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Exporting the Anbar Awakening

Walter Pincus has a great catch in today’s Washington Post. While no one was paying attention, the defense authorization bill approved up to $75 million for a Pakistani tribal force. The exportation of the Anbar Awakening is here, occurring in the dead of night, with no debate and, in all likelihood, fearsome consequences. Pincus:

Congress buried some interesting provisions on Pakistan and, separately, U.S. Army recruitment in the 1,513-page fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill that President Bush signed Jan. 28. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates was given authority, "with the concurrence of the Secretary of State," to provide as much as $75 million worth of equipment, supplies and training to "build the capacity" of the Pakistan Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force that is recruited from border tribes and trained at camps along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pentagon officials have publicly described the Frontier Corps as having more credibility with local tribesmen because the troops come from the region, while most Pakistani army regulars do not.

One purpose for the new money may be to increase the presence of U.S. Special Forces on Pakistani soil in support of the Frontier Corps. Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of Special Operations Command, visited Pakistan last fall and included a stop at the Frontier Corps headquarters.

Congress added two unusual clauses in the authorization. It said the assistance will be provided "in a manner that promotes observance of and respect for human rights" and "respect for legitimate civilian authority within Pakistan." In the past, that type of language has been associated with training by U.S. personnel that also could involve them taking part in counterterrorist or counterinsurgency missions. That is what happened to Special Forces in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Central America in the 1980s.

For the myriad reasons why this is a really, really ill-considered idea, click here. But already we’ve learned in Iraq that the U.S. military doesn’t have any assurances — beyond "trust" — that the tribes actually go after al-Qaeda, or after al-Qaeda alone. In Pakistan, we won’t even have that. And what will we do when an American casualty or hostage appears in the Pakistani tribal areas? Remember, this was all authorized without any Congressional debate whatsoever . Exactly what you want from an authorization that might lead to a potential ground conflict in Pakistan.

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