Bruce Riedel: We need to make the war against al Qaeda Pakistan’s war, not just America’s war.
The following are excerpts from a series of interviews with some of the country’s top terrorism experts conducted by Trudy Rubin, the Worldview columnist for thePhiladelphia Inquirer in conjunction with the July 2008 volume of The Annals on “Terrorism: What the Next President Will Face.” This interview is with Bruce Riedel, a senior advisor on Middle East and South Asian issues to the last three US presidents, who was in the White House situation room during the 9/11 attacks. He is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Search for al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future.”
Trudy Rubin: Bruce, you say in your article that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world today, no issue is more critical to get right for the next President. What do you mean by that?
Bruce Riedel: I actually wrote those lines for the first time ten years ago in a memo for then-President Clinton. I think Pakistan is the most dangerous country because all of the nightmares of the twenty-first century that should concern Americans come together in Pakistan in a unique way. This is a country with nuclear weapons. This is a county with a history of proliferating nuclear technology. This is a country that has fought four wars with its neighbor, and at least one of those wars went very close to becoming a nuclear war. This is a country that has been the host of numerous international terrorist organizations and is today the safe haven and stronghold of the al Qaeda terrorist organization. This is a country also awash in drugs, narcotics, and this is a country where the clash between reactionary Islamic extremism and democracy is being fought out literally in front of us. All of those issues come together in this one place like nowhere else in the world. That is why it is so important to Americans.
TR: Some people argue, including Senator John McCain, that Iraq is still the central front in the war on terrorism and that al Qaeda itself has said that is the case. Is there some truth in this?
BR: Al Qaeda has said that the war in Iraq is one of the most important battlefields in their struggle. But I think that as Americans we ought to focus on where the enemy is. Osama bin Laden and his number two, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, are the heart of al Qaeda. They are the ones who planned the attack of 9/11, and who are planning new attacks on American interests around the world. And there is not one iota of evidence that they have ever been in Iraq. And there is abundant evidence that they are operating outside of Pakistan, in the badlands on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
TR: Outside of Pakistan or just inside the border?
BR: Probably inside Pakistan somewhere, maybe going back and forth. The most important thing about their safe haven there is that it is growing. It is getting bigger. A lot of experts have focused on the FATA, the so-called federally administered tribal areas, which is the most lawless part of Pakistan’s borderlands. But, in fact, al Qaeda and its allies, the Taliban and other groups, operate along the entire western border, from Balukistan through FATA, through the northwest frontier province, into Kashmir; a 1500-mile long borderland in which they can operate with complete impunity.
TR: How dangerous is al Qaeda to us? As you know, some terrorism experts have begun to downplay its importance in Pakistan and globally there was a much-commented about article in The New Yorker recently by Lawrence Wright, talking about dissent within al Qaeda, especially amongst imprisoned leaders, and some experts argue that grassroots groups springing up in Europe are more significant than al Qaeda in the caves and mountains of the border areas of Pakistan. Is al Qaeda still the most dangerous group?
BR: According to our own intelligence community, and the British intelligence community, German intelligence community, and other Western intelligence communities, it is. And they have said that in public, not just this year but for the last several years. Larry Wright, who has written probably the seminal book about 9/11, has written some very insightful things about the arguments that are going on within the jihadist movement today. But he does not argue there, as far as I can tell, that the al Qaeda movement is not a threat anymore. I think of al Qaeda as being much like a multinational corporation that operates on a global stage. You have the headquarters in Pakistan with the CEO, Osama bin Laden. Then around the Islamic world it has various franchises, just like a McDonald’s or a Toyota has franchises. Some of those franchises at any one time are doing well and growing, for example, their franchise in North Africa, in Magrab, and their franchise in Libya. Others are not doing as well. Currently the one in Iraq is in a phase of retreat, and the al Qaeda franchise in Saudi Arabia has been badly damaged by the Saudi authorities. But all of these franchises in some way report back to the al Qaeda center. Do they take orders? Well, they take general instructions. We know this because they say they take general instructions. And then beyond these franchises we have cells, principally in Western Europe, but also in other parts of the world, small al Qaeda cells which are also taking instructions. The British, for example, say that every major terrorist operation foiled in the United Kingdom in the last five years was linked back to the al Qaeda center. We can all take great comfort from the fact that we have not been attacked inside the United States again since 9/11. But comfort should not lead to wishful thinking that the threat has gone away. I would point you to the trial that is going on in London right now with regard to the plot in August of 2006 to simultaneously blow up over the north Atlantic ten jumbo jets. That plot, had it succeeded, would have been worse than 9/11. More people would have died and we would not have known who did it because all the forensic evidence would be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. What we know is, the bomb worked. That is why Americans cannot take a soda on an airplane anymore. Second, we know that they had the martyrs ready to commit suicide, because we have their martyrdom videos, which have been introduced into court. Third, we know the flights that they wanted to attack because they were on their Blackberries. That was a serious attempt by al Qaeda to outdo 9/11. Thanks to British security and intelligence it was thwarted. It is a wake-up call to us all, that these guys are still plotting evil from that lair in Pakistan.
TR: In Pakistan. So basically, al Qaeda in Pakistan, like corporate headquarters, is setting strategy and holding training seminars?
BR: That is right. And, they are also publishing a lot of propaganda. They put out an unending stream of their public diplomacy. In 2004, al Qaeda’s Pakistan propaganda apparatus put out twelve tapes. In 2007, they put out almost a hundred. In 2008, they are off to an even faster start, and this is a very slick operation. They put out audio tapes and video tapes with interactive maps in them, with video of the targets that are being attacked, with pictures of presidents and other world figures to illustrate their arguments. We have even seen on TV that their corporate studio now has coffee mugs with their logo on them, just like it was CNN or Fox. That is not someone operating in a cave. That is a highly sophisticated propaganda organization, directly responsive to Osama bin Laden.
TR: Just a word about their goals as they operate from this base all along the Pakistan-Afghan border. What are their goals for their immediate neighborhood and their goals for the broader world?
BR: Let us start with their ultimate goal. Their ultimate goal is to drive the United States out of the Muslim world, to force us to withdraw all of our military forces, our diplomats, and even our educational institutions from the Islamic world. Once the far enemy, as they call us, is driven away, then the near enemy, which is the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, in Egypt, in Iraq, that they hate, they think they can overthrow. And then it is on to the next step, which is the destruction of Israel, which they hold as one of their principal objectives. At the end of all this is some kind of enormous, jihadist super-state. Now, they know that they are not going to create this jihadist super-state any time in the foreseeable future. But these are the long-term goals. The immediate goal is to bleed the United States and its allies in what they call “bleeding wars,” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What they have in mind is to do to us what they believe the mujahedin did to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Afghanistan in the 1980s was the formative experience of Osama bin Laden’s life, of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s life, of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s life. This is where their worldview was shaped. They believe that they can grind us down in Afghanistan and in Iraq to a point where we will ultimately say, “enough is enough,” and the United States will be as crippled as the Soviet Union was.
TR: How has it been possible for radical jihadi group–from al Qaeda to the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban to Pakistani terrorist groups that have trained in Kashmir to fight India–how has it been possible for them to keep sinking deeper and deeper roots in these tribal areas? You write that Pakistan’s army and its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, the so-called ISI, had a hand in creating many of these groups. Tell us a bit of the history.
BR: We need to go back to the 1980s and the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The ISI, ironically in close cooperation with the United States and with many of our allies around the world, the British, French, Germans, Israelis, and others, saw in the mujahedin a mechanism to destroy the Soviet Union and, in particular, the Soviet 40th Red Army stationed in Afghanistan. A culture of jihadism was encouraged in Pakistan by then-Pakistani military dictator, Zia ul Huq. When the war ended, Pakistan found itself with a very effective mechanism for fighting asymmetric warfare against its enemies. It next tried to use that same warfare against India in Kashmir, and in the late 1980s, early 1990s, a guerilla insurgency began in Kashmir, which was also funded and supported and, to a large extent, controlled by the ISI. Then, back in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis discovered that the Afghan mujahedin were fighting a civil war, and they decided to support one faction, the Taliban, in order to consolidate their control over Afghanistan. By the end of the twentieth century, in effect Pakistan had become the birthplace for a whole group of terrorist organizations, from the Taliban to different Kashmiri groups, and within that nexus is where you find al Qaeda born. And al Qaeda was born into this jihadist structure, which is intimately linked to the Pakistani intelligence service and to the Pakistani military. Now, after 9/11 General Musharraf promised that he would break all those links, but the more things change the more they look a lot alike. And in fact while he did go after al Qaeda to a certain extent, he continued to support the Kashmiris and the Taliban and within that jihadist culture it was impossible to destroy al Qaeda. Selective counterterrorism in Pakistan will not work. What we need is a complete change in Pakistan’s approach towards terrorism.
TR: You said that the Pakistani attitude towards India and the battle with India over Kashmir led to support for the Taliban. In fact, the Pakistanis actually helped the Taliban take over in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, right? So what was their idea about why they wanted a Taliban government in Afghanistan?
BR: The strategic nightmare of Pakistani military leaders, and political leaders, is that they would be in a two-front war. That they would face their traditional enemy, India, to the east and then Afghanistan, which was pro-India, to the west. This nightmare lay behind Zia’s approach in the 1980s. He feared a Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to the west and a pro-Soviet India to the east. And it is exactly the same paradigm that Pakistani leaders worry about today. The Karzai government in Afghanistan, which we support, is seen by many in Pakistan as not only pro-American, but pro-Indian, and for good reason. President Karzai spent a lot of his life in India. He was educated in India. And he has often been very critical of the ISI’s role in his own country. There are now accusations, for example, that the ISI was directly involved in the destruction, the blowing up, of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Both Afghan and Indian intelligence officials are now saying on the record that they have evidence the ISI was involved. Now, I have not seen the evidence that they are alluding to, but these are very serious charges from very serious intelligence people.
TR: During Musharraf’s period as military ruler, supposedly he had agreed with the United States to go after al Qaeda. But was this relationship between the ISI and Taliban and jihadi groups undercutting him or, in fact, as a military man was he just as ambivalent as the ISI, and is that the reason why you never had any real progress in cleaning out those areas during the years of his rule?
BR: One of the things that we should understand is that Pakistani politics are not transparent. Trying to find out the truth about much of what happens in Pakistan is very, very difficult even for Pakistanis to get a handle on. There are conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies. General Musharraf, to give him credit, did bring some significant al Qaeda lieutenants to capture and to imprisonment, including Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. But he never seemed to focus the resources of the Pakistani security establishment on capturing the top level of al Qaeda. And he did nothing to break the back of the Taliban, nor of the Kashmiri groups that are closely allied with it. And I keep coming back to the point that this is a nexus. That if you only try to target one or two individuals, you really miss the much bigger problem that you are dealing with. Here again, there is recent information that is important. We just had an attack on an American fire base in Afghanistan in which nine American soldiers were killed. The evidence we are getting about that attack was that it was a combination of Taliban, al Qaeda, and a Kashmiri group called Lashkar-e-Taiba all operating together to target Americans in Afghanistan. The point is, we need a sophisticated strategy that breaks Pakistan’s relationship with all of these terrorist organizations. That is what we have been lacking and that is what we need to discover.
TR: Under Musharraf, towards the later years, the Pakistani military was sent into those areas in force but failed badly. What does that say about the ability of the Pakistani army, even if they should take a more determined stance, to deal with the jihadis?
BR: The Pakistani army did deploy and it did lose several hundred soldiers in very violent firefights with some of these jihadist elements. The Pakistani army, though, has been built to fight a war with India. The Pakistani Strategic Doctrine is about fighting a decisive tank battle in the deserts of Rajasthan with the Indian army, much like the British 8th Army defeated the Africa Corps in north Africa in 1942. The Pakistani army is not built for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. One of the things that we should do as a country is help Pakistan re-orient its military, from focusing on war against India into a military that can be more effective in the counter-insurgency game. That is not inexpensive and it is not easy to do, but it should be a long-term goal of the United States working with Pakistan to make a more effective force. But even more important than that is to make this Pakistan’s war. For the vast bulk of Pakistanis, the war against al Qaeda is Bush’s war, it is America’s war. They see this as a war being fought by Musharraf in order to keep Musharraf in power and to maintain a dictatorship over them, and they are sick of it. They voted against him overwhelmingly in the elections in February of this year. The trick for the United States, and it is an absolutely important one to get right, is to persuade Pakistanis that the war against al Qaeda is Pakistan’s war, not just America’s war. The late Benazir Bhutto spoke eloquently about this, which may be one of the reasons why she is dead today. It can be done. It cannot be done by supporting a dictator and standing behind a general who lost the confidence of the Pakistani people, and it cannot be done by having a purely military-to-military relationship with the Pakistanis. We need to put our trust in the Pakistani people.
TR: This new government that has been elected, the largest party is the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, they hold the prime ministership. Their foreign minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, was just in Washington and he talked passionately about how he wants to improve relations with India, and how Pakistani businessmen want this. Do he and his government have the power to move things towards better relations with India? And if they could, would this be core towards changing the attitude of the public and of the military towards dealing with the jihadi threat?
BR: The foreign minister was here at Brookings during part of his trip, and you are right, he speaks very eloquently about the need for India and Pakistan to find a better future. And I think that is a very good sign of hope. But you are also right about the central question. Pakistan is in the process of an extremely complex transition from military dictatorship to what Pakistanis hope will be democracy. This is a fragile and difficult process. If you look at the history of Pakistan, in sixty years more often than not it has been ruled by a military dictator. Twice before it has tried to go from military dictatorship to democracy and failed. This third attempt is probably Pakistan’s last real chance, not only at democracy but maybe as even surviving as a state. There are no guarantees here; this is going to be hard to do. That is why this is one of the most difficult challenges the next president will face. What I think he needs to do is to embrace the Pakistani people’s decision. They have elected this leadership. We are going to argue with this leadership on many issues, but we ought to do so respectfully and cordially, and we ought to do so in a manner which encourages the survival of democracy in Pakistan. Look, we tried dictatorship. We gave a dictator eight years’ opportunity to see if he could straighten out Pakistan and get rid of al Qaeda, and we know one thing for sure, it did not work. So let’s not get all wet-eyed about the demise of that dictatorship. It failed us on what we wanted most. We now need to make this democratic experiment succeed. It will not be easy, but it is something that is vitally important to Americans.
TR: Now there is a new civilian government, and this largest party, the PPP, the late Benazir Bhutto’s party, claims that it wants to try a new strategy towards dealing with the jihadi threat, using non-military means and dealing with tribal leaders. But there are two huge problems. One, it seems elements in the military, elements in the ISI, are trying to carry out their own policy. It seems that the civilian government may not even be in charge of the policy. So how do we help them on that front? And, second problem, the civilian government itself is divided. The PPP has a clear policy about recognizing that the jihadi threat is their problem, not just America’s. But the other civilian party in the coalition is much less willing to take that approach. So how do we help a civilian government that is divided within itself over that very issue to deal with the jihadi threat?
BR: Again, these are very, very difficult problems. Let me start with the first one. How do we encourage the development in Pakistan of what we would consider normal, civil military relations? In our country, if the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is fired by the President, he goes home. In Pakistan, he stages a coup and overthrows the government. That is not democracy and that is not right civil-military relations. We ought to be absolutely clear in our conversation with Pakistan’s generals and with the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence; the proper place for an army and for an intelligence service is to obey the commands of the democratically elected civilian establishment. We ought to be very clear that any US assistance to Pakistan is conditioned on the continued survival in office of a civilian government, and the cooperation of the Pakistani military with its directives. I would go a step further with regards to the ISI, because this problem with the ISI is not a new one. We have been dealing with this problem for twenty years of whose side is the ISI really on. George Tenet writes about this in his memoirs of his time. I would ask, in a new administration, that the director of national intelligence be instructed to provide an annual secret report to the Congress on the question of, is ISI on our side or the other side, and if it is not totally on our side, then our relationship with that organization and with the Pakistani military should suffer as a consequence. I think that is how we try to encourage strong and normal civil-military relations. Getting Pakistani politicians to work together, that is even more difficult. The Pakistani political leadership we have are people we know well, they have been around for a long time. They are not Thomas Jefferson, they are not George Washington. They are what they are. We do not get the choice of picking Pakistan’s elected leaders, that is up to the Pakistani people. We will have to try to work with them. As I said, it is not going to be easy. We are going to disagree with them, and some issues we are going to disagree on are very, very important ones. But we ought to try to do it in the spirit of an alliance, in which we are working with a partner.
TR: Do you think that we can help the civilian government behind the scenes move towards talks with India that would improve that relationship?
BR: I think that is one of the most important things we can do. If you look at the itch that Pakistan has been scratching for the last thirty years that has produced this jihadist culture, it is all about India, and in the end it is all about Kashmir. The conflict in Kashmir is what drives the Pakistani army’s pursuit of supremacy within the country. The conflict in Kashmir is what has been at the heart of the ISI’s relationship with terrorist organizations. There is a unique opportunity here; for the first time in many years the battlefield in Kashmir is relatively quiet. India and Pakistan have begun negotiations about trying to improve their relationship, and they have made some important moves in that regard. The United States ought to, very quietly and very discreetly, be encouraging that process. We ought to be giving assurances to both New Delhi and Islamabad that if they continue down this process, the United States is right there with them and will help them in every way possible, economic assistance, diplomatic assistance, whatever it takes; it has to be done with discretion and reliability, quietly, but I think this is one of the great opportunities that the next president will have.
TR: Some experts and people interested in this subject have called for a much broader kind of economic aid to be given to Pakistan. The foreign minister, Mr. Qureshi, just mentioned that he and Senator Biden have been talking about it. Can you describe how that would work, aid that would help foster civilian institutions, and one particular issue, the issue of madrasas. We have given aid, it seems to have gone into a hole, and religious schools called madrasas are still turning out candidates for the Taliban and even training Americans from Pakistani-American families. How can the aid be used better? And could it affect the schools and try to undercut the training grounds for people who go off and fight in the border areas and in Afghanistan?
BR: Let us first look at the aid we are providing. We have provided somewhere in excess of $11 billion in aid to Pakistan since 9/11. That is more aid than we have provided in the previous fifty years to Pakistan. Almost all of that aid was military assistance, almost all of it is an unaccounted funding that went directly to the Pakistani army, for which we have no idea how it was spent. Senator Biden has put forward a very interesting bill, which is now being co-sponsored by Senator Obama and a number of others on both sides of the aisle. What he proposes is that the Congress commit to a ten-year-long program of $1.5 billion a year in economic assistance. We would continue to provide some military aid, but $1.5 billion in economic assistance every year. And that economic assistance would be targeted on two general areas. One, infrastructure. Pakistan has abysmal infrastructure; it needs roads, airports, ports. Second, on the educational system. The reason the madrasas have grown so rapidly in Pakistan is because the public education system has collapsed in the last fifty years, largely because all the money in the Pakistani budget went to the army and their nuclear weapons program. The idea behind the Biden Bill is to help Pakistan rebuild its public education infrastructure in a way that will undercut the need for the madrasas. If you have good colleges and universities in Pakistan and good high schools, that is where people will send their kids, just like any other place in the world. Right now, they do not have a choice. The only option is the madrasas.
TR: So then aid should be targeted at institution-building and long range relationships outside of the military?
BR: I think a very large portion of the aid needs to go there. My own view, though, is also that the Pakistan military needs to be reconfigured from fighting a war with India to fighting a counter-insurgency, and that is expensive, too. But it is a different kind of expense. Instead of providing Pakistan with sophisticated F16 aircraft, which can be used to deliver nuclear bombs on Indian cities, we should be helping them procure night vision devices and helicopters, which can be used to track down terrorists on the other borders.
TR: If Pakistan will not, in the near term, or cannot because the civilian government does not control the reins, go after al Qaeda and jihadis in the border areas, how can we press them? Do you think that we should conduct military operations across the border from Afghanistan?
BR: If the United States, if the President, had what is called actionable intelligence that a very important al Qaeda figure, let us say Osama bin Laden, was in a specific location in Pakistan, I do not think that there is any doubt that any President of the United States would try to get him, with or without Pakistani help. But that is not likely to be the case very often. That kind of intelligence I can tell you from thirty years in the CIA comes along on a very, very rare occurrence. So that scenario aside, is there a unilateral military option for dealing with Pakistan? No, there is not one. First of all, we do not have the forces. We do not have enough NATO and American forces in Afghanistan today to consolidate our control over our side of the border, let alone move over into the Pakistani side. Secondly, if we did move into Pakistan the terrorists would just go deeper into the Pakistani state. Pakistan is a large country. It is very easy for these people to operate anywhere in those badlands, and even in the major cities of Pakistan. Occupying a slice of the border is only going to spread the disease deeper into the Pakistani system, and antagonize 170 million Pakistanis. And, finally, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. The Pakistani army is not going to tolerate an invasion of its sovereignty without being prepared to use all of the weapons at its disposal. The bottom line is, whether we like it or not, we have to find a way to work with Pakistan. There is not a military solution to this problem.
TR: You raised the word nukes. I have interviewed General Kidway, the man in charge of nuclear security, very impressive; they have a whole structure in place. Do you worry that if the forces do not coalesce with our help, so that this civilian government can get its whole body engaged militarily and economically and move on the border areas, do you worry that those nuclear weapons could in any way be compromised? Do you worry that an Islamist in military uniform could penetrate the system and get a weapon to a jihadi group?
BR: Absolutely. I think that that is a scenario we should worry about. The Pakistanis do have a very impressive system for securing and protecting their nuclear arsenal. And let us be clear about this, they built that system not just to protect it against jihadis and Indians, but against Americans. They want to protect the crown jewels of their defense establishment. But the real danger comes from within. Benazir Bhutto, in the last interview before her death, said, “I fear that within two to four years al Qaeda could be in the streets of Islamabad.” She did not mean taking over the country; what she meant is that you could have al Qaeda sympathizers within the most important elements of the Pakistani security infrastructure. The right general in the right place could provide al Qaeda with its nuclear weapon and the rest of the world and probably the rest of the Pakistani security establishment might not know about it until the bomb went off.
TR: What do you think the next president must do in the short term, since this is very pressing and very dangerous, to try and improve the situation in Pakistan such that a concerted effort can be made to deal with this problem in the border areas?
BR: I think this problem is urgent. Unfortunately, the fixes do not come urgently. The next president needs to embrace the democratically elected leadership of Pakistan wholeheartedly, and make it clear to them he wants to work with them to help change the problems that face Pakistan today. That means economic assistance of a substantial nature. That means military assistance to work to change the Pakistani army’s worldview and operational activities. That means helping Pakistan with its difficult relations with its neighbors, both India and Afghanistan. Pakistan today is a country that does not really have a border, either with India and Kashmir or with Afghanistan. Both borders are in flux, have never been made final and official. The United States ought to be actively engaged with its diplomacy in trying to fix that anomaly. That means a full court press across the board to try to make this third experiment in bringing democracy to Pakistan a success. It is expensive, but it is the only way we can turn Pakistan from being a hothouse of terror and extremism into being a more normal state, which gets out of the business of being a safe haven of international terrorism.
TR: Just one last point, about the bleeding wars, and about the goal that al Qaeda has set for itself in Iraq and in Afghanistan. If the next president does not act as swiftly as possible, but with a long-term view towards doing what you said, does that guarantee that we will get enmeshed in another bleeding war in Afghanistan? Or to put it another way, is the answer to the growing problem in Afghanistan really inside Pakistan and do we have to solve that problem to avoid getting sucked into another bleeding war?
BR: You cannot win the war in Afghanistan without resolving the question of the safe haven in Pakistan. Rarely in history do you end up fighting a war on both sides in the same lifetime. But in this case, Americans have. In the 1980s, we were, in the Pakistani case, fighting on the side of them with the mujahedin against the Soviet Union. We know you cannot lose that war as long as you have a safe haven and sanctuary in Pakistan. So goal number one has to be to work with Pakistan to shut down those sanctuaries and that safe haven. Goal number two has to be to give enough resources to the Afghan government to be able to police its own state and to provide some degree of economic well-being to its people. For seven years the United States has under-resourced the war in Afghanistan. We have put all of our resources into another war, in Iraq, into a war, which however important it may be, has very little to do with fighting the core headquarters apparatus of al Qaeda. We have five times as many soldiers in Iraq today as we have in Afghanistan. We have very brave men and women fighting very tough battles in Iraq. But, frankly, they are in the wrong desert, chasing the wrong bad guys. Where we need to put our strategic emphasis is against the heart of the threat, and that is in the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands. We need more troops in Afghanistan, we need more NATO troops in Afghanistan, and we need an economic reconstruction program in Afghanistan of the scale of the Marshall Plan of the 1940s. Afghanistan was a desperately poor country in 1978, before a quarter-century of foreign invasion and civil war made it an even more desperately poor country. We need a massive program to do this. We also need to build up the Afghan army. The Soviet Union built a stronger and larger Afghan communist army in the 1980s to fight the mujahedin than we have built in the twenty-first century to fight al Qaeda; several times larger. The Soviet Union built an Afghan communist air force; we do not have a single airplane in an Afghan air force yet. I think we can do all these things if we get our priorities right and we put our resources into the central battlefield against al Qaeda.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely the opinions of the individuals and not those of the Academy.
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AnnalsLink: “Pakistan and Terror: The Eye of the Storm”