Raids into Pakistan: What U.S. authority?
Bush's orders to send special forces after Taliban militants have roots in previous presidencies.
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The administration has debated the use of commando raids in Pakistan for years, but the tipping point came in July, as relations with Pakistan's civilian and military leaders deteriorated, intelligence sources say. The "kicker," according to one source who requested anonymity over the sensitivity of the issue, was two July events: the bombing of India's embassy in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, an act that US intelligence officials concluded was aided by Pakistani intelligence operatives; and a July 13 attack on a US military outpost in eastern Afghanistan that killed nine US soldiers. The outpost attack was carried out by Taliban militants who had crossed over the nearby border from Pakistan.Skip to next paragraph
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The evolution of operations in Pakistan from covert to overt actions is reminiscent of a trajectory followed in some aspects by the Vietnam War, some analysts note.
Patrick Lang, a former Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, says the evolution in Pakistan is similar to what occurred in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, when US operations against Vietcong sanctuaries there were initially covered up.
"We initially crossed into Cambodia as covert forces, but that changed," says Mr. Lang, who was part of special forces that carried out the Cambodia operations. By 1970, cross-border operations against enemy sanctuaries were being carried out in the open. Looking at the evolution in operations in Pakistan, the national security analyst says, "We are letting [Pakistanis] know this could evolve into bigger things."
Adds the intelligence source who requested anonymity, "The message is to the new civilian leadership and the military, 'We have bought all these toys for you – if you don't use them and do things in these areas that are causing us problems, we'll do them for you.' "
The new orders reflect flagging confidence in Pakistan's civilian and military leadership to address the problem of the Taliban and terrorist havens, which are thought to harbor Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. For seven years the Bush administration focused its Pakistan policy on President Pervez Musharraf and his assurances that he was battling the militant sanctuaries. But Mr. Musharraf was forced to resign last month after suffering a crushing electoral defeat earlier in the year, and the US appears to have little confidence in the new civilian and military leaders.
"Musharraf was a one-stop shopping center for US relations with Pakistan, but that no longer exists," says Stratfor's Mr. Bokhari. Senior State Department officials have met with Pakistan's new civilian leaders, he notes, while top Pentagon officials have met with the military leadership including Army chief of staff Gen. Ashraf Parvez Kayani, the top military commander.
"The sense I get is they were given the runaround, and they came away from all these meetings convinced the leadership structure has become much more complex at a time when the Taliban are becoming stronger and the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating," Bokhari says. "The feeling was the US couldn't sit by and see how the leadership sorts itself out."
Bush's orders authorizing cross-border incursions into Pakistan mean in a sense that the rules governing US special operations have shifted from yellow to green. The military will no longer need a presidential "finding" for each operation – and that, military analysts say, means the handling of forays into Pakistan will fall increasingly into military rather than CIA hands.
That has some intelligence officials worried that the consequences of stepped-up US operations in Pakistan – in terms of Pakistani public opinion and the stability of the government – will get short shrift. According to intelligence sources, officials from the National Intelligence Council recently briefed the Bush administration's national security team on the potentially dire consequences of US actions that could destabilize the government of a country with nuclear weapons.