Colonel Dan Smith, USA (Ret.) / Friends Committee on National Legislation – 2008-03-25 09:34:18
WASHINGTON ( January 1, 2008) — As 2008 began, the Friends Committee on National Legislation registered 14 significant ongoing armed conflicts and another 21 “hot spots” that could slide into or revert to war.
Until December 27th, the “success” of President George Bush’s defiant rejection of the American public’s repudiation of his Iraq and Afghanistan war policies in the November 2006 congressional election looked to be the most significant aspect of major armed conflicts around the world during 2007.
The three bullets fired that date at former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, killing her as she departed a campaign stop in the army garrison town of Rawalpindi, may well turn out to have more and longer term repercussions globally than Bush’s troop “surge.”
One reason, of course, is that Pakistan actually has a nuclear arsenal whereas neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has even a nuclear energy program. But the more significant point is that the Bush administration, for all its rhetoric about supporting democracy and opposing dictators, has been just as duplicitous as other administrations in its abandonment of principle for expediency in foreign relations.
A brief look at U.S.-Pakistan relations illustrates the point.
Pakistan is one of the three nuclear weapons states (the others are China and India) that have used armed conflict against one another in territorial disputes since World War II. In 1998 the U.S. imposed sanctions on Pakistan following its tests of nuclear weapons, sanctions abandoned after September 11, 2001.
Pakistan is the only Islamic country to possess nuclear weapons and was, at one time, hailed as Islam’s answer to Israel’s nuclear stockpile. The U.S. discouraged this perception, but now warns that Pakistan is a potential source of weapons for violent extremist groups should they or those sympathetic to them come to power in Islamabad.
Pakistan has experienced five coup d’etats and endured 28 years of direct and another 12 years of indirect military rule in the 60 years since independence. The last coup, led by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, deepened already strained relations with the U.S.
Since partition in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three significant wars over the disputed area known as Kashmir, the last in 1971-72, before both had nuclear weapons. Interestingly, when this third armed conflict ended, East Pakistan emerged as Bangladesh and the head of government in West Pakistan was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father. He was ousted in a coup in 1977 and executed in 1979 by the ruling general, Zia ul Haq.
The U.S. used Pakistan as the conduit for weapons and training for Afghan resistance fighters during the period of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989). In turn, to secure its western border and free military units for the struggle against India, Pakistan supported the Taliban faction in the Afghan civil war of the 1990s.
After September 11, 2001, the U.S. dropped its opposition to Musharraf, as it needed his help in trying to control the Pakistan-Afghan border regions. The Bush administration has given Musharraf $10 billion, but the expected return in terms of border control, cooperation with the U.S.-backed Afghanistan president in the fight against a resurgent Taliban, or a return in Pakistan to true civilian control after a democratic election for parliament, has not materialized.
As the western world turns the calendar into 2008, Pakistan is highly combustible; its president is under siege; the electoral process is on hold with the distinct possibility of significant delay in, if not cancellation, of the promised ballot and re-imposition of a state of emergency; and in neighboring Afghanistan, the U.S. military has extended its forces to fight Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda adherents who continue to move freely across the border.
The final four days of 2007 in Pakistan introduced unexpected complications for President Bush just as it appeared that he might succeed in refurbishing his image as a successful international leader.
As already noted, Bush took a significant gamble January 10th, 2007 when he announced that U.S. forces in Iraq would not be coming back home but would be increased over the following five months. He justified this decision as a way to open “political space” for discussions leading to eventual political reconciliation among Iraq’s religious sects and ethnic factions.
It would be June before the troop surge reached full strength and October before the number of attacks against security forces fell significantly, particularly in Baghdad and al-Anbar province in Iraq where the bulk of the troop reinforcements were sent.
This decrease in turn produced a welcome lowering of fatalities among U.S. and other coalition personnel, as well as among noncombatants in both countries. What could not be immediately determined – and remains unknown still – are the longer-term consequences of “surging” 30,000 more soldiers into the fray.
Going into the surge, it was clear to the Pentagon that the elevated troop numbers could not be sustained much beyond the end of 2007. In fact, the military found itself hard-pressed to muster the troops promised for Iraq by Bush in his speech – partly because logistics and force protection missions to support the announced troop increase of 21,500 required an additional 8,000 troops.
This brought the “official” surge numbers in Iraq to 162,000 U.S. soldiers. In actuality, the late autumn-early winter rotation of U.S. units into and out of Iraq temporarily increased the total troop numbers as high as 175,000.
Whatever else al-Qaeda-in-Iraq and the other groups opposed to the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq may or may not be able to do, they undoubtedly can count and understand calendars.
Why should they take on as many as 40,000 extra U.S. troops in Iraq when, by spring 2008, that number – plus additional “adjustments” to the pre-surge steady-state deployment level of 130,000 U.S. soldiers – will open new opportunities to kill coalition troops and their “collaborators.” In the interval, those committed to expelling the foreigners can blend back into society to rest, recuperate and re-arm, venturing out at times and places of their choosing.
With 2008 an election year in the United States, the Bush administration will be more than eager to declare “victory” – which will be redefined yet again, this time as a “permanent” reduction in attacks and fatalities, which allow for faster troop withdrawals. In fact, as November drew to a close, U.S. commanders in Iraq affirmed they intended to cut the number of U.S. combat brigades from the baseline 20 to 15 by summer 2008 and shift missions from combat patrols to training and mentoring Iraqi security forces.
The reduced activities of anti-government forces brought two other issues into sharper focus. The first, of concern to both Baghdad and Kabul, was the number of noncombatant deaths at the hands of coalition (usually U.S.) forces and the private “security” contractors who seem to be able to get away with murder – literally. And while President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can do little more than protest killings by coalition military personnel, they can and did take steps to rein in these private armies. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that these security contractors are as much a danger as insurgent groups like al-Qaeda-in-Iraq to indigenous noncombatants in these countries.
The second issue found the U.S. in the middle of a re-awakened guerrilla war. NATO partner Turkey threatened to send land forces into the northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan to hunt down a resurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) demanding separation from Ankara as the first step toward a unified Kurdish homeland straddling Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Officially, the U.S. opposed Turkish action, insisting that Iraqi pesh merga could take up the fight aided by U.S. intelligence.
Given the subsequent two (at least) Turkish cross border air operations, including a strike made without prior coordination with U.S. force headquarters in Baghdad, and an equal number of ground force incursions, it seems clear that Turkey is not inclined to wait on either Washington or Baghdad to take action against the PKK. In fact, as if to make this point, on January 1, 2008, the Turkish military announced that it had killed more than 310 PKK fighters in all of 2007.
Despite the continuing danger in many parts of Iraq, by November, what was at first a mere trickle of returning refugees had become a steady, if small, stream. Some returned as part of a widely publicized but token program by the al-Maliki regime in Baghdad that paid refugees as much as $800 dollars to take Iraqi-provided transportation back to Baghdad. Others returned because, unable to find work (often host countries refuse to allow refugees to seek employment), they simply had exhausted all their savings and had no money.
But others, sent last year to safer realms by their families, were being told to return to their families in Iraq. After living in Syria as a refugee for 11 months, one Iraqi woman who came back to Baghdad described her feelings: “overwhelming happiness of being home again, of not being a stranger, a refugee, anymore, but a family member. It’s the most beautiful feeling.”
Who can argue with that?
This analysis was prepared by Col. Dan Smith, U.S. Army (Ret.). Dan, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, is FCNL’s Senior Fellow on Military Affairs.
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