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.
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