Washington, Jan.28 : The success of anti-terror operations in landlocked Afghanistan is dependent on stability in Pakistan, several American military experts believe.
According to Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S.Joint Chiefs of Staff, instability in Pakistan in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination and the militant backlash in the tribal badlands bordering Afghanistan is a matter that should be of grave concern to Washington, "both in the near term and the long term."
However, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, President Bush's Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, told The Charlie Rose Show on PBS TV that "We're not losing in Afghanistan. The Taliban is not winning, but we have a lot of work to do."
Lt.Gen.Lute acknowledged that winning on the battlefield won't suffice "unless we can put those tactical military wins together with improved governance by the Karzai regime and improved, coherent reconstruction packages on the economic scene."
"There's no solution in Afghanistan that doesn't have to do with a solution in Pakistan,and the reason for that is the demographics of the fight," Lt.Gen. Lute added.
Stating that both Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked in so far as the problem of insurgency is concerned, he said the need of the hour is to tackle the menace head-on on two fronts simultaneously.
He said the Pashtun belt of people and tribes is divided by the Afghan-Pakistan border. So it's not enough to argue that all the pieces are in place to win in Afghanistan, if in fact the Pashtun rebellion, the Pashtun insurgency resides just across the border in Pakistan.
mbassador Dell Dailey, the State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism told defense reporters last week that Washington is unlikely to engage in unilateral strikes on al-Qaida or Taliban insurgents hiding out in Pakistan's remote northwest region.
A more likely scenario would be U.S. military aid to Pakistan - if it is requested. "In those areas where they solicit assistance, we'll provide it," Dailey said.
Dailey said a current working U.S. development plan would be a six-year, two billion dollar effort that would include a military component to "reinforce, train, probably restructure" the Pakistani Frontier Corps, composed of local citizens led by Pakistani army officers.
Last week, U.S. Central Command commander Admiral William Fallon said the plan includes intelligence sharing, increased cross-border cooperation and helping the Pakistani military increase capabilities - presumably counterinsurgency skills.
Admiral Mullen said the U.S. has supplied training assistance to Pakistan "for some time," but that it takes the form of reimbursements for assistance in the war on terror and training Pakistani officers at U.S. war colleges. Other than that "normal security assistance," adding that he was not aware of any U.S. troops currently working with the Pakistani military.
While Pakistani efforts to take control of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas - a rugged 10,888-square-mile area in the northwest part of the country, adjacent to Afghanistan's border - are largely considered a failure so far, Dailey said the new Pakistani army chief of staff, General Asfaq Kiyani, has taken actions "that have shown a deliberate ability to engage, and that's the conventional ops that have taken place in the Swat Valley. I think we've got some aggressive activity that will take place in the ... Northwest Province area, in the short term."
Major General David Rodriguez, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 82, is of the view that cross-border insurgent infiltration is down lately because of the political instability within Pakistan, cold winter weather and "some success" in border interdiction.
He said the U.S. has "great" military-to-military coordination with the Pakistan military and issued an upbeat assessment of the work in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan will become self-reliant, self-securing and committed to a representative government," Rodriguez said. "This can be accomplished with realistic objectives, continued international support and expanded regional support."
While signs of progress in security, infrastructure and governmental organization can be seen, 2007 was also the most violent in Afghanistan since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001.
The opium poppy trade that U.S. officials say fuels the Taliban resurgence enjoyed a record crop. And U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about the porous border with neighboring Pakistan.
U.S. officials believe the enemy "will try to increase the number of suicide bombers.
According to Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, the enemy is less likely to try to move big formations and to take on the alliance toe-to-toe.
"If there are not improvements in the Afghan national police and their ability, I think he will continue to go at them hard and fast, as he has this year," Gen. McNeill added.
A total of 107 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2007 - the most ever, according to icasualties.org. The tiny Afghan National Army Air Corps provides one example of the need for long-range support. As on January 5, the entire corps was composed of four fixed-wing transport aircraft and 16 helicopters. The corps has 180 pilots, but their average age is 43, some haven't flown in 15 years, and only 30 percent of them are flying at all.
That means that unless the political winds shift dramatically, U.S. air forces will be flying close air support combat missions in Afghanistan until at least 2013 - about the time that Iraq estimates it will be able to defend itself against internal threats.
The current force in Afghanistan pales in comparison to the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. McNeill has 42,000 troops under his command, 14,000 of them Americans. Combined Joint Task Force 82 currently numbers 14,000 U.S. and 1,200 coalition troops. Of the 575.4 billion dollars set aside for the wars in Iraq and Afgahnistan, only 126.8 billion dollars is being allocated for operations in Afghanistan.