The National Intelligence Council, the U.S. intelligence
community's focal point for estimating future developments, warned the George
W. Bush administration last month that a decision to launch commando raids
by U.S. troops against al-Qaeda-related targets in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier
region would carry a high risk of further destabilizing the Pakistani military
and government, according to sources familiar with the intelligence community's
response to the issue.
That blunt warning was conveyed to the White House in an oral briefing by
a top official of the NIC two or three weeks ago, according to Philip Giraldi,
former operations officer and counter-terrorist specialist in the CIA Directorate
of Operations, who maintains contacts with the intelligence community.
Another source, who has been briefed by NIC officials on the issue, confirms
that the NIC message, representing a consensus in the intelligence community,
was conveyed to the Bush administration in August, just as an intense debate
over whether to carry out commando raids against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets
in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan was still under
The source, who asked not to be identified because of the confidentiality
of his contacts with the NIC, said the White House was warned that if U.S.
commando raids continued over a longer period of time, the NIC believes they
could threaten the unity of the Pakistani military.
U.S. special operations forces based at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan
carried out a commando raid in South Waziristan on Sept. 3, which reportedly
killed as many as 20 people, most of whom were apparently civilians. Both the
New York Times and Washington Post said top officials indicated
this was only the beginning of wider campaign of raids against al-Qaeda and
Taliban targets in the frontier area of Pakistan.
The Pakistani government lodged a diplomatic protest over the raid, and the
Pakistani parliament condemned it in a resolution.
The intelligence community believes U.S. military incursions into Pakistan
will benefit the political-military organizations allied with the Taliban that
are seeking to destabilize the national government in Islamabad.
Patrick Lang, former defense intelligence officer for the Middle East at the
Defense Intelligence Agency, told IPS he understands the intelligence community
issued a "pretty clear warning" against the commando raid. "They
said, in effect, if you want to see the Pakistani government collapse, go right
ahead," Lang said.
A key to the strategy of Islamic extremists in the FATA region in northwest
Pakistan is believed to be winning over troops in both the Frontier Corps,
the militia recruited from the local population, and the regular Pakistani
army. The Pakistani military rejected a proposal earlier this year from U.S.
military leaders for U.S. special operations officers to train units of the
Frontier Corps in counter-insurgency, along with use of cash payments to obtain
their cooperation against the Taliban and its allies.
But the intelligence community regards the Frontier Corps as already "wavering,"
the source familiar with NIC thinking says, and it is feared that U.S. military
raids would cause more of those units to actively support the militant Islamic
organizations in the FATA.
The intelligence community's greatest fear, according to the source, is the
impact of anti-U.S. anger on the morale of the regular Pakistani army. One
reason for that concern is the fact that a disproportionate percentage of the
army officers serving in the region are Pashtun. The tribal population of the
FATA is largely Pashtun, and if the U.S. commando raids continue beyond a few
months, analysts believe they could provoke large-scale defections from the
Pakistani army serving in the FATA.
Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy, a veteran journalist
and author specializing in Pakistan affairs, agreed in an interview that the
raids, along with targeted missile strikes that have caused many civilian casualties,
are likely to strain the loyalties of Pashtun army officers serving in the
In an article in the International Herald Tribune in August 2007, Harrison
warned that the Pashtun-based radical movement in the northwest "could
lead to the unification of the estimated 41 million Pashtuns on both sides
of the border, the breakup of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the emergence of
a new national entity, 'Pashtunistan,' under radical Islamist leadership."
Although the NIC is responsible for producing national intelligence estimates,
it has not been asked to provide any estimate on the potential consequences
of a policy of raids by U.S. special operations forces against targets in the
FATA believed to be linked to al-Qaeda, according to the former CIA official.
Ironically, it was the July 2007 national intelligence estimate produced by
the NIC on al-Qaeda that contributed to growing pressures for direct U.S. military
actions in Pakistan. The conclusion of NIE that al-Qaeda enjoyed a safe haven
in Pakistan, which had become the primary center of its operations worldwide,
was highly publicized and highly charged politically.
The Pakistani military reacted to the U.S. raid last week by citing the danger
that it would provoke new attacks by militants in the frontier area. The New
York Times quoted the spokesman for the Pakistani military, Gen. Athar
Abbas, as warning that, because of the killing of civilians, there is now a
greater risk that tribesmen who have supported the Pakistani soldiers and opposed
the Taliban in the past will shift their loyalties out of anger.
"Such actions are completely counterproductive and can result in huge
losses, because it gives the civilians a cause to rise against the Pakistani
military," Abbas was quoted as saying.
According to Pakistan's leading daily newspaper, Dawn, Pakistan's National
Security Council received an intelligence report in June 2007 on the "Talibanization"
of the region, which cited "the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan"
and the "growing feeling among Muslims that they are under attack"
as factors contributing to the "growing insurgency" in the region.
(Inter Press Service)