Tuesday, October 14, 2008
U.S. shifts focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan
Martin Sieff, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Top U.S. policymakers are declaring victory in Iraq and switching their focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Islamist violence continues to surge following the fall of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Eleven people, including four children, were killed Thursday when Islamist guerrillas set off a bomb as a police vehicle carrying prisoners passed by in the Upper Dir district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. The blast also destroyed a school bus carrying children that was driving right behind it.
Also Thursday, an Islamist suicide bomber penetrated tight security and set off his bomb in Pakistan police headquarters in the capital, Islamabad. The bomber successfully targeted the Anti-Terrorism Squad head office in the building, but there were no fatalities because most of the officers were out on duty, the Press Trust of India reported.
The attacks were part of the massively increased Islamist bombing campaign to discredit and eventually topple the nation's new pro-American president, Asif Ali Zardari.
Mr. Zardari has appointed Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, a tough and loyal new chief, to clean up and run the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. On Wednesday, Gen. Pasha briefed lawmakers of both of Pakistan's houses of Parliament in a graphic report on the tactics the Taliban and al Qaeda were using to try to seize and maintain control of North West Frontier Province.
According to Pakistani press reports, one female member of Parliament fainted when the legislators were shown a video of a 10-year-old child cutting the throat of one victim.
The rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan comes as U.S. policymakers are seeking to declare victory in Iraq in order to switch their seriously overstretched military resources to focus on the conflict with the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan instead.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday the U.S. Army was "the world's best counterinsurgency force" and said the situation in Iraq proves it.
Adm. Mullen's comments reflected a widespread and growing optimism about the situation in Iraq, after nearly two years of the highly successful counterinsurgency policies of Gen. David H. Petraeus, who recently was promoted to run U.S. Central Command. It should be noted, however, that while terrorist violence in Iraq is now running at only a fraction of its levels two years ago, it certainly has not been eradicated.
Also Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said a plan regarding the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement was nearly in place.
However, this does not reflect a full U.S. military victory in Iraq; it is much more a consequence of the determination of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, first publicly expressed on July 7, to get all U.S. combat forces out of his country within a set period of time. Once that happens, the Shi'ite-controlled al-Maliki government looks certain to further greatly strengthen its already warm and growing ties with neighboring Iran.
The Bush administration has, therefore, no real alternative but to go along with the demands of the al-Maliki government it created in the first place. And its Pentagon policymakers in any case recognize that the situation in Afghanistan - for so long touted as a crucial global demonstration of NATO's military power and credibility - is now deteriorating.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, therefore, is asking countries in southeastern Europe to help the U.S. and its allies already operating in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates is expected to ask NATO - again - for more troops there, while the U.S. is increasing its military footprint in the country.
Mr. Gates and the next U.S. president, whether it be Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, or Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, appear lucky in at least one respect. While popular support for maintaining troop levels in Afghanistan is low and falling in Britain, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is working hard to dramatically boost French force levels and upgrade their equipment in response to the ambush that killed 10 French soldiers in August.
The steps come ahead of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate expected to be handed to the transition team of the next president of the United States warning of a "downward spiral" in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post and the New York Times saw early versions of the document, and it doesn't paint a nice picture. It apparently claims the Taliban and al Qaeda are working more closely together and using militants on the Pakistani-Afghan border to create unrest and increasingly bold attacks. It also claims the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a hotbed of corruption.
The global economic crisis still dominates the world's headlines, but the security situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is deteriorating with alarming speed. Mr. Obama last summer pledged to send 10,000 more U.S. troops there if he is elected.
It could take a lot more than that, if current trends continue.
Martin Sieff is chief political correspondent for United Press International.