The Pakistani Front

It seems like Afghanistan specialist Kip is the latest anonymous, third-person analyst to sign off over at Abu Muqawama. But before leaving he dropped two posts, one questioning the actual numbers behind the recent announcement of troop increases there, and another supporting the widening of operations to the Pakistani side of the frontier:

Kip thinks the apparent decision to overtly undertake commando operations in Pakistan is a positive step. There is simply no way to win in Afghanistan without going after sanctuaries in Pakistan.

I agree with the second sentence, if not with the first, even if Kip goes on to argue for a full-spectrum COIN approach in the tribal areas. As Kip’s first post makes clear, even after the increase in February, we’ll still be 9,000 troops short of the troop levels requested by theater commanders (which Kip believes is short of what’s really needed by a factor of two to three). So where are the nine (or thirty) thousand extra troops going to come from?

Well, they could come from Iraq, provided we want to risk the security gains that Gen. Petraeus believes are not yet solid enough to be self-sustaining. But that’s pretty unlikely, since at this point both theaters are inextricably linked in terms of their impact on domestic opinion. The idea of shifting troops to Afghanistan is only politically feasible as a result of the reassuring effect of recent progress in Iraq. If that were to unravel, especially as a result of shifting troops to Afghanistan, domestic support for both wars would quickly evaporate.

So what about NATO? Germany just committed a thousand extra troops, dependent on parliamentary approval, that it had promised for a while. But the new troops, if sent, would be restricted to the stabilized north, outside of combat zones, underlining the well-known operational command difficulties that plague the war effort. The French have already deployed seven hundred extra troops, but it was in the face of heavy public opposition that has only increased in the aftermath of recent casualties. As for thepotential impact of taking the fight to the Pakistani side of the border, here’s what French parliamentarian Pierre Lellouche, a vocal pro-American who supported the Iraq War, had to say in an interview over the weekend with Le Monde:

That could be a turning point in the region. The countries, like France, that are taking risks in Afghanistan must be consulted very quickly on these strategic choices and their consequences for the future of Pakistan. Bush must not start a fire, a month before leaving office, that we can’t put out afterwards. (Translated from the French.)

As I’ve said before, the possibility that the Europeans will match American troop increases is far less likely than the possibility that they will use our increased presence to justify their own troop reductions and eventual withdrawal. And that goes double if we unilaterally widen the conflict to the Pakistani frontier without their consultation or concertation.

Which means that our strategic calculations ought to be based on the likelihood that we will eventually find ourselves alone in Afghanistan, and in the Pakistan frontier. And COIN or no COIN, that strikes me as a losing proposition.

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