The U.S. has compiled a wide body of intelligence on the locations of militant training camps in Pakistan, but has been unable to persuade Islamabad to shut them down, current and former officials say.
A former senior administration official said the biggest concern is a network of camps in North Waziristan from which the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked groups train and recruit fighters, as well as build improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Some of the camps are associated with the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group that carries out attacks on NATO troops from its hide-outs in North Waziristan and which is widely believed to have links to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Persuading Pakistan to crack down in North Waziristan is taking on added importance. NATO plans in coming months to step up its counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan’s Regional Command East — or RC-East, as it is called — after ridding the southern region around Kandahar of many Taliban safe havens.
The new war in the east could be hamstrung if the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups are allowed to simply cross back into North Waziristan’s safe havens.
“We have had broad conversations with Pakistan about North Waziristan and the reasons for intervention,” the former official said. “There have been wide-ranging discussions about extremist groups in Pakistan and what should be done about them. Training capabilities of these groups have been part of the conversation.”
It has not been an easy conversation, as reflected in the recent U.S. decision to withhold $800 million in military aid for Pakistan — a tangible sign of Washington’s frustration over Islamabad’s lack of progress in North Waziristan, among other concerns.
A White House spokesman declined to comment to The Washington Times when asked whether the U.S. had provided Pakistan with its intelligence on training camps.
The dilemma is that information that U.S. forces share with their Pakistani counterparts can find its way to the militants, who then change their tactics or locations, the former official said.
News reports last month said the U.S. provided Pakistan with information on bomb-making plants, only to see the sites evacuated afterward.
Pakistan does not allow NATO ground troops to cross into its territory to attack insurgents. The killing of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town on May 2 by Navy SEALs was conducted without Islamabad’s prior approval.
The U.S. is limited to CIA-directed drone strikes on individual compounds in an effort to kill militant leaders.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, told The Times that the situation may come to a point where the Obama administration has no choice other than to launch attacks into Pakistan. He declined to specify the types of attacks.
“These are established, vetted safe havens that operate in Pakistan,” Mr. Hunter said. “They rest up, then they come back across with materiel and supplies and new guys to attack our troops. We know where these guys are down to a [small area on a map].”
The likelihood that the Obama administration would launch attacks into Pakistan is questionable, considering the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Yet the administration has stepped up drone attacks in Pakistan’s northern tribal areas and did approve the bin Laden raid without Islamabad’s prior knowledge.
Mr. Hunter, who just returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, added: “I think what has to be done, we have to deny the terrorists safe haven. We have to let Pakistan know we have to go after targets that are so embarrassing to them and so obvious to the world community [that] when Pakistan cries ‘foul,’ everybody just kind of laughs at it and shrugs it off and says, ‘Good job, America.’ And those targets are available. The super downside to that is, you widen the war.”
In a teleconference from Afghanistan last week, Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the deputy U.S. commander, told Pentagon reporters that Pakistan’s military “needs to do more.”
“What we really need is less of the IEDs and the homemade explosives across that border, as well as some of the bomb-makers and leadership that moves across that border,” Gen. Rodriguez said. “And those are the types of support and help that we continue to work with our ‘Pak’ mil partners to help us with.
“We’ve seen that in selected areas, but again, not as much as we would like. And we all think and know that they need to do more. That’s what we work with them on every day to do. … We need more support and help from the Pakistani military,” Gen. Rodriguez said.
“We continue to coordinate and build the relationships so that we can better synchronize our plans across that border.”
The former senior administration official said Pakistan has told U.S. diplomats that its military is stretched too thinly to open another theater of war in North Waziristan. The government also fears a backlash from Islamic militants.
But Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, said Pakistan’s army and its powerful ISI continue to play both sides in the U.S. war on terrorism.
“We’re going to have to continue to work with them,” the Michigan Republican said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “They do help us in some ways. But this is incredibly concerning when they continue to have these problems with helping bad guys.”