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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Obama Won't Confirm Nor Deny Possible Pakistani Invasion Plans

White House Won't Rule Out Troops for Pakistan War (Updated)

By Noah Shachtman
March 27, 2009 | 6:08:00

President Obama has just laid out his new war strategy. And he's made it clear that the fight is both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I asked Dennis McDonough, with the National Security Council: Does that mean U.S. ground forces in Pakistan? Or more drone attacks? "I'm not going to comment on the notions you laid out there," he answered, during a White House conference call with bloggers.

But during a separate press conference, Bruce Reidel, who recently completed a strategy review of the region for the White House, offered some hints. "Thus far, our policy sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries, but one theater of operations for our diplomacy, and one challenge for our overall policy," he said. "We have very concrete proposals for increasing economic assistance to Pakistan, proposals that have already been put forward by the Congress. We're also looking at what we can do on the military side."

Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, added, "I certainly believe we are going to be increasing our intelligence focus in this [Afghan-Pakistan] theater, and as opportunities arise that may increase the pace of operations, as well."

Richard Holbrooke, the administration special envoy to the region, said about Pakistan: "of all the dilemmas, problems and challenges we face, that's going to be the most daunting, because it's a sovereign country and there is a red line. And the red line is unambiguous and stated publicly by the Pakistani government over and over again: No foreign troops on our soil." Last week, Holbrooke said "we must respect" that "red line." Yet, when given the opportunity today to state unambiguously that U.S. troops won't go to Pakistan, administration officials didn't give a clear answer. If anything, they side-stepped the question.

Draw your own conclusions. Maybe I'm reading too much into this. But to me, they're saying: Yes, there could well be more forces (both human and robotic). We'd just rather not talk about them.

UPDATE: In an interview on the Pentagon Channel, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked whether American troops would go after Osama bin Laden or one of his top lieutenants, if they were found in Pakistan. His answer:

"I don't anticipate that U.S. troops would be going into Pakistan in that way. A big part of what the President announced today is a new kind of partnership with Pakistan, including economic assistance. But also a willingness to help train their forces and provide the gear that would allow them to improve their own capabilities in counterinsurgency. What is key here is the regionalization of the problem and getting Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together on both sides of that border to go after al Qaeda and it allies...

"Al Qaeda operates on both sides of that border. And you really have to go after al Qaeda and its allies on both sides of that border. And what's required here is just greater coordination and collaboration -- first of all, between the Afghans and the Pakistanis, but also between each of them and ourselves. Both on a bilateral basis and on a trilateral basis, I think we have to go after these guys on both sides of the border." (emphasis mine)

Later in the blogger conference call, Spencer Ackerman asked McDonough about what the President really means by "disrupting" and "defeating" al Qaeda. His answers were... well, a little unexpected.

McDonough defined "disrupting" as making sure Osama's pals couldn't carry out attacks in Europe or America any more.  The terror cell or cells could still be intact - just impotent. Which is different from how I've imagined a "disrupted " al Qaeda before.

But the really interesting answer was about "defeating" the Osama-ites. Sure, there's a harcorde element that "has to be met by force alone." But not everyone has to to be turned into Predator flambe. To make sure new recruits don't take the place of the fried ones, "the violent, hopeless future offered by Al Qaeda is outshone by different opportunities" in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As Ackerman points out, "Notice that 'defeat' here is has an ideological meaning, and its primary measurement comes from the perceptions of Afghans and Pakistanis themselves."


My Thoughts

This could just be posturing by Obama. I find it a little hard to believe that a hardcore anti-Iraq war congressman would turn into a president who is willing to invade another country. That is something he criticized Bush for relentlessly for 2 years on the campaign trail. It could be seen a too big of a flip-flop or hypocritical of Obama to send troops into the Afghan neighbor.

When is Code Pink and the other anti-war protestors going to protest Obama for implementing a surge in Afghanistan and implying that a war with tribal leaders in Pakistan might be possible? Is Ed Schultz going to call Obama a "warmonger" as he did McCain?

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