Do Pakistan's leaders lack an instinct for survival?
This week, President Barack Obama declared that he was "gravely concerned" about the stability of Pakistan's government. And with good reason. As Obama expressed his concerns, the New York Times reported that the Pakistani Army was engaged in heavy combat with Taliban forces near the town of Ambala, just 60 miles from Islamabad. After previously ignoring the Taliban's seizure of Buner district, the seemingly passive-aggressive Pakistani government responded with airstrikes and helicopter gunship attacks against several Taliban-held villages.
U.S. officials seem baffled by a Pakistani government that does not appear to take the Taliban threat very seriously. When the Pakistani Army finally does move, its response frequently includes artillery and airstrikes against Taliban forces mixed into civilian areas, a highly questionable counterinsurgency tactic.
On April 23, David Kilcullen, one of Gen. David Petraeus's top counterinsurgency advisors in Iraq and a frequent contributor to Small Wars Journal, testified on the situation to the House Armed Services Committee, which is considering a bill to increase aid to Pakistan. Kilcullen unloaded a broadside on the Pakistani government for its incompetence and duplicity. After reviewing a long list of government failures and Taliban successes, Kilcullen summed up with this scathing assertion:
Suffice to say that there is overwhelming evidence of:
a Pakistani civilian government that does not control its own national security establishment,
security services that have been complicit in allowing the takeover of parts of the country by militants,
direct or indirect sponsorship of international terrorism by elements of the Pakistani national security establishment,
ongoing support by the same national security establishment for insurgents who are killing Americans in Afghanistan, and
a militant movement that is growing in reach and intensity week by week.
This has occurred during the same time period when we have given the Pakistani military $10 billion dollars for what this bill describes as "invaluable" assistance and partnership against extremism and terrorism.
Kilcullen recommended diverting future U.S. aid away from the Pakistani Army and intelligence services and toward Pakistan's local police.
According to Kilcullen, U.S. officials, including members of Congress contemplating foreign-aid requests, should not assume that the Pakistani government, or at least significant parts of it, are allied with the United States and its interests. Some measure of duplicity has always been a feature of international alliances, but the Pakistani government's seemingly casual indifference to the Taliban's progress toward Islamabad appears completely illogical.
The possibility that corruption is distorting the incentives of top decision makers is certainly a powerful explanation. Yet shouldn't U.S. decision makers assume that foreign leaders like Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari want to retain power? And that Pakistan's leaders should know best how deal with their own compatriots?
Logically, yes. Yet U.S. officials also assumed the same at one time or another about Fulgencio Batista, Anastasio Somoza, and Mohammed Reza Pahlavi before insurgents ejected them from their thrones.
It is logical to assume the instinct of self-preservation. But survival requires more than that.
Will the United States ever fix its combat advisor problems?
The U.S. military will not be able to successfully disengage from either Iraq or Afghanistan until those countries have their own security forces capable of defending against internal and external threats. And if U.S. policymakers wish to avoid such stability operations in the future, the best prevention is through security force assistance programs that equip and train indigenous forces before insurgents or terrorists become problems.
After more than seven years on the ground in Afghanistan, one would think that the U.S. and NATO effort to train and advise Afghan Army and police forces would be a smoothly running operation. However, Christopher Bluesteen, a former U.S. Army officer who recently returned from a tour of duty as an advisor in Afghanistan, reports that there remains much room for improvement.
Writing at Small Wars Journal, Bluesteen identifies three significant problems with the train-and-advise effort in Afghanistan. First, a lack of coordination between the advisor training school in Fort Riley, Kan., and the advisor and training command in Afghanistan that employs the advisors in the field has detracted from the effectiveness of the Afghan advisor effort. While attending the advisor school in Kansas, advisor students do not know where they will be employed after they arrive in Afghanistan and are unable to prepare for a province's specific circumstances. After arriving in Afghanistan, the advisor command breaks up teams that have trained together in Kansas, disrupting unit cohesion. Individual soldiers are then scattered to fill out existing advisor teams throughout the country. Bluesteen recommends combining the advisor school and the operational advisor command in Afghanistan into one seamless command.
Second, there is a lack of coordination between U.S. advisor teams and the support they receive when these teams are deployed to parts of Afghanistan commanded by European detachments. Many European detachments in Afghanistan operate under restrictive rules of engagement that often prevent them, according to Bluesteen, from fully supporting advisor teams deployed with Afghan units in dangerous areas. Bluesteen recommends deploying U.S. advisor teams only to those areas in Afghanistan where they can get reliable backup.
Finally, Bluesteen criticizes senior leaders in the chain of command for having an excessive reliance on quantitative measurements of progress. Based on his experience as an advisor at the district and provincial levels, Bluesteen thinks that written or oral reports reflecting the qualitative judgments of local leaders are the most reliable method of evaluating progress in a counterinsurgency campaign. Tactical-level advisors, who interact daily with indigenous leaders and populations, should be a prime source of this reporting to senior leaders.
The U.S. military found itself unprepared in many ways for the kinds of wars it has encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before 2002, the "foreign internal defense" (FID) mission -- the equipping, training, and advising of indigenous security forces -- was thought to be a specialty of U.S. Special Operations forces. This decade, the global demand for FID operations has far outstripped the ability of U.S. Special Operations forces to supply the required response. As a result, general purpose forces have had to improvise a solution.
It is not surprising that the U.S. FID effort has endured many course corrections along the way. What is surprising is that after seven years, the key to both exiting the current wars and preventing similar problems in the future is still a work in progress.
Robert Haddick of Small Wars Journal is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and was the director of research for a large private investment firm. He writes at Westhawk and The American.