Suggesting a dramatic shift in Washington's counterterrorism strategy, the State Department and the Pentagon want to beef up training of foreign militaries and paramilitary troops. The proposal comes as US military trainers are preparing to train Pakistan's paramilitary forces this summer.
In a proposal to Congress this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested $750 million to train troops around the world who are engaged in counterterrorism operations. That would constitute a 250 percent increase, The New York Times reports.
Mr. Gates said that rapidly building up the armed forces of friendly nations to combat terrorism within their borders was "a vital and enduring military requirement."
The additional funding is designed to augment the Global Train and Equip program, created in 2006 to assist foreign militaries, The Times reports.
"The current program has paid for parts and ammunition used by the Lebanese Army against terrorist threats in a Palestinian refugee camp as well as for helicopter spare parts, night-vision devices and night-flight training for Pakistani special forces fighting suspected members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda along the Afghan border, Mr. Gates said."
Gates and Rice seek to increase funding authority for the program from $300 million a year to $750 million, make it permanent and expand it to allow assistance to police and paramilitary forces. The program is to expire at the end of September.…
A third facet of the proposal would make permanent a program that allows U.S. Special Operations Forces to spend $25 million annually to pay or supply equipment to indigenous forces that support their clandestine operations.
The proposal comes as Washington is preparing to send military trainers to Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, an area near the Afghan border where Taliban troops and Al Qaeda have been on the upsurge, CNN reported last week.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed deployment orders that will send U.S. military trainers to Pakistan this summer, CNN has learned.
Their mission: To teach Pakistan Frontier Corps units counterinsurgency skills critical to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The U.S. trainers will begin by training key Frontier Corps units to become trainers themselves so the program can quickly expand. The Frontier Corps is drawn from tribes in the border area and is considered vital in the fight against militants. In July 2007, The Christian Science Monitor reported that the intention of such training “would be to turn the corps against Al Qaeda, much as the US military in Iraq has forged alliances with Sunni tribes to take on Al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Pakistan's Frontier Corps, as well as the Pakistani Army, have come under increased attack in recent months, suffering several hundred casualties in a spate of suicide attacks. And in a battle with Taliban militants in Swat Valley last fall, poorly trained Frontier Corpsmen were killed in large numbers or fled without fighting, prompting alarm from many observers, including the editors of Foreign Policy magazine, who wrote, "Desertion is becoming a serious problem in the ranks of the Frontier Corps, the locally recruited paramilitary force that has been on the front lines of Pakistan's fight against insurgents in its tribal areas."
US military trainers on Pakistani soil is not a new thing, The New York Times explained in an article last month. But their numbers are set to rise significantly.
For several years, small teams of American Special Operations forces have trained their Pakistani counterparts in counterinsurgency tactics. But the 40-page classified plan now under review at the United States Central Command to help train the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force of about 85,000 members recruited from ethnic groups on the border, would significantly increase the size and scope of the American training role in the country.
United States trainers initially would be restricted to training compounds, but with Pakistani consent could eventually accompany Pakistani troops on missions "to the point of contact" with militants, as American trainers now do with Iraqi troops in Iraq, a senior American military official said. Britain is also considering a similar training mission in Pakistan, officials said.
"The Frontier Corps might as well be Taliban.... They are active facilitators of infiltration," said a U.S. soldier who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Many Pakistani analysts and leaders have warned that a larger US military footprint could lead to a backlash from the public in Pakistan, the British newspaper the Guardian reports.
"They are making a big mistake. With the Frontier Corps they are going to put people to fight against their kith and kin. It will create a greater problem," said General Hamid Gul, a former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's spy agency.
But some Pakistani observers see the proposed new training program as a welcome and vital change, writes Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, a Pakistani scholar and US foreign policy researcher, in Newsweek's PostGlobal blog.
The current U.S. plan to increase the training of Pakistani troops – paratroopers, Pakistani Special Forces, and Frontier Corps – is a step in the right direction. U.S. training programs must be supplemented by U.S. military hardware and intelligence exchange across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A unilateral U.S. attack on Pakistan's rustic tribal areas, however, will be devastatingly unsustainable and counterproductive.