Pakistan’s Swat Campaign

Claude Rakisits, writing in the Australian, describes the aftermath of the Pakistani campaign to oust the Taliban from Swat:

Few people seem to realise that the Pakistan army’s militaryoperation to dislodge the Pakistani Taliban militants from the SwatValley has caused about 2.5 million people to flee and seek refugeelsewhere. This vast and sudden movement of people is the world’sbiggest since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. About 80 percent of theseinternally displaced people have been accommodated with friends,families and even total strangers because the government of Pakistanwas utterly unprepared for this humanitarian disaster.

The good news is that the Pakistan army has reportedly secured theSwat Valley by ousting the Pakistani Taliban fighters, killing morethan 1000 of them and capturing the city of Mingora. It took almost twomonths and 40,000 troops to do the job, with more than 100 soldierskilled in the clashes. This was an important battle the Pakistani armyhad to win to demonstrate its resolve and capability.

But victory came at a heavy cost to the civilian population. Becausethe army is primarily trained and equipped to conduct conventionalwarfare, it used a very heavy-handed and inappropriate approach tofighting the insurgents. By using heavy artillery, helicopter gunshipsand fighter bombers, it wreaked havoc on towns and villages, killingmany civilians and destroying a lot of private property and the littleinfrastructure that existed.

The scale of the destruction really is incredible. The question now is will they be able to rebuild fast enough to keep the displaced community from feeding the next-generation insurgency. Given the estimated cost — $3 billion — and the state of the Pakistani treasury these days, I doubt it.

This is where counterinsurgency doctrine really is relevant, because it argues that the less you destroy in the initial campaign, the less you need to rebuild when the guns go silent.

I’d be curious to know how many of those 40,000 troops were paramilitary Frontier Corps, and how many were Pakistani army. Notice, though, that the outcome of this campaign was never in doubt: It took 100 casualties to essentially close down the Taliban shop in Swat.

I’m inclined to wonder if the operation might have been carried out with more patience and care had it not been for the Obama administration’s media campaign portraying the Pakistani state on the verge of collapse if it didn’t respond to the Taliban threat immediately. But then again, given the Pakistani take on COIN (via Andrew Exum), that might not be giving the Pakistani military enough credit for being able to screw this up on its own.