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Afghanistan’s X-Factor

If there is one, this is it.

Pakistan, (or Pok-eee-ston as our Dear Leader in his infinite sophistication insists it be pronounced), has been for a while, is now and will be the X-factor for strategic command going forward in Afghanistan. Now that Obama has made his call to send 30,000 (or is it 33? 35?) troops there for 18 months (or is a little longer?) how will the tenuous civil/military shared government react?

I don’t pretend to be a Pakistan scholar, although I’m going to make it my business to become one as quickly as possible. McChlatchy is reporting a story today that should at least raise eyebrows in Defense as Obama rallies the troops for their mission.

Suspicions by Pakistan’s powerful army that the country’s civilian leadership is growing too close to the United States are fueling a political crisis that analysts here believe threatens the survival of the government and could divert attention from the battle against Islamic extremists.

Military officials believe that secretly taped conversations between Pakistani President Asif Zardari and his ambassador in Washington, prove that it was at Zardari’s insistence that a $1.5 billion U.S. aid package passed by Congress in September contained several provisions that angered the Pakistani military. The military publicly protested the aid package last month.

“The reaction (from the military) was not so much to what was in the bill but to the thought that the government was trying to create a civilian-to-civilian dialogue (with Washington),” said a senior Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The army has ruled Pakistan for most its existence, with civilian rule returning only last year.

Yeh that’s what we need, civil war inside Pakistan, that should make things much easier on our troops as they try to accomplish their mission which is…uh…

Talk about complicating matters. Not only did the U.S. aid package piss off the military junta, it threatens to further unravel an already existing crisis involving the recently expired amnesty for civilian government officials.

Seth Jones thinks we should take the War directly to Pakistan:

As we quicken the pace, the top American commander here, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has repeatedly noted that there are many issues to focus on: building more competent Afghan Army and police forces, adopting more effective anticorruption measures and reintegrating “moderate” Taliban and other insurgent fighters into Afghan society and politics.

But perhaps the most difficult issue is largely outside of General McChrystal’s control (and got short shrift in President Obama’s speech at West Point): undermining the Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan. Thus far, there has been no substantive action taken against the Taliban leadership in Baluchistan Province, south of the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan. This is the same mistake the Soviets made in the 1980s, when they failed to act against the seven major mujahadeen groups headquartered in Pakistan.

This sanctuary is critical because the Afghan war is organized and run out of Baluchistan. Virtually all significant meetings of the Taliban take place in that province, and many of the group’s senior leaders and military commanders are based there. “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us,” a Marine told me on a recent trip to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, across the border from Baluchistan. “Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”

Jones says that while we haven’t yet made any progress, there are ways to target the Taliban in Pakistan without using military force:

The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. Most Taliban are in or near Baluchi cities like Quetta. These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11. The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas.

The cost of failing to act in Baluchistan will be enormous. As one Russian diplomat who served in the Soviet Army in Afghanistan recently told me: “You are running out of time. You must balance counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan by targeting the leadership nodes in Pakistan. Don’t make the same mistake we did.”

Have we not been doing that for years? Doesn’t a burgeoning civil crisis there complicate matters in this arena? I don’t think Mr. Jones has thought these things through. I hope Obama has.

Has anyone heard anything about whether Obama’s plan has a contingency for this? I for one am praying to God that it doesn’t hit the fan over there, but you’d like to think we’re ready for it.

Does Ollie North think we’re ready for it?

Finally, Obama’s self-centric West Point remarks — he referred to himself no less than 57 times — also prove that he and his speechwriters don’t know history either. He claimed that Afghanistan would not become “another Vietnam,” because “unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.”

Whoever wrote these words is simply wrong.

The Republic of Vietnam wasn’t lost to a “popular insurgency.” By April 1969, the Viet Cong had been eliminated as a military threat. The frail, flawed democratic government in Saigon collapsed in April 1975 — three years after the last American combat troops were withdrawn — because in December 1974 the country was invaded and subsequently conquered by a hostile neighbor — North Vietnam — only after the U.S. Congress rebuffed President Gerald Ford’s request for $522 million in emergency aid.

A head of state who distorts the lessons of history is a peril. A leader who tries to deceive himself and his people is dangerous. We can only pray that this commander in chief isn’t committing 100,000 young Americans to a mission impossible in the shadows of the Hindu Kush.

Doesn’t sound like it.

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