WASHINGTON -- A new and classified U.S. military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, U.S. military officials said.
If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would likely expand the presence of U.S. military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective, and pay militias that agreed to fight al-Qaida and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach.
The new proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by U.S. forces in Anbar province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships can be forged without a significant U.S. military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes.
The broader move toward more local support is being accelerated because of concern about instability in Pakistan and the weakness of the Pakistani government, as well as fears that extremists with havens in the tribal areas could escalate their attacks on allied troops in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, Islamic militants sympathetic to al-Qaida and the Taliban have extended their reach beyond the frontier areas into more settled areas, notably the mountainous region of Swat.
The tribal proposal, a strategy paper prepared by staff members of the U.S. Special Operations Command, has been circulated to counterterrorism experts but has not been formally approved by the command's headquarters in Tampa, Fla. Some elements of the campaign have been approved in principle by the Americans and Pakistanis and await financing, such as $350 million over several years to help train and equip the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that has about 85,000 members and is recruited from border tribes.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has used billions of dollars in aid and heavy political pressure to encourage Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, to carry out more aggressive military operations against militants in the tribal areas.
Yesterday, the Pakistani government dismissed a last-ditch U.S. call to end the emergency rule that Musharraf declared Nov. 3. Pakistan said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte brought no new proposals on a make-or-break visit, and that he received no assurances after urging Musharraf to restore the constitution and free thousands of political opponents. The sporadic military campaigns that Pakistan has conducted in tribal areas have had little success, resulting in heavy losses among Pakistani army units and anger among residents who have for decades been mostly independent from Islamabad.
U.S. officials acknowledge those failures but say that the renewed emphasis on recruiting allies among the tribal militias and investing more heavily in the Frontier Corps reflect the depth of U.S. concern about the need to address Islamic extremism in Pakistan.
The new counterinsurgency campaign is an example of the U.S. military's asserting a bigger role in a part of Pakistan that the CIA has overseen almost exclusively since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Small numbers of U.S. military personnel have served as advisers at the division and corps level of the Pakistani army in the tribal areas, giving planning advice and helping to integrate U.S. intelligence, said a senior U.S. officer with long service in the region.
Historically, U.S. Special Forces have gone into foreign countries to work with local militaries to improve the security of those countries in ways that help U.S. interests. Under this new approach, the number of advisers would increase, officials said.
U.S. officials said these security improvements complement a package of assistance from the Agency for International Development and the State Department for the seven districts of the tribal areas that amounts to $750 million over five years, and will involve work in education, health and other sectors. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs is assisting the Frontier Corps with financing for counternarcotics work.
Some details of the security improvements have been reported by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. But the classified proposal to enlist tribal leaders is new.
"The DOD is about to start funding the Frontier Corps," one military official said, referring to the Department of Defense. "We have only got a portion of that requested, but it is enough to start."