Foreign Policy Blogs

US Ground Forces in Pakistan: Hunt for al-Qaeda Begins, Again…

It appears as if American frustration over the growing threat of al-Qaeda in Pakistan has forced the US military to act alone. After years of courting the Musharraf regime, and now in the face of increasing instability, ground forces have entered Pakistan to combat high-level al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. The incident occurred in South Waziristan , directly across from the Afghani province of Paktika, where the United States has various military installations. The Washington Times is reporting that this is President Bush's last-ditch effort to kill or capture Osama bin Laden before he leaves the White House.

The idea that these developments are entirely political seems a bit naïve of the facts. This operation is a direct result of a growing Taliban presence across the Afghanistan border in Pakistan, as well as an increasing inability of the Pakistani military to carry out these missions on their own. As I've posted before, the newly elected government is in a terrible position. Act too strongly against fundamentalist elements in the frontier regions and you are seen as acting on behalf of Washington. Do too little and you jeopardize American military and financial support. Well, this is what happens when the United States sees that you are incapable of doing anything. You are simply bypassed. Protests by both civilians and Pakistani officials are already beginning to mount.

Of course, this poses giant risks for both Pakistan and the United States. For Pakistan, it can increase domestic instability, make the civilian government appear illegitimate, and incite further radicalization amongst the country's more susceptible population. For the United States, the scars of Iraq and unilateral military action are still fresh, and any perception of acting "alone', particularly against Muslims, raises a host of questions the US would rather ignore. However, like Pakistan, America is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you locate high value targets inside a sovereign nation, do you act immediately and ask questions later, or engage in diplomacy that could risk the operation? Do the rewards outweigh the risks?

In this instance, I would argue that the US made a major mistake in invading Pakistani territory; not on the premise, just on the timing. Were they to nab bin Laden or al-Zawahiri, then perhaps the incursion could be justified. The fact that they yielded no tangible benefits, at least publicly, is problematic. Act once, and you are acting out of necessity. Act twice, and you’re getting greedy.

What do you think? Justified or Inexcusable?



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;


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