This July 31 article in The New York Times displays the horse-has-left-the-barn mentality that is prevalent in higher echelons of the US government when it comes to terrorist threats and Pakistan. According to the report, the US government won’t take the threat of the Haqqani Network and Pakistan’s support of the terror group seriously unless another mass-casualty attack occurs against US forces in Afghanistan.
But a new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, one senior official said.
“If 50 U.S. troops were blown to smithereens by the Haqqanis, or they penetrated the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and killed several diplomats — that would be the game changer,” he said.
American officials recently considered what that could mean. Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.
Salerno had come uncomfortably close. Although just two Americans were killed, the attackers had penetrated the defenses of a major base to within yards of a dining hall used by hundreds of soldiers.
The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.
“We looked at the A to Z of how to get the Pakistanis’ attention,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as did other American and Pakistani officials interviewed about the issue.
So, basically, the Haqqani Network can slowly bleed the US military in Afghanistan, killing American troops a handful at a time in frequent suicide assaults and IED attacks, with the support of the Pakistani government, and there will not be any serious repercussions. But if one of the Haqqani Network’s suicide assaults causes mass casualties (of US troops or personnel, of course, the slaughter of dozens of Afghans likely won’t matter much to the US officials quoted in the article), then Pakistan will receive the requisite slap on the wrist.
The Afghans and the US and NATO troops in theater deserve far, far better.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.