Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Quagmire is in Islamabad by Navy Blue

Regarding the Deaths of Eleven Navy SEALs on the Eastern Border of Afghanistan ~

Recently elsewhere on the web, I encountered the claim that the United States has abandoned its search for bin Laden because we're mired in Iraq in our imperialist grab for oil. If I understand correctly, 'mired' is similar to being 'bogged down', a lot like directionless 'warmongering', and uncannily akin to not having an 'exit plan'. I rebutted the claim we've abandoned the Afghanistan theater by discussing operations there, noting the monumental challenges in managing asymmetrical threats. I also remarked that since the aftermath of 9/11, the administration has stated that in prosecuting the Global War on Terror, bin Laden is but one actor in many. (The sing-song lament of the O My God Chorus that the war is not being fought hard enough should not be confused with its converse jingle that international terrorism is a mere 'law-enforcement' matter. )

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the Afghanistan deaths of eleven consummate warriors from the SEAL community, along with their eight brave comrades from the Army's Night Stalkers, it seems some perspective on the war in that region is in order. Following is a piece I wrote in the summer of 2005 in response to these unprecedented special warfare losses ~

- After the deaths of 19 US soldiers and special warfare sailors in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan on June 28th, it’s time to correct the record about where the key obstacles in prosecuting the war on terror really lie. If 'quagmire' is the favorite political buzz word when scrutinizing the difficulty in quelling the murderous successes of jihadists, the discussion should then turn to the state actor whose gifts to terrorists just keep on giving - Pakistan.

Pakistan has long been drenched in political dramas that have revolved around killing off or otherwise ousting seated (and corrupt) leadership, then pushing for increased nationalism that has ties to jihadist goals. In 1977, Mohammed Zia implemented a coup to bump Ali Bhutto off the power seat, hanged him, and established a Sharia system that was vital to an eleven-year rule. In an effort to mitigate resistance influences, he sought increasing Islamic control over the culture, lauding it as the national ideology. Iran was exploding during this time, the Soviets were invading neighboring Afghanistan, and Pakistan's ever growing radicalism through its advancement of Sharia-driven domestic politics was shaping a future messy relationship with the mujahedeen and its US supported counter to the Soviet invasion. Zia was interested in a political system that sustained an elite military rule to stop civilian rebellion and called for brutal punishments of violations of Sharia. Notably, Zia was enamored of Mawdudi, founder of the Pakistani Jama'at al-Islami political party, and a radical who viewed Islam as a revolutionary force. To wit:

"Islam wants the whole earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof. It wants and requires the entire inhabited world. It does not want this in order that one nation dominates the earth and monopolizes its sources of wealth, after having taken them away from one or more other nations. No, Islam wants and requires the earth in order that the human race altogether can enjoy the concept and practical program of human happiness, by means of which God has honoured Islam and put it above the other religions and laws. In order to realize this lofty desire, Islam wants to employ all forces and means that can be employed for bringing about a universal all-embracing revolution. It will spare no efforts for the achievement of this supreme objective. This far-reaching struggle that continuously exhausts all forces and this employment of all possible means are called jihad."

Zia promoted Mawdudi to head up the Islamist intelligentsia that conveniently afforded Mawdudi and his ilk an opportunity to burrow deep into the state and its political hierarchy, which by this time, involved the CIA backed mujahedeen under the umbrella of the Pakistani ISI. Ultimately, the Zia intent was to stifle democracy and sanction a military penal code over the People with the support of the intelligentsia. A tax was imposed that funded the Deobandi madrassas whose rosters included poor Pakistani youth and Afghan refugees. The Taliban emerged from this population. Zia later relaxed his political system after achieving legitimacy in the region as a stabilizing force in countering the encroachment of the Soviets, and he declared Pakistan an up and coming 'democracy'. He died in 1985 after continued power struggles over departures from the Islam state, partisan warring, and alleged conspiracies to malign him. A new President and Prime Minister came into power and five years of fighting between and among factions within the political elite and military ensued. Pakistan continued along a trajectory of corruption, resignations, dismissals, and overthrows that led to the current Musharraf government.

Musharraf is a dictator who booted his predecessor out of the way and declared himself President. He is also a seasoned warrior and this begs the question of why he has such a hard time controlling his own border and internal affairs. But in the larger picture, were it not for Pakistan and it’s training up of militant zealots, as well as establishing a funding source and political support for Taliban activities in Afghanistan, Taliban competition for power would not have been possible (the Saudis have provided the same type of help and many of their madrassas are advantageously in Pakistan). Pakistan also supported rebels in Kashmir and has looked the other way when those factions targeted civilians. Pakistan’s government houses jihadists and operatives that offer assistance to al Qaeda and bin Laden who use the eastern border of Afghanistan for a base of operation. Musharraf’s former ISI chief, Hamid Gul, was an advisor to bin Laden before 9/11 and now is a strategic advisor to political parties governing two Pakistani provinces. These parties represent twenty per cent of the assembly in Islamabad. Gul has publicly declared his anti-American position and the 9/11 Commission received a report from a Pakistani source that stated the following:

"The imprints of every major act of international Islamist terrorism invariably passes through Pakistan, right from September 11 — where virtually all the participants had trained, resided or met in, coordinated with, or received funding from or through Pakistan — to major acts of terrorism across South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as major networks of terror that have been discovered in Europe.”

Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) have collaborative relationships with al Qaeda and Taliban operatives within Pakistan’s borders and their jihadi members are barely pursued, or altogether conveniently ignored by Pakistani authorities. It was Pakistan that hosted the butchering of Daniel Pearl on videotape. bin Laden is believed to have received medical treatment at a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and assistance of the ISI. Pakistani nuclear engineer Dr. Khan sold centrifuge technology to Iran, Libya, and N. Korea and is personally responsible for one of the most volatile proliferating schemes in the history of the planet. When the US became aware of this, Musharraf failed to arrest and prosecute Khan, pardoning him instead after he publicly ‘apologized’. It is believed that if al Qaeda or like-minded Islamic factions obtain a nuclear device it will be delivered though the ISI. Wherever terrorism goes, where proliferation succeeds, and where bin Laden finds refuge, the ISI appears to be in the equation and it is ludicrous to conclude Musharraf is unaware of the activities of his own cabinet and staff and can exert no control over those activities and actors.

Reviewing the litany of deadly and resurgent struggles the US military has encountered on the Afghanistan Eastern border, the quagmire is not in Iraq but well rooted in Islamabad’s ISI and the Musharraf-led government. It is costing the US unacceptable losses in blood and treasure as we deploy the finest resources of the Department of Defense into the same al Qaeda/Taliban death trap to stave off the jihading lunacy of those who re-constitute themselves and re-fortify with the express assistance of Pakistan. There is a discernible pattern: We enter the fray on the Eastern border to search for specific targets and to extract information critical to our greater mission, we encounter well-organized pockets of hostile resistance, lose assets, dispatch additional resources that then encounter their own trouble generated by a well-supported root source, and we lose those assets as well.

Some assert that such losses are tragic, but simply inevitable consequences of war. Many sit back after such a calamity and pass judgment on the military commanders in theatre, citing the improper deployment of certain assets, questioning the hardware they used, criticizing the timing, the number of operators they sent, the decisions the forces on the ground made while conducting operations, and so on. It’s implicit that war is a deadly business and that war with al Qaeda is exceptionally dangerous and fraught with unavoidable surprises. It’s also predictable in military theatres that miscalculations and errors in judgment will be made, particularly when the fog of war is thick and both tensions and intelligence stakes are excruciatingly high. However, those issues are sorted out soberly in de-briefings and retrospective military science, not by civilians non-conversant in tactical applications of counter-terrorist special operations.

But more importantly, missteps in battlefield strategies and tactical rationale are not the grit of what plagues us in prosecuting this war effectively. The war on terrorism ultimately begins and ends in Pakistan, and Afghanistan’s terrorism is the aggressive tumor of an unchecked metastasis wrought by Pakistani jihad. The old Taoist medical paradigm applies – “in acute illness, treat the branch, in chronic illness, treat the root.” One can suppress, shrink, and even kill off an acute surface tumor that extends from a pathogenic mother cell, but to cure the real illness, the root of the cancer has to be choked and starved until it can no longer produce aberrant cells with potential to spread. The US therefore, cannot apply its resources fully and effectively mete out consequences to the enemy if Mother Pakistan continues to supply a feeding tube to jihadist factions intent on our demise and the systematic picking off of our valuable special warfare resources.

Special warfare serves the US when we know we have the unique covert advantages required by our operators tasked with locating and neutralizing high value targets and/or bringing back critical information. That advantage is diminished when the border separating two nation states is routinely proliferated and staffed with enemy operatives who freely traverse two non-democratic political systems, one operating under a fragile transitional government, both still entrenched in tyrannical religious ideation and political history that run counter to legitimate transition and functional democracy. Conversely, when managing nuclear capable state actors who will not stupidly pull the trigger on their futures by entering a battle that predicts their military inferiority, the United States is well served by conventional tactics and unbending new deterrence policies that promise surgical excising of state resources, should an actor facilitate proliferation and serve up aid to US enemies. Pakistan is (currently) unwilling to commit national suicide and knows it can never win a battle with the US for military superiority. This favorable aspect of the security equation affords the US its required advantage in responding with increased success to terrorist activity in Afghanistan via harsh conventional consequences for Pakistani sponsorship of al Qaeda and Taliban. In doing so we would provide our special forces with a desirable political climate and unconventional upper hand in mitigating asymmetric obstacles to stability in their theater of operation.

Additionally, US temerity in standing up to Pakistan’s tacit nuclear blackmail program is essential to communicating to other nuclear capable states and those seeking a program, that no ally in name is worth our continued thwarted efforts and casualties in costly special warfare assets should state support continue to be given insidiously to our enemies. We cannot afford to pay in SEAL lives for bad decisions that place Pakistan in the seat of authority over the Eastern border, and is the foreign policy child of US fear that we will ‘de-stabilize’ the region if we upset a nuclear state. The US should also provide unmatched incentives to indigenous actors on the Eastern border to discourage their willingness to aid jihadists. If the border is to be for sale, the US should control the market, not only through tangible resources, but in political maneuvers that make alliances with American enemies unattractive.

Finally, the US should openly re-define terrorism as a forward deployed asset of nation states that don't want to confront American power directly, citing Pakistan as the template. While politicians currently don’t have the stomach to boldly utter such a raw truth, they should be reminded that calling fascist Islamic states our allies has not reduced the rabid hostilities that continue to issue from the loin of their 1400 year-old jihad and threaten potential for a thriving Middle East, as well as our way of life. When comparing Islam’s political trail and that of the Western democratic republic, the US is in an indisputable position to emphatically assert that Islam’s failure to enter political modernity, while pursuing modern weapons systems, is cause for our superior military presence internationally including on the holy sites that repeatedly breed losses for the West.

Criticizing our operators or their military leadership when valuable US assets are compromised and lost on the Eastern border, or summarily minimizing those losses as a mere by-product of an exceedingly difficult task, is political folly and an unhealthy distraction that yields unacceptable consequences for the United States in its war on terrorism. Pakistan is the insurgent, the quagmire is in Islamabad, and critical remedy lies in an exacting elimination of the base of operation that is the Eastern border, a zero-tolerance deterrence policy we are willing to implement, and unceremonious withdrawal of US dollars from Musharraf’s version of the war on terror. Currently, the US cannot get there from here due to three primary factors:

  • A lack of political will and literacy in relevant foreign policy on the part of the American people
  • Increasing encroachment of divisive partisan politics onto critical US security issues
  • A failure of American leadership to accurately identify Islam as a system of political tyranny which cloaks itself in a social-religious construct to advance its goals

The result is that US special operators don’t have full support of the political arm of their government. They will subsequently experience unnecessary casualties when called to mitigate militarily the messes of foolish political actors prosecuting the war from the perspective that the US can bed down with an Islamic fox and trust it to count the chickens on Afghanistan’s Eastern border.