FATA: The United States Vietnam

A Z Hilali

Since the incident of 9/11 Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) have been hitting world headlines because of the US and NATO security operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In fact, allied forces have initiated undeclared and unjustified war in tribal areas in a brutal manner to search the swelling forces of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s border regions and have been created regrettable condition by the air strikes, in which they have killed hundreds of innocent and armless Pakistani citizens, including women and children and the situation has posed a grave and alarming threat to Pakistan’s security and sovereignty. In the recent past US-led forces in Afghanistan have violated, many times, Pakistan’s air-space and land areas (Bajaur, North and South Waziristan) and by this way the local residents have been panicked and harassed with the arrival of the jetfighters and friendly bombardments. It has also learnt from the local people that it has become normal routine of the US spy planes that they will enter in the Pakistan’s territory and flying at such a low altitude without hesitation and the central government never reacted accordingly. The news also appeared that the US have reached consensus on launching grand strike to curb bloody cross-border attacks and crushing a resurgent of Al-Qaeda along the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a recent statement, the President George W. Bush mentioned that extremists are coming out of parts of Pakistan into Afghanistan and it is troubling to us. In the same way, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Chairman, Joint chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen also indicated that the US has planned to transfer more US troops and weapons from Iraq to Afghanistan on urgent basis to accelerate military operations against Al-Qaeda elements. The New York Times in its issue on July 14, 2008 clearly revealed how the Taliban were taking over territory, using the income they exact to strengthen their position and turn themselves into a self-sustaining fighting force. From the security of border region the Taliban have deployed their fighters and suicide bombers in two different directions: against NATO and American forces over the border in southern Afghanistan and against Pakistani forces-police, army and intelligence officials – in NWFP areas. In the circumstances, the US-led allied troops recently initiated extraordinary movement in Afghan territories along North Waziristan’s Pak-Afghan border areas (Lawara Mandi and Beermal). This situation has caused extreme form of anxiety among the people of FATA and adjacent areas of NWFP. The news also indicated that the US poised to stage “hot pursuit” raids on FATA and doing exercises in eastern Afghan provinces to counter Taliban attacks on US and NATO troops. So, the troops backed by helicopter gunships, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and also equipped with modern and sophisticated weapons. Thus, due to the fear of attack a large number of civilians have already migrated from Waziristan, Kurram, Bajaur, Swat and Hangu to peaceful areas of the province and many are shifting themselves indifferent parts of Punjab and Sindh, particularly in Karachi. So, Islamabad is under growing pressure from the United States to curb cross-border attacks by Taliban militants and the lawmakers – Gene Green, D-Houston, Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo – mentioned to the Houston Chronicle in separate interviews that the plans for stepped-up US military operations were in response to Pakistan’s failure to disrupt terrorist training camps and cross-border attacks from the FATA areas. Moreover, the Bush administration is recalibrating US operations in the region because of a 40 per cent increase in violent attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan that have pushed US casualties in the month of June 2008 beyond the monthly death ratio in Iraq. For the full US-led coalition in Afghanistan the death toll was 46, and that was the highest monthly total of the entire war, which began in October 2001 and it was the deadliest year for American troops in Afganistan. According to President Bush, it has been a tough month in Afghanistan due to the one reason that our troops are taking the fight to a tough enemy. In fact, the fundamental fault of US policy towards FATA is its unnecessary dependence on the Indian and Northern Alliance sources which have proved wrong and inaccurate. Thus, as long as they will rely on New Delhi and Kabul they will face a tough and difficult time in FATA and Afghanistan. It is a grave misunderstanding of the US policy makers that India and Northern Alliance are reliable allies, and by the advices of these partners they will win war in Afghanistan and clean dirty mess in FATA region. In reality, the US continues dependence on New Delhi and Kabul can create a Vietnam like or even worst situation for NATO and the United States. It is no doubt that US forces are lacking basic information about the areas and even have no understanding about the culture of tribal people and have also severe misunderstanding about the strength of Taliban. So, there is no way-out for US to exit respectfully from FATA and Afghanistan until they will not depend on Islamabad and its military establishment and without the cooperation of Pakistan these areas will remain problematic for all involved external actors. However, it is a more appropriate time that US must learn lesson from the Vietnam humiliation and also remember the severe causes of Soviets defeat in Afghanistan. The US is repeating the same errors and mistakes as they made in Vietnam, and the Soviets did it in Afghanistan. The overarching geopolitical aim behind the United States involvement in FATA is to contain terrorists in tribal areas but they are facing serious dual-tracked threat: Taliban insurgency in FATA and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and ultimately fighting a major war in the region. Although the United States is heavily committed itself militarily to contain Taliban in FATA but the debate is closely related to the controversy over whether the problem is primarily political and economic rather than military. In fact, the US adopted the wrong strategy to precede the matter and assumed that the problem in FATA can only be resolved through military means rather by using efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people. In this regard, the United States military efforts basically provoke local people and create serious affects on the US public opinion. Many assumptions which have dominated US foreign and military policy since 2001 but completely fail to achieve objectives. They are unsuccessful to conduct war through search and then destroy enemy sanctuaries in FATA region. It became increasingly clear that the present strategy of war against terrorism is dysfunctional and could not work because of the Taliban’s capacity to replace losses far higher than the US-NATO forces. So, the war in FATA has many faces. It is at once an insurrection by indigenous trained man-power, and an invasion by the regular army such NATO the US. It is a war of snipers and ambushes, booby traps and pitched battles. The location of the fighting ranged from FATA to Afghanistan inhabited “gun basket” in the remote mountain areas. Thus, determination of the US forces and brutally difficult terrain combined to negate the effects of American technology and presented dramatic challenges to US military skills and strategists. Yet while it is in the greatest interests of the US that they should not prolong war in FATA regions rather they should avoid to involve in a highly thankless job and as soon as they will be out of the area they will be safe from human cost and material losses. They should remember that over a span of nearly seven decades, its all strategies failed to mobilize fully and effectively political, social, and economic resources to foster a popular base of support. The setback suffered by the US in FATA is basically rooted in a failure of its military and political strategy. So, the US war in FATA thus provides a cautionary tale for American strategic decision-makers about the crucial importance of thinking clearly about native society. The lessons are relating with military strategy to national policy and by improperly understanding the nature of the conflict. The US failure in FATA stemmed from trying to fight a traditional conventional war when the conflict’s nature demanded counterinsurgency efforts. The war has proved that the US military strategists are unable to fathom the problem and needs great strategic skills but certainly not excitement. Nevertheless, the long war will exhaust American forces in FATA and the best lesson which history tells the world is that “it is difficult to conquer tribals and it is too difficult to keep it.


The Frontier Post, 22/7/2008

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