Ever since the Afghan surge began there's been considerable behind the scenes talk of a hammer and anvil strategy toward Al Qaeda, its friends in the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban.
Much of that anvil has appeared to take the form of drone strikes and special forces actions inside far northern Pakistan or along the Afghan-Pakistani border regions. At Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Central Command's Gen. James Mattis reitereated that approach. He and his Special Operations Command colleague, Adm. Eric Olson, agreed that Pakistan doesn't always do everything we'd like them to do in interdicting the various terror groups operating from their country. But no one spoke of pushing Pakistan to do more, which is exactly the right course of action according to Jeff Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War.
Pressuring the Pakistanis to take action in North Waziristan and other havens of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network "probably doesn't do anything to make them act," he said yesterday.
Part of the problem is that Pakistan simply sees southern Afghanistan as part of its defenses should India invade. Having a sanctuary in Afghanistan gives them strategic depth to regroup and and then strike back, Dressler said.
And NATO forces can "degrade and possibly even neutralize" the terrorists operating from northern Pakistan by shutting them down in Afghanistan.
"I think the best thing they can do is focus on where they have control, defeating them in eastern Afghanistan," he said, noting it will involve "tough fighting" and take years.
On the broader question of whether the US and NATO can succeed in Afghanistan using the clear, hold, build strategy, Dressler said he believes it can and will take years of commitment.
With a new defense secretary on the way and presidential elections already beginning to influence Washington politics it will be a challenge to give the military that much support for that long.