Defense Official: Pakistan Deserves U.S. Respect, Support

ISLAMABAD, Pak­istan, Dec. 15, 2010 — Pak­istan deserves America’s respect and sup­port for its fight against extrem­ists in the coun­try, a defense offi­cial said here today.
The offi­cial, speak­ing to reporters on back­ground, said the Unit­ed States wants Pak­istan to do more to elim­i­nate ter­ror­ist sanc­tu­ar­ies in North Waziris­tan, where the Haqqani net­work and oth­er extrem­ist groups are using the trib­al-area province to plan and launch attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pak­istani mil­i­tary lead­ers con­sis­tent­ly say they will address North Waziris­tan, but not yet, the offi­cial said. In the mean­time, Pakistan’s mil­i­tary has been active else­where. The Pak­istani mil­i­tary has moved 140,000 troops to the bor­der area with Afghanistan, the offi­cial said, suf­fer­ing loss­es of between 1,500 and 2,000 killed in action and per­haps four times that many wound­ed in the past 19 months.

“Two years ago, this kind of effort, these kinds of sac­ri­fices would be unthink­able,” the offi­cial said. “There has been 19 months of sus­tained com­bat.”

The Pak­istani army has been active against ter­ror groups in the Swat Val­ley, the Khy­ber trib­al area, South Waziris­tan and Bai­jur. The equiv­a­lent of sev­en divi­sions – each around 20,000 strong – is engaged in the region, the offi­cial said.

Unprece­dent­ed mon­soon flood­ing in the sum­mer ham­pered mil­i­tary oper­a­tions. Because the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is the country’s most effec­tive aid and res­cue orga­ni­za­tion, troops remained along the west­ern bor­der while their enablers – medics, engi­neers, logis­ti­cians, heli­copters, trans­port and so on – shift­ed to flood relief oper­a­tions. The Pak­istani mil­i­tary is stretched thin, the offi­cial said.

“They are fac­ing the same chal­lenge that U.S. and coali­tion forces faced in Iraq, and now Afghanistan,” the offi­cial said. “It’s one thing to clear the geog­ra­phy of mil­i­tant pres­ence. It’s quite anoth­er thing to ren­der the pop­u­la­tion and the area resis­tant enough to mil­i­tant return that you can actu­al­ly with­draw the army.” Local and nation­al civil­ian insti­tu­tions can­not han­dle that mis­sion, leav­ing the mil­i­tary to guard against extrem­ists reclaim­ing the area, the offi­cial explained. “Our assess­ment is [that the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is] unable to con­duct sig­nif­i­cant new offen­sive oper­a­tions until they can find a way to get sig­nif­i­cant new troops or real­lo­cate troops they have,” the offi­cial said.

Pak­istan will deal with North Waziris­tan when it has the resources avail­able and on its own timetable, the offi­cial said.

“We’ve got to be dis­ci­plined in not con­fus­ing what we want the Pak­ista­nis to do with what the Pak­ista­nis want to do,” the offi­cial said. “It doesn’t mean one side is right or wrong; it’s that they are dif­fer­ent.”

The U.S. focus is on tak­ing out the Afghan Tal­iban who are using North Waziris­tan as their base. The Pak­istani atti­tude on the ter­ror groups in North Waziris­tan may be chang­ing. The Haqqani net­work is killing NATO troops and Afghans, but report­ed­ly is not killing Pak­ista­nis. But Pak­istani offi­cers are com­ing to the con­clu­sion that the stew of ter­ror groups in the province is more like a syn­di­cate than sep­a­rate and dis­tinct groups, the offi­cial said.

“This is a syn­di­cate of relat­ed and asso­ci­at­ed mil­i­tant groups and net­works,” he said. “Try­ing to parse them as if they had fire­walls between them is real­ly kind of sil­ly. They coop­er­ate with each oth­er and fran­chise work with each oth­er.”

But hav­ing the will to take on the ter­ror groups in the province is one thing, and hav­ing the capa­bil­i­ty to take them on is anoth­er, the offi­cial acknowl­edged. “The worst thing that could hap­pen is for the Pak­istani mil­i­tary to pick a fight with the Haqqani net­work and lose,” he said.

Progress is com­ing about in Pak­istan through small changes that even­tu­al­ly lead to a change in mind­set, the offi­cial said. Trust is a big part of this, he added, and U.S. mil­i­tary and civil­ian offi­cials must con­tin­ue con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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