Team Obama will be holding a war council of sorts this week, as top Pakistani and Afghan officials come to Washington as part of Obama’s ongoing review of the conflict. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta will meet with, among others, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Richard Holbrooke, and Bruce Riedel, who’s coordinating the administration’s rethink. A whole passel of military officials from the region will be here, too.
But what’s troubling so far about the administration’s signals on Afghanistan and Pakistan is that it’s all tilted toward war and “counterinsurgency,” and there’s precious little being said about negotiations, deal-making with the Taliban, and diplomacy.
It’s not only that Obama has ordered the deployment of 17,000 more US troops. The administration is escalating Predator and Reaper air strikes against targets in both countries, and, according to both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times the air strikes are being quietly supported by Pakistan, even as Pakistan’s top officials criticize them in public. The Times reported that Obama has expanded the air strikes to attacks on the Pakistani Taliban, who are gaining momentum in that country, even as they continue to hit Al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Pakistan who use the tribal areas there as a base for the Afghan insurgency. An important story in the Journal last week, entitled, “Pakistan Lends Support for U.S. Military Strikes,” said:
“Pakistan’s leaders have publicly denounced U.S. missile strikes as an attack on the country’s sovereignty, but privately Pakistani military and intelligence officers are aiding these attacks and have given significant support to recent U.S. missions, say officials from both countries.”
The cat’s out of the bag as far as US-Pakistani cooperation goes now, with Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, blurting out at a recent hearing that US air strikes are flown from military bases in Pakistan, not elsewhere. “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,” she said.