By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, June 12, 2008 4:20 PM PT
War On Terror: America’s top military official has just returned from Pakistan with a sobering prediction: The next attack on the U.S. will likely originate from within Pakistan, our strategic ally.
Read More: Global War On Terror | Middle East & North Africa
Pakistan is not our enemy, yet our enemy is operating safely from within its borders, concludes Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And there’s not much we can do about it under the current political arrangement.
In Pakistan’s western tribal regions, known as the FATA, al-Qaida’s central command has set up its most secure base since the fall of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, Mullen says. And it’s now training Western-looking terrorists there to slip security and hit America.
“I believe fundamentally if the United States is going to get hit, it’s going to come out of the planning that the leadership in the FATA is generating,” Mullen said in a recent interview. “I’m not saying it is guaranteed to happen, or that it’s imminent. But clearly we know the planning is taking place.”
Mullen returned from his third trip to Pakistan in six months and said he has grown increasingly frustrated with each visit.
This time, he publicly urged his counterparts in the Pakistani military to stop negotiating with tribal militants and move on al-Qaida strongholds to flush the terrorists out of the region. Islamabad forbids U.S. troops based in Afghanistan to cross the border and help eradicate the terrorists, even when the troops are attacked from inside Pakistan.
Mullen’s impatience only deepens our long-held skepticism about the strategic value of partnering with Islamabad, whose cooperation has been spotty at best.
His warnings come on the heels of a GAO report which found that terrorists are still operating freely in a “vast unpoliced region” along the Pakistani border, despite the U.S. showering Pakistan with $11 billion in military and economic aid since 9/11.
The GAO warned that Washington lacks a comprehensive plan to defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan. Indeed it does. In the absence of boots on the ground, it has resorted to firing missiles at suspected terrorist targets from unmanned drones. It’s a hit-or-miss strategy that has produced limited results.
And there aren’t enough drones in operation to make a dent in all the al-Qaida camps and safe houses cropping up in northwestern Pakistan. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently complained that “it’s been like pulling teeth” to send more Predator drones there.
This week, after Pakistan-based insurgents attacked coalition positions in Afghanistan, U.S. jets dropped more than a dozen bombs inside the Pakistan border. Pakistan complained that the bombs killed 11 Pakistani soldiers and 10 other people in northwest Pakistan.
While we fight at the margins — in deference to Islamabad, which has hamstrung our operations with unreasonable restrictions — al-Qaida only grows stronger.
Mullen laments that, in effect, the only thing lying between al-Qaida and an encore attack on the U.S. is the Pakistani army, which is infested with al-Qaida sympathizers. We can’t even share electronic intercepts and other raw intelligence for fear that the Pakistani military will tip off al-Qaida.
Two days after 9/11, the administration delivered several demands to Islamabad with the threat that it either agree to meet them or be bombed back into the Stone Age.
One of the demands was to help America destroy Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. Another was providing territorial access to conduct all necessary operations against the terrorists and those who harbor them, including locations near the border.
Pakistan has met neither, in effect calling our bluff.
It’s now plain from Mullen’s stark warning that taming the Pakistani badlands and smoking out al-Qaida leaders who have found refuge there is of towering importance to protecting the homeland.
The Bush doctrine of acting pre-emptively against terrorist threats counsels that “the greater the threat, the greater the risk of inaction. . . . The U.S. cannot remain idle while dangers gather.”
Do these words not apply to the ominous threat growing inside Pakistan?