U.S. strike aggravates alliance with Pakistan
Tuesday's deadly US incursion is under investigation, but it points up the contrast between the two nations' approaches to militants along the Afghanistan border.
This week's controversial American incursion into Pakistan is prompting new questions about whether the US must change its strategy in the war on terrorism and is putting the shaky US-Pakistan alliance under even greater pressure.Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, the US dropped at least three precision bombs just inside Pakistan on the Afghanistan border, reportedly killing 11 people. US forces had been fighting a group of militants in Afghanistan's Kunar Province near the border, pursuing them when they fled into Pakistan, the Pentagon said. Pakistan's government strongly condemned the attack; the Pentagon maintained that the operation had been coordinated with the Pakistanis beforehand and that US forces had successfully targeted militants. But US officials left open the possibility that members of the Pakistani military were among those killed.
Complicating the picture were statements from the US State Department regretting the loss of life, suggesting the operation had occurred in error. Military officials were still investigating the incident on Thursday.
In some military circles, recognition is growing that security in Afghanistan is tied to Pakistan's ability to rein in militants within its own borders. Groups that have fomented unrest across the border continue to seek refuge inside Pakistan, they say. The NATO alliance has been limited in its response to the problem by its inability to take the fight across the border and inside a sovereign country that has been an important US ally.
American officials have been urging Pakistan to do it for them. But as Pakistan realigns itself under new political leadership, its government has approached the war on terrorism in its own way. Its motivations for containing violence in Pakistan are not necessarily aligned with the US desire to rid the region of violence coming from inside the border region, say analysts.
Moreover, not everyone believes Pakistan holds the key to security in Afghanistan in the first place.
US officials are wrong to blame Pakistan for instability and violence in Afghanistan, says Christine Fair, a senior political analyst at RAND Corp., a public policy group in Washington. Pakistan's border region, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, will always be a sanctuary for terrorists that will want to target the US, she says, but to assign blame to Pakistan is to deny the real problem.
"It's become a bromide to externalize the failures in Afghanistan and blame them on Pakistan," says Ms. Fair. The US, she adds, must send a signal to Pakistan that it is serious about security by beefing up its own contribution of forces in Afghanistan. "It is a joke how few troops we have in Afghanistan," she says.
Currently about 60,000 forces are in Afghanistan, a combination of about 33,000 American and 28,000 non-US NATO forces. With its forces tied to the mission in Iraq, the US has resisted sending many more of its own troops to Afghanistan.