Thoughts on AfPak strategy review

The Obama administration has released a five-page summary of its annual strategy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan. In our view, the document is mostly ho-hum with no really major revelations or insights.

The surge of military forces in Afghanistan is definitely having some positive effects in that country. But there is scant evidence that Pakistan’s behavior, on the whole, has changed. The New York Times notes in its coverage of the review summary that:

…two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

Is this surprising? Hardly. We’ve reported such instances in the past, as have others. And I was reminded of what Sebastian Junger wrote in his book, War, which details Junger’s time in the Korengal Valley.

A few days later we’re all sitting around the courtyard at Restrepo when word comes over company net that a force of Pakistani Taliban just attacked a border outpost manned by a special unit of Afghan soldiers. The Taliban were shooting across the border from positions held by the Pakistani Frontier Corps, so the Afghans called in airstrikes on the Frontier Corps positions. Colonel Ostlund then ordered four more bombs to be dropped on another group of attackers that had just fled back across the border. They were all killed. …

The men know Pakistan is the root of the entire war, and that is just about the only topic they get political about. They don’t much care what happens in Afghanistan — they barely even care what happens on the Pech — but day after day they hear intel about fresh fighters coming in from Pakistan and wounded ones going out. Supposedly there’s a medical clinic in Pakistan entirely devoted to treating insurgents. Somewhere in the valley there’s a boulder painted with jihadist graffiti, but it’s in Arabic instead of Pashto because locals aren’t as enthused about the war as the outsiders. You didn’t have to be in the Army to notice that Pakistan was effectively waging war against America, but the administration back home was refusing to even acknowledge it, much less take any action. Now an American colonel is bombing Pakistan troops inside their own country and the feeling at Restrepo is, Finally

In other words, the latest classified assessments are nothing new.

Part of the thinking behind the surge in Afghanistan was to pin the jihadist hydra between American-led forces in the north and Pakistani forces in the south. In a separate piece on the strategy review, David Sanger of the New York Times quotes Defense Secretary Robert Gates as describing this as turning the enemy into “the meat in the sandwich.”

There’s just one problem. The sandwich doesn’t have a bottom half; the Pakistanis aren’t doing their part. Sanger reports:

In interviews on Thursday, Administration officials offered background assurances that the Pakistani government has indicated that 2011 would be the year of sandwich-making, with the long-awaited move of troops into North Waziristan, the stronghold of the Haqqani militant network that has long harbored al Qaeda’s top leadership, including, presumably, Osama bin Laden. But Pakistan has offered similar reassurances before.

Indeed, the Pakistanis have previously said the sandwich-making was imminent.

Any day now … any day now.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Graham says:

    They won’t break ties with their insurgent proxies anytime soon.
    India is pouring tons of aid into Afghanistan to influence the government there, and Pakistan is worried that it could get outflanked: With India on one side and a pro-Indian Kabul government on the other.
    India and Pakistan are waging a proxy war against each other in Afghanistan, and it’s making the realization of ISAF’s goals nearly impossible. So, I recommend we invite the two nuclear-armed rivals to the negotiating table to discuss the disputed province of Kashmir. After all, it’s been said that the road to Kabul leads through Srinagar….

  • paul malakani says:

    Its simple. Tell lakistan that USA will let the Indians come in AFganistan militarily unless they go in against Haquani
    and then see them act!

  • Charu says:

    This sandwich not only doesn’t have a bottom half, but the “meat” continues to the added on by our “ally”. Worse, the money we pay them for the bottom half of the sandwich goes to add to the meat; which would be hilarious if it weren’t our soldiers in the upper half who are incrementally dying from this overload of meat.
    Screw the metaphors and hit the Pakistanis where it hurts them the most. In this matter, the overarching query ought to be WWTID – what would the Israelis do?!!!

  • paul says:

    Reading Bob Woodward book Obama Wars they know Pakistan is the cancer but how do they destroy the Jihadi industry which Pakistan has built with Saudi Money.Madrasses throw out lots of militants who are brain washed from a young age so the Pak army dont need to fight.They see how the Jihadis defeated the Russians and are hoping the Jihadis do the same to the Americans.

  • blert says:

    This ware is ISI’s bread and butter. They’ve NEVER had it so good.
    Our funding should be used to RENT ( at least ) a Baluchi corridor north from the sea to Afghanistan.
    Then set the Corps of Engineers to work.

  • NaSa says:

    Excellent article, Mr.Joscelyn… but do you not think that the US military is already aware that Pakistan will never do anything against its own self interests, namely that of restoring the Taliban to power in Afghanistan ?
    IMHO, the US is ready to leave Afghanistan for good in the next 4-5 years. The only way this “war” can be won is by recognizing that the true enemy resides in Rawalpindi and not Kandahar and that the enemy has to be confronted.
    I think that the US military is aware of all this but is also afraid of confronting Pakistan. This is why it has not done anything to challenge Pakistan’s perfidy when it comes to the GWOT.
    Eventually the administration will declare “victory” and leave. This so called strategy review was phase 1 of that strategy. When troops start drawing down in 2011 that would be phase 2.
    We will eventually return to the status quo before 9/11 and this was just a starting point.

  • Entville says:

    1. ISAF moves in force into the ungoverned border tribal regions.
    2. Big uproar.
    3. Pakistani Army moves to counter the ISAF.
    4. ISAF moves back across the border.
    5. Pak army now alone in the region.
    6. What follows will clearly expose either Pakistanis duplicity or cooperation. Occams razor in action.


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