Pakistan — Pakistan Sacrifices for Counterterrorism Fight

ISLAMABAD, Pak­istan, July 24, 2010 — The Pak­istani mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment are grap­pling with the prob­lems of mil­i­tants in the coun­try and don’t get enough cred­it for the sac­ri­fices they are mak­ing, accord­ing to U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials here.

Since the begin­ning of the Swat cam­paign, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary has been involved in 16 months of con­tin­u­ous com­bat against extrem­ist groups in Swat, South Waziris­tan and the North­west Fron­tier Province (Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa), a U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cial said on back­ground.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary has more than 140,000 troops involved in the oper­a­tions – or more than sev­en infantry divi­sions worth of sol­diers. “It’s the longest mil­i­tary cam­paign in Pak­istani his­to­ry,” the offi­cial said. “They have nev­er fought any­thing this hard, for this long.”

The offi­cial added that there have been thou­sands of mil­i­tary and civil­ian casu­al­ties in the affect­ed provinces. “The Pak­istani mil­i­tary deserves our respect, and frankly, they deserve our sup­port,” the offi­cial said. “They are fight­ing extrem­ist ele­ments that are a threat not just in Pak­istan, but across the broad­er region.”

It is not all straight progress. There are things that the Unit­ed States would like the Pak­ista­nis to do, but they either can­not or will not at this time, the offi­cial said.

Coun­terin­sur­gency is one of the tough­est cam­paigns to fight, and the Pak­ista­nis – like the NATO and Afghan troops across the bor­der – are learn­ing as they go along. The offi­cial said the Pak­istani effort is not per­fect and that there are groups that Amer­i­can lead­ers would like them to go after.

“Still, they have cleared thou­sands of square kilo­me­ters of extrem­ist pres­ence,” he said. “There are still thou­sands left to do, and the Pak­ista­nis will be the first to acknowl­edge it.”

The tough­est aspect is get­ting the civ­il-mil­i­tary mix cor­rect. The mis­sion is to get the peo­ple of these regions to side with the gov­ern­ment and not the extrem­ists. The gov­ern­ment has to be able to deliv­er basic ser­vices to the peo­ple and give them a path toward progress, the offi­cial said. This is prov­ing to be a tougher and longer slog.

The areas did not have gov­ern­ment trained or fund­ed police, and local tribes pro­vid­ed the only secu­ri­ty. Now even that is gone and the army has moved in to pro­vide secu­ri­ty. But the mil­i­tary can­not leave the region for fear the extrem­ists will return.

The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment has made progress in train­ing police for the area, but there still are too few to allow army units to leave.

“The Pak­ista­nis under­stand that their clear­ing oper­a­tions can­not be the total­i­ty of what they are doing,” the offi­cial said. “They know they have to devel­op law enforce­ment capa­bil­i­ties. They know they have to do devel­op­ment and gov­er­nance.”

The bot­tom line is the Pak­ista­nis have a plan for deal­ing with the prob­lem of vio­lent extrem­ism in the trib­al areas, the offi­cial said. But that plan will take time and is ham­pered by lack of resources.

“That res­onates with me,” the offi­cial said. “They are deal­ing with tens of thou­sands of vio­lent extrem­ists, and we ought to give them some space and some time, giv­en what they have sac­ri­ficed for the last 16 months. The real­i­ty is they are head­ed in the right direc­tion.”

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