Pakistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan.
That sums up the real American strategy over the next year or so. “We could do all sorts of great things in Afghanistan and still be completely screwed if things go bad in Pakistan,” David Kilcullen, the Australian counterinsurgency expert who worked closely with Central Command’s Gen. David Petraeus to help turn around the situation in Iraq, told more than 500 people Wednesday night.
The center of gravity in Pakistan is the Army and ISI intelligence apparatus. “The fundamental problem” in Pakistan, Kilcullen said, is that the government “does not control its own national security apparatus.”
Strengthening the rule of law, accountability and the judiciary would provide tremendous help, as would boosting the size and authority of the Pakistani police, who Kilcullen said are doing most of the truly effective counter-terrorism work in the country.
Some defense leaders on Capitol Hill acknowledge that Pakistan must be considered as we try to solve this knotty problem, but they do not think Pakistan matters as much as Afghanistan.
“…Victory in Afghanistan will require a regional approach, with a heavy emphasis on working with Pakistan in the troubled areas that border Afghanistan. I believe that Islamabad must be a part of the solution in the region, but we cannot allow our efforts on the Pakistan front to distract from our push for progress in Afghanistan,” Rep. John McHugh, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said at this morning’s hearing.
Kilcullen’s judgment of the new Obama administration strategy is that it is “not a bad first response. We’ll have to see how it helps as the fighting season goes on.” He noted it can be amended as results are seen.
Meanwhile, we are sending the most expensive assets we have – Marines and soldiers – in large numbers to Afghanistan, which may not be the center of gravity but is the place where we are allowed to send large numbers of troops and where we have an obligation to the government as a result of our toppling the Taliban.
The main job of the troops in Afghanistan’s is to “eliminate Al Qaeda and remove the sanctuaries from which they are constantly planning attacks against us,” Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said at the beginning of this morning’s hearing with Petraeus, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Adm. Eric Olson, leader of Special Operations Command.
Perhaps because of the diplomatic sensitivity of discussing these issues, we have heard very little about the Pakistani issues from Petraeus or Flournoy over the last two days of testimony. They have made very clear that civilian assistance is essential, though the military focus is still foremost. However, the spending momentum is clearly toward State and AID, though it remains to be seen how much new money they will actually get.
In the long run, Kilcullen said last night he thinks we are in for another five to 10 years of war in Iraq, a sobering thought for any American.