US military will not pursue Taliban into Pakistan

A Pentagon spokesman said that the US military will not conduct hot pursuit of Taliban and allied jihadist fighters from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Additionally, the spokesman said that the military would be fine if the Taliban was operating on the Pakistani side of the border.

“We have no authority to go into Pakistan,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews told Pajhwok Afghan News. US forces could ask for authority to chase Taliban fighters as they cross the border into Pakistan, but approval for such action “would certainly be the exception and not the norm,” he continued.

“Say, for example, we have troops in contact and then the Taliban forces go across the border,” Andrews told Pajhwok. “They are clearly inside Pakistan then. There’s no change with regards to respecting the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.”

In the past the US military has defended its right to pursue Taliban forces retreating into Pakistan under its “inherent right of self defense.” [See LWJ report, Pakistan closes NATO supply route after latest US cross-border attack.]

Past US incursions into Pakistan

The US military has in rare cases pursued Taliban fighters as they crossed the border into Pakistan after battling US forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has responded furiously to such incursions.

In one of the most publicized instance, in Nov. 2011, US attack helicopters opened fire on Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Mohmand. The Pakistani military claimed that 28 Pakistan troops, including two officers, were killed and 11 more were wounded. The Taliban fighters retreated to a Pakistani military outpost when the US opened fire. It is widely believed that the Pakistani troops were providing cover for the retreating Taliban force.

Pakistan responded to the Mohmand attack by closing the border to NATO supply trucks and also revoked the US military’s use of the Shamsi Airbase in Baluchistan province. The Shamsi Airbase was used as both a NATO logistics base and as a key node in the CIA’s Predator and Reaper drone campaign in North and South Waziristan.

Two high profile incidents occurred in 2008. The first was in June, when US troops pursued a Taliban force from Kunar into Mohmand, and killed 11 fighters. The Pakistani government claimed that the US killed Frontier Corps troops, but the US released video of the incident showing the Taliban being targeted as they fled from Kunar into Mohmand.

The second incident took place in Khyber in November, when US forces launched rocket attacks and ground strikes into the Tirah Valley, a known haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Lashkar-e-Islam. Seven people were reportedly killed and three were wounded in the strikes.

Three other cross border incursions took place in the fall of 2010, when US helicopters attacked Haqqani Network fighters as they fled back into the Pakistani tribal agencies of North Waziristan and Kurram after the terror group attacked US bases in Khost and Paktia provinces. More than 50 Haqqani Network fighters were reportedly killed in the Kurram attacks. Pakistan claimed two Frontier Corps troops were killed.

Currently, the US leaves the heavy lifting in Pakistan to covert airstrikes using unmanned Predators and Reapers against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas. There have been eight such strikes inside Paksitan so far in 2018.

In addition, the US carried out a unilateral special operations raid in May deep into Pakistani territory and killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Abbottabad, which was not far from Pakistan’s top military academy.

US military OK with the Taliban residing in Pakistan

The Pentagon spokesman also said that the US military can accept the Taliban presence inside Pakistan just as long as Afghanistan was secured.

“If the Taliban reside in Pakistan and we are able to provide safety and support and to help secure districts and provinces within Afghanistan, I think that is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make,” Andrews said, according to Pajhwok. “Because it’s not necessarily about these people over in Pakistan, it is about the Afghan people.

“But that’s something within Pakistan, that’s something the nation of Pakistan has got to resolve. Now we’re going to stay focused on Afghanistan.”

Additionally, Andrews said that the US military is “hopeful Pakistan will take action because not only do we feel it is going to serve Afghanistan, but it’s going to help protect Pakistan, India and the entire region.”

Pakistan routinely denies that the Taliban or any other jihadist group is permitted to use the country as a safe haven, and instead blamed India for regional instability. The Pakistani victim narrative falls apart when looking at how the government and military allow the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, and groups allied jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Mullah Nazir Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Hizbul Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed to operate in the open without fear of reprisal from the state. [See LWJ report, In response to Trump, Pakistan claims no terrorist groups operate on its soil.]

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

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