Journal: Covert War in Pakistan–Lessons Not Learned

04 Inter-State Conflict, 05 Civil War, 07 Other Atrocities, 08 Wild Cards, 10 Security, 11 Society, Cultural Intelligence, Government, IO Multinational, IO Sense-Making, Military
Thomas Leo Briggs

Something caught my eye while reading a Slate item written by Tom Scocca and posted on December 20, 2010, “Two Ways of Looking at Our Covert War in Pakistan.”

Mr. Scocca wrote:

“There are diplomatic tensions because we are fighting a full-on undeclared war on the territory of a country with which we are an ally, using covert agents as the commanding officers”.

So what’s new?  Didn’t we fight a full-on undeclared war on the territory of Laos from about 1961 to 1973?  Wasn’t Laos an ally while trying to maintain the fig-leaf of neutrality?  Wasn’t the United States government using ‘covert agents as commanding officers’?

Moreover the New York Times published an article by Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins the same day titled “U.S. Military Seeks to Expand Raids in Pakistan”.

In particular I noticed the following that Mazzetti and Filkins attributed to senior military commanders in Afghanistan.

“The proposal, described by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash”.

Obviously, if they send in Americans in special operations units the possibility of backlash is high.  Will such teams walk across the border to their target areas and then walk out?  If such units take casualties or capture someone will helicopters be sent in to pick them up?  What happens if helicopters taking teams, casualties or prisoners in or out are shot down.  How will the provision of air cover for helicopters be handled?  What if aircraft flying air cover are shot down?  Yes, the risk of backlash is high.

“Even with the risks, military commanders say that using American Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall, if militants were captured, brought back across the border into Afghanistan and interrogated”.

Yes, indeed, captured militants can be an important source of intelligence, but what will be done with that intelligence?  The risk of backlash goes ever higher when Americans take kinetic (to use a popular euphemism) action against targets inside Pakistan.  If they don’t take action then what is the reason for taking such a high risk inside Pakistan?

Additionally, in recent years, Afghan militias backed by the C.I.A. have carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan’s tribal areas. These operations in Pakistan by Afghan operatives, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, have been previously reported as solely intelligence-gathering operations. But interviews in recent weeks revealed that on at least one occasion, the Afghans went on the offensive and destroyed a militant weapons cache.

If CIA all-Afghan counterterrorism pursuit teams have been the only U.S. assets going into Pakistan, it seems to me the U.S. military wants to take over the secret missions using Americans because the CIA counterterrorism pursuit teams have not actually captured anyone, or we would certainly have heard about it.  If we hear talk about the “intention to capture”, one would expect they could not resist touting a successful capture.  If it were up to me I would not publicize any successes, but that’s just me.

In interviews, the officials offered a more detailed description of two operations since 2008 in which Afghans working under the direction of the C.I.A. — a militia called the Paktika Defense Force — crossed the border into Pakistan. They also offered a richer account of the activities of these militia groups throughout the country.

According to an Afghan political leader, one of the raids was initiated to capture a Taliban commander working inside Pakistan. When the Afghan troops reached the compound, they did not find the Taliban commander, but the Pakistani militants opened fire on them, the Afghan said.

An American official disputed this account, saying that the C.I.A. militias are not sent over the border to capture militant leaders, but merely to gather intelligence.

In a second raid, the Paktika militia attacked and destroyed a Taliban ammunition depot and returned to base, officials said. Both of the C.I.A.-backed raids were aimed at compounds only a few miles inside Pakistani territory.

The Paktika Defense Force is one of six C.I.A.-trained Afghan militias that serve as a special operations force against insurgents throughout Afghanistan. The other militias operate around the cities of Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad as well as in the rural provinces of Khost and Kunar.

One wonders how long the CIA has been sending its counterterrorism pursuit teams or Afghan militias into Pakistan?  One supposes that if the American military wants to send American special operations units into Pakistan to capture militants to bring back to Afghanistan for interrogation then perhaps CIA’s teams or militias have not been successful in capturing anyone.  Else why is a failure the only example of a capture attempt?

I recently learned that my book, Cash on Delivery: Special Operations During the Secret War in Laos, is a recent acquisition of the FBI library at the FBI academy at Quantico.  I’m happy to hear that at least the FBI has my book available to it officers.  One can only hope that my book is also being read by American special operations personnel planning to infiltrate Pakistan to capture militants there since my book describes in detail how nineteen North Vietnamese Army soldiers were captured behind enemy lines and delivered for interrogation.  The parallels between Laos and Pakistan are striking.  Do either today’s CIA or American military special operations officers know anything about what was accomplished in Laos or how?  I have no idea.

Phi Beta Iota: A major aspect of Advanced Information Operations (IO) centers on learning the lessons of the past and not being inept on government time and the taxpayer dollar.  Neither the Pentagon nor any element of the US IC are at this time capable of Advanced IO.  The government has also failed to remember the lessons of World War II, perhaps the most important being that retired senior enlisted, Chief Warrant Officers, and company/field grade officers, brought back into government service (NOT hired as contractors) was the key to rapidly achieving integrated professionalism.  The other key lesson not remembered was the absolute non-negotiable vital importance of planning, programming, budgeting, and campaigning as a Whole of Government/Multinational Engagement team.  On Laos done right, see the first link.  On WWII intelligence done right, see the second link.  The cultural, historical, and multinational operations knowledge of the Americans at all levels from flag to strategic corporal, is so abysmal as to assure defeat of any campaign, however well-intentioned.  CIA’s “secret army”, the “Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams,” is worse than a joke, or a farce, it is a cancer.  Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) might wish to avail itself of the serious expertise from the past, rather than the CIA/vendor vapor-ware of the present.  It should not have to be said, but most CIA claims of successes in Pakistan should be considered lies absent third-party verification–this is the Agency that lies to the President and Congress with impunity, frequently.

Advanced IO is about all information in all languages all the time–organizational intelligence in the context of a Smart Nation.  It’s about situational awareness with a depth and breadth of inspired multi-cultural integrity that no element of the US Government is capable of achieving at this time.  Intelligence and integrity–two concepts that will blend within Advanced IO.

Review: Cash on Delivery–CIA Special Operations During the Secret War in Laos

Review: Very Special Intelligence