NEWS

Pakistani Tribes May Be Recruited to Help U.S. Against al Qaeda

By Matthew Harwood

The strategy used by the U.S. military to fight al Qaeda insurgents in Iraq's Anbar province may be exported Pakistan's lawless frontier lands,The New York Times reports .

If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States now has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach.

The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships, to be forged in this case by Pakistani troops backed by the United States, can be made without a significant American military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes, some of which are working with Pakistan's intelligence agency.

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) staff proposal has been circulated to counterterrorism experts, but USSOCOM leadership has not yet approved it. According to anonymous sources that spoke with The Times, the 24-page plan lays out military and nonmilitary incentives to persuade Pakistani tribes to align with U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

A portion of the strategy has already been approved by Pakistan and the United States, but needs funding. The Times reports Pakistan awaits $350 million from the United States to train the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary organization 85,000 members strong, recruited from the country's border tribes. Questions remain about the Frontier Corps' allegiance, as American and NATO troops in Afghanistan allege the paramilitary organization has helped Taliban insurgents mount cross-border attacks.

The article notes the renewed urgency of dealing with al Qaeda in the tribal areas as Pakistan slides into overt authoritarianism and political instability.  Counterterrorism and intelligence experts fear the shift will strengthen al Qaeda's firm hold over the tribal areas and make it easier for militants to carry out cross-border attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.

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