General Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee here that is weighing President Bush's proposal to promote him to head of the Central Command that one of his first actions would be to visit Pakistan and meet with leaders there to discuss strategies for taking back control of the tribal border provinces where Osama bin Laden and his deputies lurk.
I think the article is wrong about this affecting the presidential campaign since there will not be enough time to work on this problem. But there may be a solution to the problem:
Al Qaeda exercises de facto control in the Pakistan border area by intimidating and eliminating tribal leaders that challenge the group's authority. If General Petraeus can find a coalition of sheikhs willing to work with the Pakistani military in the border provinces, as he found sheikhs willing to work with American and Iraqi troops in Anbar, it's possible he could capture Osama bin Laden.
It is about more than bin Laden. But without routinely violating the border to attack targets inside Pakistan and without accepting perpetual defense as we do in Iraq in the face of Syrian and Iranian aggression, we may have an opportunity to use a post-Westphalian Lexington Rule to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan.
If we can't get Islamabad to control the frontier area, it is time to bypass Islamabad and deal directly with the tribes who don't recognize the control of Islamabad in the first place. We cannot allow the fictions of sovereignty to keep us from defending ourselves from fanatics who straddle the gray boundary that lies between reality and international law.
Using limited military assets such as special forces and drones to back civilian armed assets such as the CIA or contract personnel (with either former or seconded special forces from Western countries, or perhaps even hiring security companies to provide the personnel) or even Arab special forces that would live and work inside the frontier areas, we may be able to turn the frontier tribes against the jihadis who target us.
We should be able to start at the Afghan-Pakistan border and extend the network of anti-al Qaeda tribes toward the interior of Pakistan. Already this year, despite the bleating that we are losing this war, our forces are on the offensive in Afghanistan and tearing up the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies:
Heavier losses while crossing the border have caused the Taliban to shift tactics in how they get from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Taliban gunmen are now trying to pass as family members of family groups that travel into Afghanistan every day. The families go along because of bribes or threats. Gunrunners from Iran bring in weapons to equip these young men, who cross the border unarmed. Afghan police are now questioning young men crossing the border more closely. Even that is safer than trying to sneak across, where better NATO and U.S. surveillance catch these groups, and often wipe them out. Recruiting gunmen inside Afghanistan is getting more difficult, and higher wages have to be offered. Many Taliban leaders are offering to pay more than twice what a cop or soldier gets. Even that is not enough, because the annual death rate among Taliban fighters is over a third, while it's only a few percent for police or soldiers. Most Afghans may be illiterate, but they can count.
Beefed up US and NATO forces that crowd the border would be in a position to provide firepower support to friendly tribes while interdicting cross-border traffic attempting to destabilize Afghanistan or reinforce Pakistani jihadis. With our forces at their backs, the friendly frontier region tribes would be better able to stand up to the pro-jihadi tribes and jihadis. With time, we will reduce the area that bin Laden has to operate within and increase the chances that we will kill him with drones or rewards.
When national sovereignty protects thugs who kill us, we need to work in a post-Westphalian mindset. This operation will take a lot of time to carry out and will face setbacks as some tribes become unbought, but it offers hope of pacifying the frontier when Pakistan is unable to do so.
UPDATE (A short time later): Petraeus may be able to pull this off if our leaders recognize that no matter how deeply you really believe Iraq has distracted us from the Afghanistan campaign, just pumping more troops into Afghanistan (even if it is wise to put a quarter million troops there given the supply situation) won't do much good given the problem there that spans the border with Pakistan. The GAO reports:
The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA. According to U.S. officials and intelligence documents, since 2002, al Qaeda and the Taliban have used Pakistan’s FATA and the border region to attack Pakistani, Afghan, as well as U.S. and coalition troops; plan and train for attacks against U.S. interests; destabilize Pakistan; and spread radical Islamist ideologies that threaten U.S. interests. GAO found broad agreement that al Qaeda had established a safe haven in the FATA. A 2008 DNI assessment states that al Qaeda is now using the FATA to put into place the last elements necessary to launch another attack against America. The United States has relied principally on the Pakistani military to address its national security goals in the FATA. Of the approximately $5.8 billion directed at efforts in the FATA border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent ($5.56 billion) was U.S. CSF, used to reimburse the Pakistani military. U.S. and Pakistani government officials recognize that relying primarily on the Pakistani military has not succeeded in neutralizing al Qaeda and preventing the establishment of a safe haven in the FATA.
A comprehensive strategy would involve bolstering the Afghan security forces, bolstering the Afghanistan civic institutions and economy, controlling the border using our troops, getting the cooperation of Pakistan at least minimally, limited US military forces crossing into Pakistan, and a militarized-political offensive at the sub-national level to bribe, impress, and bully the tribes of the Pakistan frontier area into giving up Osama and his thugs.