Pakistan: Ground Zero for U.S. CounterterrorismBy Matthew Ernst
When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Pakistan last month, the media barely reported on the trip. With the ongoing violence in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt quickly spiraling out of control, those nations dominate the headlines. But Pakistan quietly remains at the heart of the U.S. fight against terrorism. And despite the renewal of the Strategic Dialogue, it remains obvious that Pakistan is not truly committed to eradicating terrorist groups within its borders.
Putting The Relationship in Perspective
Pakistan is truly a double-edged sword -- as both a nation where democracy has taken hold, yet still harboring Al Qaeda and countless other terrorist groups. On one hand we need Pakistani cooperation to help locate terrorist suspects, but on the other hand, it is often Pakistani government officials that are supporting those same suspects.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has provided approximately $23.55 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan. In exchange, Pakistani officials have arrested over 600 AQ members and 8000 terrorists are reported to be on death row. The U.S. has also received intelligence cooperation, resulting in the launching of 343 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006. These strikes have killed approx. 2,534 terrorist "leaders and operatives".
Despite these successes, we must also be honest when analyzing current conditions in Pakistan and considering what our investment has yielded us in return. The conviction rate for terrorists in Pakistan is roughly 4%. The U.S. State Dept. recently issued a travel warning urging Americans to avoid all non-essential travel to Pakistan and the U.S. Consulate in Lahore remains closed. Kidnappings within the nation have increased dramatically. Over 40,000 people have been killed in the last ten years in attacks conducted by Islamic-inspired terrorists within Pakistan. Several recent terrorist plots against the U.S. have all been traced back to Pakistan.
And it is not just Westerners being targeted either. In June, ten tourists were shot to death. Those killed included three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two Chinese, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and one Chinese-American.
AQ Not the Only Threat
While AQ remains the household name associated with Islamic-terrorism, many other Islamic-inspired terrorist groups find a safe haven in Pakistan as well. The following groups all operate in Pakistan and when an AQ member is killed in a drone strike, AQ often backfills the open positions with members of theses groups.
Currently of most concern is LT, which is believed to have been allied with AQ since 1998. In this recent Congressional testimony, Jonah Blank stated: "LT poses a grave danger to US interests and citizens in South Asia." Blank described LT as "one of the most capable, experienced, resourced, and politically-protected terrorist groups in the world."
All Roads Lead to Pakistan
In my own quick analysis, I compared the nationalities of known terrorists to the location where they had been killed/captured. I randomly selected 106 known terrorists. Out of those 106, only 6 were identified as having Pakistani citizenship (6%). However, 32 were identified who had been killed or captured in Pakistan (30%).
It was also reported that hundreds of jihadi fighters are now traveling to Syria from Pakistan in order to fight against the Assad regime. However, reports are indicating that many of those leaving from Pakistan are not of Pakistani citizenship.
We also know that several Al-Shabab leaders traveled from Somalia to Pakistan to receive training.
This mountain of evidence clearly indicates that many non-Pakistanis are traveling to Pakistan. We must then ask ourselves some difficult questions:
Why are they traveling to Pakistan?
Why, after democracy has been established in Pakistan for 5 years, have the number of terrorist groups increased, not decreased?
Why this result after we have spent $23.55 billion, and more than 11,000 have been arrested or killed?
It is not simply a random occurrence that so many AQ members are showing up in Pakistan. Rather, it is part of a much larger strategy by AQ. Consider Yasin Al-Suri. When AQ prisoners are released from prison, Al-Suri facilitates their travel to Pakistan. Not only does this indicate that the AQ leadership is strongly rooted in Pakistan, it also indicates that AQ has not been dealt "severe blows" as so many have suggested.
Interestingly, Canadian intelligence officials have a drastically different perspective of AQ than what U.S. officials have. In May, they released this report where they highlighted several key points, including:
1. AQ enjoys "an unmolested existence from authorities in Pakistan".
2. "Outside intervention" has been needed in order to remove AQ and their affiliates from power in every nation where they have become established.
3. AQ has spread, not diminished, its influence since 9/11 and has even expanded since OBL's death.
Pakistani Counterterrorism Reforms
Although Pakistan has taken several positive steps towards thwarting terrorist groups within its borders, it remains obvious that the Pakistani government is not completely dedicated to rooting it out in a substantial way. The latest example of this was when on August 9th, Hafiz Saeed, the leader of LT, led public prayers and a parade in Lahore. Despite the $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, Saeed clearly wasn't too worried about getting caught. Ironically, on July 26th, reports surfaced indicating that the U.S. was scaling back the number of drone strikes in Pakistan.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush signed into law Public Law 107-40, commonly referred to as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The AUMF states, in part, "...the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force...in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
We have given Pakistan 12 years to eradicate their terrorist groups, but they clearly lack the will to do so. We have tried diplomacy, and it hasn't worked. Pakistan has established democracy, but that hasn't worked either. Through the use of drone strikes, we have attempted to limit the U.S. presence on the ground inside Pakistan, and this hasn't been near effective enough either.
Only increased U.S. military action in Pakistan will protect the U.S. The AUMF clearly justifies the use of an increased U.S. military engagement in Pakistan. What is lacking is both the political will and the will of the American people. Americans may be ready for U.S. troops to come home -- the only problem is that the mission isn't over and our enemies have not lost the will to fight.
Matt Ernst is a law enforcement officer and independent national security analyst. Matt writes and manages the blog, Straight Talk (http://matthewaernst.wordpress.com/). Matt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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