Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Surge' Of US Special Forces Expected In Pakistan In Early 2008

In the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a 'surge' of US Special Forces for Pakistan's remote tribal lands is unlikely to face heavy opposition from President Musharraf, who will be busy trying to stop his own name, and that of his political party, from being linked with Bhutto's assassins.

The shock of Bhutto's death, so close to the January 8 elections which were tipped to see her elected prime minister, is also likely to lessen public opposition to the increase of US troops inside Pakistan.

This report, published today in The Australian newspaper, appeared on the Murdoch media portal within half an hour of the confirmation of the announcement of Bhutto's death (excerpts) :
US Special Forces are to increase their presence in Pakistan amid assessments that the country is to become the central battlefield for al-Qaida as it is driven from Iraq.

"Pakistan should be carefully watched because it could prove to be a significant flashpoint in the coming year," US think tank Strategic Forecasting said in an evaluation of al-Qaida's tactics as the Islamist group comes under mounting pressure in Iraq.

With the "rapid spread of Talibanisation" in Pakistan's insurgent northwest, the country would become "especially important if the trend in Iraq continues to go against the jihadis and they are driven from Iraq", the assessment said.

"As the global headquarters for the al-Qaida leadership, Pakistan has long been a significant stronghold on the ideological battlefield."

The Stratfor assessment coincided with reports from Washington suggesting US Special Forces would expand their presence in Pakistan in the new year.

The boost in US forces was part of an effort to train and support Pakistan's army in its fight to stem the al-Qaida and Taliban-linked insurgency.

The Washington reports reflected Pentagon frustration with the Pakistani counter-insurgency effort, and said the head of the US Special Operations Command, Admiral Eric T. Olson, had made a series of visits to the country for discussions with senior military leaders.

"The first US (Special Forces) personnel could be on the ground in Pakistan early in the new year", the report said.

US Central Command chief Admiral William Fallon said the US forces would provide training and mentoring based on the US experience with the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

...the US reports coincided with the disclosure of an ambitious 15-year "anti-terror investment plan" for Pakistan that has been high on the agenda of US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in recent visits to Islamabad.

Bhutto's murder is set to lead to the opening of a new front in the 'War on Terror' inside Pakistan, which has the potential to be as deadly, and terror-ridden, as the current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.