Two good reporters for the New York Times, Mark Maqzzetti and Dexter Filkins, write today that the United States is preparing for send troops across the border into Pakistan in pursuit of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and any other bad guys they can find. If there’s a worse idea, I don't know what it is. But it’s at least consistent with Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign statements that he’d carry the war across the border to get Osama bin Laden, remarks that drew horrified opposition from Obama’s election rival, John McCain, the noted dove.
The idea, reported by the Times, isn’t policy yet. Thankfully. Like President Nixon’s decision to expand the war in Vietnam into Cambodia in pursuit of alleged Viet Cong “sanctuaries”—a decision that hugely destabilized Cambodia and led to millions of deaths—a policy of attacking Pakistan would destabilize that country, too, and serve only to push the sanctuaries deeper into Pakistan.
The Times report is already getting pushback and denials all around, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. At the very least, the Times report signifies that the military or the White House is seriously considering the proposal. Following last week’s ersatz review of Afghanistan policy, after which the White House apparently concluded that everything is fine over there except for the fact that the insurgents have bases in Pakistan, it’s not surprising that hawks in the Obama administration are pushing to expand the war.
Reports the Times: “Senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants there … United States commanders have renewed their push for approval to send American commando teams into Pakistan.
The article is careful to note that the proposal hasn’t been approved, that Obama would have to personally OK it, and that there would at least be a “debate” about it.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the NATO command—not quite the same thing as “United States commanders”—has issued a “sharply worded statement” denying that it’s planning to move into Pakistan. “Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the deputy chief of staff for communications for the NATO force, said there was ‘absolutely no truth’ to reports of planned ground operations by US forces inside Pakistan.
Among the downsides of barging into Pakistan is the fact that if Islamabad becomes too grouchy about the US action, it could slow down or cut off the resupply of American and NATO forces, the vast bulk of which is trucked from Pakistani ports across the Afghanistan border.