Afghanistan war: how a model province tumbled into violence
Khost Province had been a US success story in the Afghanistan war. But poor local leadership, an influx of insurgents fleeing US pressure elsewhere, and the proximity to Pakistan are stubborn challenges.
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Still, there are some sizable strategic obstacles that the influx of US troops has not been able to solve. This includes the porousness of the mountainous Afghan border, which is 156 miles long in the Khost, Paktika and Paktia provinces, a region known as "P2K."Skip to next paragraph
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“As far as the border itself," Luong says, "I think it’s naïve to say that we can stop ... forces coming through the border.”
For this reason, the US military recently closed a combat outpost dedicated to intercepting insurgents on routes into and out of Pakistan. US troops are instead focusing on finding safe houses in Afghanistan, “where they have to train, they have to bed down, they have to store their caches. Predominantly our success has been there,” says Luong.
But it will be at least “the next couple years” before Afghan security forces will be able to take over security in the region from US troops, Luong says. And cooperation with the Pakistani military remains an as-yet unfulfilled goal, after a plan to do a joint insurgent clearing campaign last fall fell through.
That sort of collaboration has, “I will tell you, not gone that far yet,” says Luong, who adds that he is looking forward to greater Pakistani cooperation in the future. “We can,” he adds, “do better with that.”
One barrier to that cooperation could be Pakistan's enduring strategic interests in the P2K region. According to Jeffrey Dressler, a military analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., the majority of the mayhem in the three provinces is carried out by the Haqqani network, a group with particularly strong ties to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, “wants a reliable proxy that has territorial control of the P2K area,” Mr. Dressler adds. This desire is the result of Pakistan’s historic conflict with India. “If India comes across the border, Pakistan can fall back into Afghanistan and drive them out. It’s about strategic depth vis-à-vis India. As long as that continues to be a driving concern, Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani network will continue.”