January 28, 2004

Late to the Party

Daniel Drezner is tracking signs that the Pentagon is finally--after more than two years--about to do something constructive in the War on Terror:

Daniel W. Drezner :: Dramatic developments in Pakistan?: The Chicago Tribune breaks a big story about U.S. plans for a military offensive inside Pakistan:

The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, military sources said.

U.S. Central Command is assembling a team of military intelligence officers that would be posted in Pakistan ahead of the operation, according to sources familiar with details of the plan and internal military communications. The sources spoke on the condition they not be identified.

As now envisioned, the offensive would involve Special Operations forces, Army Rangers and Army ground troops, sources said. A Navy aircraft carrier would be deployed in the Arabian Sea.

Referred to in internal Pentagon messages as the "spring offensive," the operation would be driven by certain undisclosed events in Pakistan and across the region, sources said. A source familiar with details of the plan said this is "not like a contingency plan for North Korea, something that sits on a shelf. This planning is like planning for Iraq. They want this plan to be executable, now."

But this should have been the fall offensive--the fall 2002 offensive, that is. Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon is late to the party--really late to the party--in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. Let's hope they bring plenty of refreshments.

Posted by DeLong at January 28, 2004 12:30 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Let's hope that Musharraf really controls the nukes before this party starts.

Posted by: marky on January 28, 2004 12:39 PM


"certain undisclosed events in Pakistan and across the region"

hm. I don't suppose that has anything to do with the Guardian looking into whether OBL is being kept on ice for political reasons? I'm not giving Mansoor Ijaz the benefit of the doubt. but neither is it easy to believe that US intelligence agencies are not only failing at the kind of surveillance and signals intelligence that they've consistently been best at, but so godawful miserably that they can't find a guy who needs dialysis in the middle of a desert...

Posted by: radish on January 28, 2004 12:45 PM


>> Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon is
>> late to the party--really late to the
>> party--in Pakistan's Northwest
>> Frontier Province

Careful...don't confuse NWFP with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- the latter is where Osama most likely is, but it is not a province of Pakistan, one reason why it suits al Qaeda.

Gregg Easterbrook made that mistake:


Posted by: P O'Neill on January 28, 2004 12:53 PM


My goodness, how in the world do we think that people across the world would react to an invasion of Pakistan? Even border crossings have thus-far been avoided. Are we really expecting Musharraf to go along with this, or is this one of those things that happens if he gets killed/removed?

Either way, think about this; if we did something like this and Musharraf was still in power, if he supported the operation it could further increase the wedge between hiim and his people and basically critically damage him to the point the Islamists could actually take control. If we did this when he was in power but he didn't support it, we'd be invading a nuclear-armed country without their support. It would steel pretty much everyone in Pakistan against us with a strong will to resist. And if Musharraf was already out of power, the same things apply, except for all we knwo they might be more willing to use the weapons at their disposal if he weren't there.

This seems like about the worst idea I've ever heard. It can only enrage the population of Pakistan against the U.S., and enraging a nuclear-armed country does not seem like solid policy to me.

And by the way, where in the world do they expect us to get the troops to do this? It's not like we have people free anywhere, heck we've got divisions who are going totally offline for the next few months to recover from Iraq.

(p.s. Please click on my name to visit my web page)

Posted by: Balta on January 28, 2004 12:54 PM


I'm just curious about the proposal to have done this in 2002. Did President/General Musharraf invite us in at that time -- and did we refuse?

Has he invited us in NOW? (After two or more attempts on his life, he may welcome U.S. military protection.) Or are we simplying barging in uninvited?

If we are barging in uninvited now, what makes this preemptive unilateral undeclared etc etc military action "something constructive" while similar actions elsewhere, were not?

Is it in fact unilateral? There are still NATO forces in Afghanistan -- and the Afghans themselves now have a constitution and some sort of official forces. Will any of these partners participate in invading Pakistan?

If we find what we are looking for (WMD, Bin Laden, whatever) is the action justified, post hoc? And if we find nothing, or criminals/terrorists other than Bin Laden or weapons other than WMD) will the action have been a miserable failure? Does finding terrorists or weapons matter if we were not invited in?

Did the same guy that outed Valerie Plame give this new story to the Chicago Tribune? Should our response to leakers be the same regardless of the content of the leak? Does it matter than the earlier leak exposed one Washington-based operative while the current leak seems to endanger dozens or hundreds of troops on the hairy/bleeding edge of frontline combat?

Posted by: Pouncer on January 28, 2004 01:02 PM


Now we give such military secrets to the Chicago Tribune? Why???

Posted by: Ari on January 28, 2004 01:06 PM


>>I'm just curious about the proposal to have done this in 2002. Did President/General Musharraf invite us in at that time -- and did we refuse? Has he invited us in NOW?<<

I really don't care. Wherever we have good reason to believe that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 28, 2004 01:30 PM


The story is too explosive to be a mere scoop. Some aspects of this could already be in play with the leak placed as a trial balloon. If it's indeed a real one by the Chi Trib then, I am afraid, the initiative might be gravely harmed - how would/should Musharraf respond to this?

That said, this is finally the real battle in the war against terrorism. I suppose the adults are taking charge - now that the little emperor is happy having avenged his father's honor. But watch out for old man Cheney's PBS inputs.

Finally, let us not loose sight of Saudi Arabia. They should be next but I have a hunch that they will self-correct. The regime there is cunning but probably not very brave or foolhardy.

Posted by: The Perlustrator on January 28, 2004 01:42 PM


We need to destroy Al Qaeda, but how does it help to tell the Chicago Tribune how we are setting about it?

Posted by: ari on January 28, 2004 01:42 PM


Perhaps it is bet to put this off until a competent administration can carry out the task and the fallout/blowback. Tough to know, but do you find the administration credible on matters of national security ("We have solid information that OBL is xxxx"), or that the operational planning has been considered beyond the first step? Do you think the people on the fence that we need to coordinate with do?

Posted by: theCoach on January 28, 2004 01:46 PM


Are we really expecting Musharraf to go along with this, or is this one of those things that happens if he gets killed/removed?

Hmm. "[C]ertain undisclosed events in Pakistan" could refer to prospective events, yes?

Posted by: cmdicely on January 28, 2004 02:26 PM


Suggestion: This is a deliberate betise on the lines of Reagan's "open mike moment" designed to cause some particular reaction among the bad guys, and Mubarrak is in on the scam.

Posted by: Dick Thompson on January 28, 2004 03:21 PM


This is asinine. Do you remember how Pakistan would not less us operate, publicly at least, within their borders? In your haste to claim everything the Bushies do a mistake, you might want to check the facts first.

Posted by: kevin on January 28, 2004 04:21 PM


It sounds like it was leaked by someone in uniformed Special Forces that may not think they have enough resources to go or want to postpone it til a more sensible adminstration takes over next year. Wouldn't even be surprised if Powell leaked it after getting a heads up from a former underling at DoD. This should have been done after Tora Bora in Dec. 2001 or spring 2002. Now it'll be much harder and dangerous. I'm very concerned about the "driven by certain undisclosed events in Pakistan and across the region" phrase. What does that mean? Assassination of Musharraf? A mushroom cloud over Kabul? I hate these guys for making me even think such thoughts.

Posted by: Mark Garrity on January 28, 2004 04:29 PM


"This is asinine. Do you remember how Pakistan would not less us operate, publicly at least, within their borders?"

Bush has said repeatedly that we would go into any nation harboring terrorists (of course, he didn't mean it), so where's the issue of Pakistan "letting" us operate?

"In your haste to claim everything the Bushies do a mistake, you might want to check the facts first."

To what facts are you referring?

Posted by: Handy Fuse on January 28, 2004 05:29 PM


>>This is asinine. Do you remember how Pakistan would not less us operate, publicly at least, within their borders? In your haste to claim everything the Bushies do a mistake, you might want to check the facts first.<<

I don't care what "Pakistan" says: wherever Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go, and as soon as possible.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 28, 2004 07:55 PM


>>This is asinine. Do you remember how Pakistan would not less us operate, publicly at least, within their borders? In your haste to claim everything the Bushies do a mistake, you might want to check the facts first.<<

I don't care what "Pakistan" says: wherever Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go, and as soon as possible.

Posted by Brad DeLong at January 28, 2004 07:55 PM

I hope that when this is over, it will be the end forever of enlisting foreign fighters to do our bidding.

One thing that has totally screwed up this entire thing is that Osama bin Laden is an outgrowth of the "mujahadeen" force that we fostered during the Afghanistan invasion by the USSR in the late 1970's. (See _Charlie Wilson's War_) I can distinctly remember Charlie Wilson, a congressman from Texas, and Dan Rather, wearing one of those little mushroom hats that Afghans wear, in a filmed sequence from the mountains in Afghansitan, with Dan, in hushed tones, reporting that the mujahadeen had just attacked a Russian outpost.

Then the mujahadeen were the good guys. They were fighting the "infidels". There was no end of good publicity for them. But then they morphed into the Taliban, and al Queada.

When the USSR no longer existed, then our need for them ended. Then they became the bad guys. Mean, bad Muslims.

You just have to wonder, when this all comes out in the wash, if what we did then was a good thing or not.

I am a firm believer in the law of karma, that what goes around comes around.

Everyone in the Middle East knew what was going on, even if the vast majority of Americans couldn't find Afghanistan on a map.

They have very long memories in the Middle East.

Now we have troops in exactly that same region, surrounded by the same people that we used earlier.

I would suggest that we tread very lightly there, unless we are prepared to declare war on the entire region.

Posted by: James Hogan on January 28, 2004 08:38 PM


Pakistan population
147,663,429 (July 2002 est.)

Iraq population
24,001,816 (July 2002 est.)

We have to get OBL but we have to be careful of destabilizing a large, Islamic, atomic weaponed country. Do you trust GWB enough to be in charge of this oh-so-delicate operation?

Posted by: Troy McClure on January 28, 2004 08:45 PM


>> I don't care what "Pakistan" says: wherever Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go, and as soon as possible.

uhh... whoah. you're scaring me Brad. the other day I offered this blog as an example of one which doesn't subscribe to the "charade." the person I was discussing it with allowed as how he didn't read you and maybe that was so, and went on to clarify that part of what he meant by charade was: "For example [both sides] find it convenient to suggest by ommission that the US has a right to attack other nations." ironic.

in point of fact, we promised not to do that anymore after WWII, and it became the law of the land. the fact that we have failed to live up to that promise on various occasions does not mean that it is okay to do it again...

and if morality and legality don't provide reason enough to reconsider that statement, consider that Pakistan, our ostensible ally, the ostensibly moderate government of which is one of several in the region which are under threat from fundamentalists, has both nukes and mujaheddin of it's own, and the people are already mad at us.

Posted by: radish on January 28, 2004 09:37 PM


"I don't care what 'Pakistan' says: wherever Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go, and as soon as possible."

That's what fully sugared coca cola will do for the brain.

The question to ask before embarking on yet another invasion of someone else's country is what the price of failure might be. We can take for granted that there is no reliable intelligence about where OBL now is. If his whereabouts were actually known to within 100 metres a bomb would have dropped there. So what is proposed is a punitive expedition into the tribal areas; pretty much straight Kipling. You may be fighting al-Qaueda. You will certainly be fighting the local tribes. This isn't actually something that American troops have done much in Afghanistan. Most of the ground fighting was done by barbarian auxiliaries; to judge from what happened in Tora Bora, they can't be trusted. You'll have to send the legions in. Lots of them will probably be killed.

Best case scenario: Mussharraf is squared and invites you in. OBL is found and killed. Everyone will say it was a brave and far-sighted move. The casualties are honoured and absorbed.

Bad scenario: Musharraf invites you in. The villages are bombed; the troops march off. there are ambushes, casualties, and at some stage you declare victory and get the hell out. The world goes on much as before.

Worse: Musharraf falls, is assassinated, or fails to invite you in. Either way, there is no shred of legal justification for what has happened. The troops go in. Lots of people on both sides are killed, but not OBL. Declare victory and get the hell out, as before. I don't think the world would go on much as before if that happened.

Note that the one scenario that's clearly impossible is a lasting occupation of the tribal territories. No one has managed that, and the US isn't even trying in the southern regions of Afghanistan, which are the same country, give or take an arbitrary line on the map.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on January 29, 2004 12:32 AM


I thought it was strange that this story was out of Chicago with no other references.

But I just ran across a reference to a spring offensive in Afghanistan with the possibility of operations in Pakistan in a Boston Globe article by the associated press out of Kabul. the article was about the recent death of a British soldier
in Kabul and the reference to the spring offensive was in the last 2-3 paras in the article. the article quotes a Washington official speaking on conditions of anonymity and Stephen
Graham, the reporter said another Pentagon official declined to discuss the possibility.

I'm sorry I can not link to the article, but I have yet to understand how to do that when bogging. when I have a comments section up I do not get a paste button.

Posted by: spencer on January 29, 2004 10:43 AM


The entire discourse occurs on the assumption that once OBL is captured we can party. (SOTU II)
That there won't be a new AQ leader.
Nope, those AQ guys are fanatics, but wimps as well and none of 'em will want to follow OBL's example...Get a grip.
Oh in that case we'll kill 'em all? Do we have 147,378,937 bullets? ( Oh yeah, US Air Power ...big bullets)
Maybe we are in Quadrant Beta
groan... That the actors are more important than the role ( terrorists).
Drezner loses points here swallowing the veracity of the 'leak'.
Oh sure, it's a meta-leak or a Beta-leak that is intended to scare OBL or to obscure actual operations/intentions.
Nah--it's a gamma-leak designed to distract, mislead and generally confuse the electorate.

Posted by: calmo on January 29, 2004 11:07 AM


"I don't care what "Pakistan" says: wherever Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go, and as soon as possible."

Brad, there's no need to end the world over this.

Quite apart from the fact that the reason we pursue ObL is that he is a criminal, and attempts to capture him are by definition police actions and thus subject to issues of jurisdiction, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. We do not just invade nuclear-armed nations when we suspect there's a criminal hiding there, no matter how horrific his crime. Justice and vengeance and deterrence are all important -- and dismantling the threat of al-Qaeda is important -- but making implacable enemies of two hundred fifty million citizens of a nuclear-armed nation is a more awful thing than not getting bin Laden.

We should not find it difficult to get permission and cooperation from Musharrif. There's no need to end the world over this.

Posted by: eyelessgame on January 29, 2004 11:42 AM


Me, I would be tempted to aggree with BDL... in a parallel world where the US has not already enraged the Muslim world by invading and occupying Iraq... Certainly, the benefits of taking out OBL would be a bit of a placebo, but then again we are psychological beings. Now, let me remind everyone of the prize : to make sure that the US is not again the object of a terrorist attack on the scale of 9-11 (assuming everyone here cares about protecting innocent lifes above all, and noone here would enjoy seeing the US Constitution become a historical curiosity.) Call me anything you please, all I care about is witnessing my little girl grow in a safe and free world. And the glory, the pride(TM) etc, I can't decently tell you here where to stick them.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 29, 2004 11:44 AM


I don't think that Pakistan _as a state_ could retaliate. Deterrence still works. But the big worry is non-state, deterrent-proof actors getting hold of bad technology. this is a genuine worry, no matter how much it was used by crooks and liars to justify the invasion of Iraq. And I think that smashing up Pakistan would make that more, rather than less likely.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on January 29, 2004 01:56 PM


That is EXACTLY is (one of) the worse fall off(s) from the the occupation of Iraq: useful ("good") wars are now harder to fight (less resources + Muslim rage) and much harder to see (public suspicion).

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 29, 2004 02:57 PM


If it were to happen, and I reeeally don't think it ever would (only with Musharraf's complete cooperation, and not even then) then it would not be "late to the party"....

it would instead be just in time for the election.

Posted by: andrew on January 30, 2004 03:05 AM


"I don't care what 'Pakistan' says: wherever Osama bin Laden and his henchmen are, there we go, and as soon as possible."

Ah. Sweet accord.

Screw the UN, it wasn't THEIR building that got hit. Forget the "allies" ... what have the French and NATO accomplished in catching Kosovo's terrorists, anyway? International law? Pfft! The "law" is an agreement among the law-abiding and has no force beyond. Sanctions, diplomacy, deterrence, "keeping him his box", ? Others may burn those offerings over somebody else's graves. As for me, I demand you bring me the head of Osama bin Laden.

Not that I'm unhappy about Saddam's, mind you.

Nor would I pout should you offer me the heads of Kim Yong Il, Fidel Castro, Mugabe, ... I have a little list. They never would be missed.

But given a list, there are questions about the order in which such fruits should be harvested, which are hanging low, and which most valuable. Bob Woodward, reporing on meetings in the Oval Office immediately post-9/11, says the President was advised that terrorism was "a 60 country problem".

"So? We'll pick 'em off one at a time," the cowboy replied.

I think we here are all agreed the current President has no sense of subtlety, of economics, of the long-term costs of attempting to "pick off" five dozen leaders of as many rogue states and quasi-national "insurgent", "liberation", or "revolutionary" counter-governments.

But it seems to me he is making some progress on each of MY top five.

Except, of course, on the sixth. One already in custody. I have the sensation Milosevic is near to joining OJ Simpson on a golf course near the Adriatic, "searching for the REAL killers."

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