- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Lyndon Johnson’s “secret war in Laos” long has been a touchstone for liberal indignation over America’s history of covert conflicts. Leftist critics, however, have been remarkably silent over the growing secret war in Pakistan. This war should escalate.

Between 2001 and 2008, U.S. operations in Pakistan were limited, owing mostly to Bush administration deference to then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who warned that stirring up the tribal areas would do more harm than good. This changed in the late summer of 2008, when Mr. Musharraf lost power and Asif Ali Zardari was elected president. The Bush administration expanded the frequency and intensity of drone attacks inside Pakistan, a policy the Obama administration has continued. In the last three weeks, 100 suspected militants have been killed in western Pakistan by American drone strikes.

The Obama administration also has continued to use the 3,000-man paramilitary Counterterrorist Pursuit Team, an elite force established in 2002 made up of Afghans but trained by the CIA in the United States. The paramilitaries reportedly conduct operations on both sides of the border. There have been limited International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) conventional operations inside Pakistan as well. Last weekend, NATO helicopter gunships crossed over the border into Pakistan in two separate raids, killing more than 70 insurgents. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the attacks, calling them “a clear violation and breach of the U.N. mandate, under which ISAF operates.” Islamabad threatened, “in the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options.”

Pakistan’s umbrage is mostly bluff. There is no love lost for the insurgents who operate along the border with Afghanistan, and many of the terrorists being taken out by U.S. drones are more active inside Pakistan than outside. The August 2009 drone strike that killed Pakistan Taliban leader and al Qaeda supporter Beitullah Mehsud may have been ordered in part because Mehsud was widely suspected to be behind the assassination of President Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, in December 2007. Some of the CIA-operated drones wreaking havoc in the frontier areas are based inside Pakistan. This was reported in the U.S. press in 2008 and inadvertently confirmed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, during a public hearing in February 2009.

These operations would be impossible without the Pakistani government’s complicity. Thus, while Islamabad issues public statements condemning U.S. operations inside Pakistan to maintain plausible deniability, the only “response options” the government seems to contemplate are more angry press releases. It helps that there is nary a peep emerging from Mr. Obama’s antiwar supporters over these clandestine, quasi-legal operations.

According to Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” the United States has developed a “retribution” plan to bomb 150 terrorist sites inside Pakistan should America be hit by another Sept. 11-style terrorist attack involving Pakistan-based terrorists. It’s a mistake to wait for an attack on our homeland. If the plan is in place and the targets selected, why not attack them now? There may be limits to the scale of attacks Islamabad could safely ignore, but if America suffers a major terrorist attack on President Obama’s watch that could have been pre-empted, he won’t be able to count on the national unity Mr. Bush enjoyed nine years ago. Before Sept. 11, 2001, we weren’t at war with terrorists; now we are. Since the secret of the war inside Pakistan is out, America needs to finish the job.

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