Bush’s orders to send special forces after Taliban militants have roots in previous presidencies.
Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Sept 15, 2008
Reporter Howard LaFranchi talks about the US military’s raids inside Pakistan, looking for terrorists.
WASHINGTON - Orders President Bush signed in July authorizing raids by special operations forces in the areas of Pakistan controlled by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and undertaking those raids without official Pakistani consent, have roots stretching back to the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In an address to a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11, President Bush said, “From this day forward any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
But even before that declaration, two key steps had been taken: One, Congress had authorized the use of US military force against terrorist organizations and the countries that harbor or support them. Two, Bush administration officials had warned Pakistan’s leaders of the dire consequences their country would face if they did not unequivocally enlist in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism.
What Mr. Bush’s July orders signify is that, after seven years of encouraging Pakistan to take on extremists harbored in remote areas along its border with Afghanistan and subsidizing the Pakistani military handsomely to do it, the US has become convinced that Pakistan is neither able nor willing to fight the entrenched Taliban and Al Qaeda elements. Indeed, recent events appear to have convinced at least some in the administration that parts of Pakistan’s military and powerful intelligence service are actually aiding the extremists.
“We’ve moved beyond the message stage here. I think the US has had it with messages that don’t get any action, and that is why the president authorized this,” says Kamran Bokhari, director of Middle East analysis for Stratfor, an intelligence consulting firm in Washington. “This says loud and clear, ‘We’re fed up.’ “
Even before the July order, the US had undertaken covert operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Moreover, the CIA over the past year has stepped up missile attacks by the unmanned Predator drones it operates to hit targets in the region. That increase has coincided with a deterioration of the war in Afghanistan, where the Afghan Army and NATO forces have come under increasing attack from militants crossing over the rugged and lawless border from Pakistan.
But Bush’s orders, first reported in The New York Times Thursday, mean that operations against insurgent sanctuaries will become overt and probably more frequent. A Sept. 3 ground assault involving US commandos dropped from helicopters targeted a suspected terrorist compound. Missile attacks by the CIA’s unmanned drones, including one Friday reported by Pakistani officials to have killed at last 12 people, are also on the rise.
Precedence for the orders authorizing the attacks on terrorist havens can be found in President Bill Clinton’s authorization of retaliatory attacks in 1993 (against Iraqi intelligence facilities) and in 1998 (against terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Sudan), and in President Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Libya, legal scholars say.
The administration has debated the use of commando raids in Pakistan for years, but the tipping point came in July, as relations with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders deteriorated, intelligence sources say. The “kicker,” according to one source who requested anonymity over the sensitivity of the issue, was two July events: the bombing of India’s embassy in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, an act that US intelligence officials concluded was aided by Pakistani intelligence operatives; and a July 13 attack on a US military outpost in eastern Afghanistan that killed nine US soldiers. The outpost attack was carried out by Taliban militants who had crossed over the nearby border from Pakistan.
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