WASHINGTON - The National Intelligence Council (NIC), the US intelligence
community's focal point for estimating future developments, warned the George W
Bush administration last month that a decision to launch commando raids by US
troops against al-Qaeda-related targets in Pakistan's North-West Frontier
Province region would carry a high risk of further destabilizing the Pakistani
military and government, according to sources familiar with the intelligence
community's response to the issue.
That blunt warning was conveyed to the White House in an oral briefing by a top
official of the NIC two or three weeks ago, according to Philip Giraldi, former
operations officer and counter-terrorist specialist in the Central Intelligence
of Operations - now known as the National Clandestine Service - who maintains
contacts with the intelligence community.
Another source, who has been briefed by NIC officials on the issue, confirms
the NIC message, which represents a consensus in the intelligence community,
was conveyed to the Bush administration in August, just as an intense debate
over whether to carry out commando raids against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets
in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan was still
The source, who asked not to be identified because of the confidentiality of
his contacts with the NIC, said the White House was warned that if US commando
raids continued over a longer period of time, the NIC believes they could
threaten the unity of the Pakistani military.
US special operations forces based at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan
carried out a helicopter-borne ground raid by commandos in South Waziristan on
September 3 which reportedly killed as many as 20 people, most of whom were
apparently civilians. Both the New York Times and Washington Post said top
officials indicated this was only the beginning of wider campaign of raids
against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the frontier area of Pakistan.
The Pakistani government lodged a diplomatic protest over the raid, which was
the first known incursion into Pakistan by US forces since the 2001 invasion of
Afghanistan, and the Pakistani parliament condemned it in a resolution.
The intelligence community believes US military incursions into Pakistan will
benefit political-military organizations allied with the Taliban seeking to
destabilize the national government in Islamabad.
Patrick Lang, former defense intelligence officer for the Middle East at the
Defense Intelligence Agency, told Inter Press Service he understands the
intelligence community issued a "pretty clear warning" against the commando
raid. "They said, in effect, if you want to see the Pakistani government
collapse, go right ahead," Lang said.
A key to the strategy of Islamic extremists in the FATA region in northwest
Pakistan is believed to be winning over troops in both the Frontier Corps, the
militia recruited from the local population, and the regular Pakistani army.
The Pakistani military rejected a proposal earlier this year from US military
leaders for US special operations officers to train units of the Frontier Corps
in counter-insurgency, along with the use of cash payments to obtain their
cooperation against the Taliban and its allies.
But the intelligence community regards the Frontier Corps as already
"wavering", the source familiar with NIC thinking says, and it is feared that
US military raids would cause more of those units to actively support the
militant Islamic organizations in the FATA.
The intelligence community's greatest fear, according to the source, is the
impact of anti-US anger on the morale of the regular Pakistani army. One reason
for that concern is the fact that a disproportionate percentage of the army
officers serving in the region are Pashtun. The tribal population of the FATA
is largely Pashtun, and if the US commando raids continue beyond a few months,
analysts believe they could provoke large-scale defections from the Pakistani
army serving in the FATA.
Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy, a veteran journalist and
author specializing in Pakistan affairs, agreed in an interview that the raids,
along with targeted missile strikes that have caused many civilian casualties,
are likely to strain the loyalties of Pashtun army officers serving in the
In an article in the International Herald Tribune in August 2007, Harrison
warned that the Pashtun-based radical movement in the northwest "could lead to
the unification of the estimated 41 million Pashtuns on both sides of the
border, the breakup of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the emergence of a new
national entity, Pashtunistan, under radical Islamist leadership".
Although the NIC is responsible for producing national intelligence estimates,
it has not been asked to provide any estimate on the potential consequences of
a policy of raids by US special operations forces against targets in the FATA
believed to be linked to al-Qaeda, according to the former CIA official.
Ironically, it was the July 2007 national intelligence estimate produced by the
NIC on al-Qaeda that contributed to growing pressure for direct US military
action in Pakistan. The conclusion of NIE that al-Qaeda enjoyed a safe haven in
Pakistan which had become the primary center of its operations worldwide was
highly publicized and highly charged politically.
The Pakistani military reacted to the US raid last week by warning it would
provoke new attacks by militants in the frontier area. The New York Times
quoted the spokesman for the Pakistani military, General Athar Abbas, as
warning that the killing of civilians had created a greater risk that tribesmen
who have supported the Pakistani soldiers and opposed the Taliban in the past
will shift loyalties out of anger.
"Such actions are completely counterproductive and can result in huge losses,
because it gives the civilians a cause to rise against the Pakistani military,"
Abbas was quoted as saying.
According to Pakistan's leading daily newspaper, Dawn, Pakistan's National
Security Council received an intelligence report in June 2007 on the
"Talibanization" of the region, which cited "the presence of foreign forces in
Afghanistan" and the "growing feeling among Muslims that they are under attack"
as factors contributing to the "growing insurgency" in the region.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.