DOD to Spend up to $800 Million Training Frontier Corps in Pakistan

As Judah points out, the problem of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region is beginning to get some attention.

There are two basic ways to fight the Pakistani Taliban who are using that country’s border region (Baluchistan, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas mostly, as I understand it) as a safe haven from which to undermine the Afghan government and attack U.S. troops.

One is to launch raids from Afghanistan using special operations forces, drones and other air assets, which U.S. forces appear to be doing more and more of. The other is to put troops on the ground in Pakistan. Putting U.S. troops there is obviously not an option, but supporting Pakistani forces with money, training and equipment is.

The problem of course is that Pakistan simply does not have the same interest as the United States in decisively bringing the tribal areas under its control. According to most experts in Pakistani politics, Pakistan is still more worried about Indian influence in Afghanistan and hedging its bets against an eventual U.S. withdrawal from its neighbor to the west than with defeating Taliban influence along the border. Thus, Pakistan has been reluctant to provide its most elite troops for the job, preferring, as one expert put it recently, to make a big show of announcing raids, going in for five days, and then leaving. Additionally, the Pakistan army is trained to fight a traditional war with India, not to fight an insurgency against its countrymen.

So, that brings us to the Frontier Corps. Here’s the Cato Institute’s Malou Innocent on the Frontier Corps in a recent piece in World Politics Review:

What about indigenous forces? FATA’s traditional law enforcement entity is the Frontier Corps (FC), the tribal areas’ locally recruited paramilitary force. Balochistan’s Frontier Corps is roughly 80,000 strong, while about 50,000 Frontier Corps are split between North West Frontier Province and FATA. A 40-page classified document titled “Plan for Training the Frontier Corps” is under review at Central Command. The plan would train the FC and significantly increase the size and scope of America’s training role in Pakistan. But training will take years, and training alone will not resolve problems surrounding morale and motivation. Moreover, ethnic and ideological sympathies to militants prevail in the FC; one U.S. soldier equated it to the Taliban, saying “The Frontier Corps might as well be Taliban. . . . They are active facilitators of infiltration.”

Because of the problem of Frontier Corps sympathy with those it will be fighting, Innocent went on to recommend that the United States concentrate on “encouraging and enabling” the regular Pakistan army to fight in FATA, not the Frontier Corps.

But a senior defense official told World Politics Review this week that DOD is going ahead with that “Plan for Training the Frontier Corps” that Innocent references.

According to this senior defense official, who spoke with a group of editors at the Pentagon Sept. 9, the Defense Department plans to spend about $200 million a year over the next 3-4 years training and equipping the Frontier Corps.

To guard against the loyalty problem these Frontier Corps members do not fight in their home villages, the defense official said, and he stressed that working with locals “may offer some intelligence value” by way of helping Pakistani and U.S. officials to interpret and illuminate the byzantine intra-tribal and inter-clan loyalties and enmities that characterize politics at the local level.

In this respect, it will be interesting to see how Petraeus’ takeover at Central Command will inform U.S. efforts in Pakistan. We’ll stay tuned.

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