Although I generally hate attempts to compare Afghanistan to Vietnam, the analogy might be more apt than I would like to acknowledge. Today’s New York Times reports that the Obama Administration has told the Government of Pakistan that if it does not deal with the Taliban on its side of the border, the United States will expand its attacks into Pakistan to stop Taliban attacks from there into Afghanistan. According to this report, the United States was prepared to expand Predator drone attacks and even the use of Special Operations Forces (SOF) into the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The U.S. has conducted operations in Pakistan almost from the moment it entered Afghanistan. U.S. SOF operated in and from Pakistan during the opening rounds of Operation Enduring Freedom. Since then they have primarily been used for reconnaissance missions to support Predator drone strikes. However, as the Times article notes, there have been times when SOF forces have conducted combat missions in Pakistan. Predator drone attacks against targets in Pakistan have been conducted for years with ever-increasing intensity. They have become the equivalent of Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against Cambodia. There is no doubt that they are having an effect on the Taliban. Whether or not they are being successful against Al Qaeda is much more difficult to discern from public reports.
Pakistan is, to say the least, unstable. The current government is weak and without much credibility. Parts of the military are playing a double game, siding with the United States when it suits them while continuing to provide support to the Taliban.
In President Obama’s speech he said that the challenge the United States faced was to the stability of the region. This is the strategic justification for the expansion of the war into Pakistan. Operationally, it is clear that for Afghanistan, as was the case with Vietnam, there is no way to win the war or more simply stabilize that country unless the insurgents’ safe haven is neutralized. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. did everything but invade the North. If the Times is correct, this time we won’t even stop at that.
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