A senior Defense Department official said that Admiral Olson had prepared a memorandum on how Special Operations forces could assist the Pakistani military in the counterinsurgency, and shared that document with several senior Pentagon officials.

The briefing said United States forces would not be involved in any conventional combat in Pakistan. But several senior military and Pentagon officials said elements of the Joint Special Operations Command, an elite counterterrorism unit, might be involved in strikes against senior militant leaders under specific conditions.

That post has two news sources linked, and emphasis mine of course. This permission for the US to strike senior militants is a recurring theme in the reporting, and as it continued to leak out it became clear the US could act on strong intelligence – and has as we saw in missile attacks from drones. So, to answer Ed Morrissey’s question – yes, Musharraf many months ago (and my guess is it goes back farther than that) made arrangements with the US that there were certain conditions under which our forces in Pakistan, or across the border in Afghanistan, could take action. The problem is the Washington Post article was from last December (reference this UPI report).

In fact, in February of this year there was another report that confirmed elements of the agreement:

American officials reached a quiet understanding with Pakistan’s leader last month to intensify secret strikes against suspected terrorists by pilotless aircraft launched in Pakistan, senior officials in both governments say. But the prospect of changes in Pakistan’s government has the Bush administration worried that the new operations could be curtailed.

Among other things, the new arrangements allowed an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed Predator surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan — a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before.

But since opposition parties emerged victorious from the parliamentary election early this week, American officials are worried that the new, more permissive arrangement could be choked off in its infancy.

In the weeks before Monday’s election, a series of meetings among President Bush’s national security advisers resulted in a significant relaxation of the rules under which American forces could aim attacks at suspected Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the tribal areas near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The change, described by senior American and Pakistani officials who would not speak for attribution because of the classified nature of the program, allows American military commanders greater leeway to choose from what one official who took part in the debate called “a Chinese menu” of strike options.

Anyway, that is part of the past which is now leading up to the present. I want to return to the IHT article and pull out some key bits of information regarding the militants and the region. For reference the militants who fled Afghanistan operate out of isolated areas within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA, in blue in the diagram below) and have many times tried to take over the North West Frontier Province (green in diagram below), each time being beaten back. Now, the only haven on the planet for al-Qaeda and the Taliban is in the FATA region, and that is surrounded to the south by Pak Forces, to the north by US/NATO/Afghan forces, and as we now know under the eyes of US Special Forces in both places.

The IHT article informs us that the decimated forces in FATA have regrouped (though I still think this is just the retreating leaders from failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan):

Just as it had on the day before 9/11, Al Qaeda now has a band of terror camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States. Officials say the new camps are smaller than the ones the group used prior to 2001. However, despite dozens of American missile strikes in Pakistan since 2002, one retired CIA officer estimated that the makeshift training compounds now have as many as 2,000 Arab and Pakistani militants, up from several hundred three years ago.

Sounds scary, especially without the context. Prior to 9-11 there were 120 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of fighters going through them. The reality is 2,000 terrorists are no match for the Pakistan forces (somewhere above 80,000) and the US/NATO/Afghan forces (somewhere well over 100,000). The terrorist threat is not contained, it is encircled.

There have been reports 75% of Afghanistan is now pacified, and the Taliban keep taking major hits in the few areas along the border they can still operate. Bottom line, it is not as scary as the SurrenderMedia makes it out to be. We have a serious problem with these sanctuaries in Pakistan’s FATA, but compared to Afghanistan and Iraq this is a very much smaller area of concern. Something we can focus on now that the other two war fronts first attracted the Islamists to battle us on our terms, out of which came the decimation of their ranks so that 2,000 is all that is left. One recent report claims there are very few top al-Qaeda leaders left alive and in hiding:

From many hundreds, al-Qaeda now has fewer than 75 Arabs involved in the Afghan “war on terror” theater, but the group is more lethal in that it has successfully established a local franchise of warriors who have fully embraced al-Qaeda’s ideology and who are capable of conducting a war of attrition against the coalition in Afghanistan.

In the years following the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda lost hundreds of members, either killed or arrested or departed to other regions. These included diehard Arab ideologues such as Mustapha Seth Marium (arrested) and commanders Abu Laith al-Libbi (killed) and Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi (arrested).

As I noted in April when this news came out, I am not sure how much credibility to give it, but I would wager the current Arab al-Qaeda numbers probably pale in comparison to their pre 9-11 levels.

Again, back to the IHT article, which does note how Pakistani and US forces initially worked together in the region in 2002-2003, but with little success:

When American military officials proposed in 2002 that Special Operations forces be allowed to establish bases in the tribal areas, Pakistan flatly refused. Instead, a small number of “black” Special Operations forces — Army Delta Force and Navy Seal units — were allowed to accompany Pakistani forces on raids in the tribal areas in 2002 and early 2003.

That arrangement only angered both sides. American forces used to operating on their own felt that the Pakistanis were limiting their movements. And while Pakistani officials publicly denied the presence of Americans, local tribesmen spotted the Americans and protested.

No doubt some Pakistanis might have also tipped off the locals. It is tough to operate like this. What is truly interesting is the revelation that it was not the US who took their eyes off the targets in Pakistan, it was the Pak’s who decided to push the US out of the area. The liberal SurrenderMedia has been debunked again:

Under pressure from Pakistan, the Bush administration decided in 2003 to end the American military presence on the ground. In a recent interview, Armitage said he had supported the pullback in recognition of the political risks that Musharraf had already taken. “We were pushing them almost to the breaking point,” Armitage said.

The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 added another complicating factor, by cementing a view among Pakistanis that American forces in the tribal areas would be a prelude to an eventual American occupation.

To have insisted that American forces be allowed to cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan, Armitage added, “might have been a bridge too far.”

Anyway, the IHT article has a reasonably detailed history leading up to today and worth reading. The bottom line is we have being doing all we can inside Pakistan to bring justice to those behind 9-11. And from the days right after 9-11 when we faced a region of Islamo Fascist fever we have come a long way, to the point we now face a small force hiding out in a backwards region of Pakistan, and we have to new democratic allies in the Muslim world: Iraq and Afghanistan. Pretty good work if you ask me.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “US Special Forces In Pakistan – For Months Now”

  1. robert verdi says:

    You know its true, I know its true, a lot of media figures know its true, a lot of Democrats know its true, but there is an election and with the US and Iraqi people coming through victorious, the media will play Afghanistan and Pakistan as an unwinnable quagmire for at least 4 months. It is what is, frustrating though it may be.

  2. […] US Special Forces In Pakistan – For Months Now …is more lethal in that it has successfully established a local franchise of warriors who have fully embraced al-Qaeda’s ideology and who are… […]

  3. […] quite clear that it will take out forces attacking our units – even if they are in Pakistan. And as my previous post notes, we have arrangements with Pakistan to do just […]

  4. […] today on whether we could target Bin Laden with a drone if we discovered his hide out (see here and here). From the second link we read this: Pakistan long ago gave Washington the right to launch […]

  5. crosspatch says:

    AJ, just to share some context with you in case you weren’t aware of it … the IHT is the New York Times’ “international edition”. It is published by the NYT.

  6. conman says:


    No matter how you try to spin it, the bottomline is that after 7 years we have not caught the terrorist that hit us on 9-11 and now they have a new sanctuary in Pakistan. I’m continually amazed that conservatives tout Bush as strong on national security when he presided over the worst terrorist attack in US history (despite a Presidential briefing warning him of a possible attack in August 2001 and Bush proceeded to go on vacation) and allowed the terrorist to get away and obtain a new sanctuary in Pakistan. To make matters even worse, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are still attacking us in Afghanistan and destabilizing portions of the country. If that is your idea od success, what would you consider a failure?

    I don’t know why you would quote from this IHT article when the Pentagon issued its own report on the Afghanistan situation just last week. Maybe its because the Pentagon report was far less rosey and optimistic than your assessment. The Pentgon report explains that the Taliban militants have regrouped after their initial fall from power and “coalesced into a resilient insurgency,” noting that Afghanistan’s security conditions have deteriorated sharply while the fledgling national government in Kabul remains incapable of extending its reach throughout the country or taking effective counternarcotics measures. The report also noted that the Taliban carried out a record 2,615 roadside-bomb attacks in 2007, up from 1,931 in 2006 and killed more 6,500 people in 2007, also a post-invasion record. A record number of US soldiers have been killed this year as well. The report concludes that “The Taliban is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008.” That is our own military’s assessment!

    You also cherry-pick passages from the IHT article, ignoring the numerous statements that acknowledge serious problems in Afghanistan and Bush’s strategy, and that the Iraq war diverted from our efforts in Afghanistan. Here are a few examples from the very same IHT article you failed to acknowledge:

    “Current and former military and intelligence officials said that the war in Iraq consistently diverted resources and high-level attention from the tribal areas.”

    “In order to keep pressure on the Pakistanis about the tribal areas, officials decided to have Bush raise the issue in personal phone calls with Musharraf. The conversations backfired. Two former United States government officials say they were surprised and frustrated when instead of demanding action from Musharraf, Bush instead repeatedly thanked him for his contributions to the war on terror. “He never pounded his fist on the table and said, ‘Pervez you have to do this,’ ” said a former senior intelligence official who saw transcripts of the phone conversations.”

    In the Fall of 2006, “Intelligence reports were painting an increasingly dark picture of the terror threat in the tribal areas. But with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.”

    “American commanders had been pressing for much of 2006 to get approval from Rumsfeld for an operation to capture Sheik Saiid al-Masri, a top Qaeda operator and paymaster whom American intelligence had been tracking in the Pakistani mountains. Rumsfeld and his staff were reluctant to approve the mission, worried about possible American military casualties and a popular backlash in Pakistan.”

    “But while Bush vowed early on that Bin Laden would be captured “dead or alive,” the moment in late 2001 when Bin Laden and his followers escaped at Tora Bora was almost certainly the last time the Qaeda leader was in American sights, current and former intelligence officials say. Leading terrorism experts have warned that it is only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack planned in the mountains of Pakistan is carried out on American soil.”

    “The United States faces a threat from Al Qaeda today that is comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Seth Jones, a Pentagon consultant and a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation. “The base of operations has moved only a short distance, roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.”

    Yeah, the IHT paints a real rosey picture. Face it, Bush failed to get the terrorist that attacked us on 9-11 and allowed them to create another sanctuary to plot more attacks. You can make all the excuses you want for this failure, but Americans demand results from the President, not excuses. Bush failed.

  7. robert verdi says:

    The August Briefing was as specific as saying Al Qaeda wants to attack us, common knowledge at the time. You bought into a talking point and are now using. I understand attacking and criticising any president, but issues like the one you raised are simply wrong in their implication. As far some of your other points, should we have invaded Wazirstan in 2001/2002. Maybe, but do you understand the implication of such an action. As for the strength of Al Qaeda, Hayden’s most recent briefing out lined a group tacticly and region wide in defeat across the Middle East.

  8. conman says:


    Sorry to burst your bubble, but Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff, just yesterday expressed deep concern over the rising violence and Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and admitted that he wants more troops in Afghanistan but there aren’t any because of Iraq. Here is a link to the Washington post article – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/02/AR2008070202010_pf.html. I thought conservatives said we should listen to our military commanders? I guess that is only when they fit your preconceived partisan position.

    As for the August briefing, I’m amazed that you so easily dismiss it. I realize that it wasn’t specific information on where/when/how the attack was going to occur (if it was we would have simply apprehended the terrorist), but why don’t you question what Bush did after receiving that information. Bush was given a presidential briefing expressing high-level concerns about a possible US homeland attack by the same terrroist group that less than a year prior had attacked the USS Cole. A presidential briefing on this type of specific issue is a big deal – our intelligence and law enforcement agencies clearly believed that the threat was serious enough to warrant the President’s attention. The President has the power to put all agencies on high alert, commit additional resources, make sure all of the agencies are cooperating and sharing information, and demand that the agencies do everything possible to find out where/when/how it is planned. And yet we now know that Bush did nothing about it. He didn’t inquire further, he didn’t put agencies on high alert, he didn’t commit additional resources and he didn’t demand any high level activity. He literally ignored it and went on vacation. If you don’t expect the POTUS to do ANYTHING under these circumstances, then apparently you don’t believe that the President has any responsibility when it comes to terrorist attacks on the US homeland.