Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pakistan's Frontier Corps: Friend or Foe?

Via CT Blog -

The dustup between the U.S. and its Pakistani counterterror allies over a June 10 firefight on the Afghanistan border has stirred up new questions about Islamabad's commitment to the fight and the loyalties of its border guards.

According to Pakistan, at least 11 of its paramilitary Frontier Corps border force were killed by coalition forces firing into Pakistan from inside Afghanistan this week. That's a pretty novel charge but hardly a new complaint. What Pakistani officials typically fail to acknowledge are the countless cross-border incursions by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and other militias enjoying safe havens in their country, who often fire rockets at U.S. and Afghan bases from the tribal areas on the other side of the disputed Durand Line.

To bolster U.S. claims that its forces on the Afghan side were attacked during a combat operation in Kunar province coordinated in advance with Pakistani military commanders, the U.S. military command at Bagram Airfield released an edited video of the 90-minute firefight taken by an unmanned drone (see below). A small group of people can be seen on the infrared video firing small arms and RPGs as an unidentified narrator points out that, "It is clear that there are no military structures or outposts in the area."

While the governments involved sort out who fired at whom, it’s worth noting that U.S. troops fighting along the border have long contended that the Frontier Corps - an almost exclusively Pashtun tribal militia overseen by Islamabad - has been viewed as often aiding or abetting Islamic insurgents. Pakistan defends the force by saying they have suffered hundreds of casualties fighting extremists.

One U.S. veteran involved in the border fight recently told me about an ambush in which a Special Forces operator was killed. U.S. troops following a blood trail leading to a wounded attacker found he was a Frontier Guard officer carrying a map that identified multiple U.S. "hide sites" used to maintain covert surveillance of cross-border incursions.

When I visited Camp Tillman near Lwara, Afghanistan three years ago for the New York Daily News, U.S. commanders complained bitterly about a number of incidents in which Frontier Corps troops looked the other way when Al Qaeda-led insurgents ambushed U.S. troops and never warned their American counterparts of interlopers they could plainly see from their rocky outposts.

Last April, a Washington Post reporter visited the same area and was told by one soldier: "The Frontier Corps might as well be Taliban .... They are active facilitators of infiltration."

None of this should be surprising. A 1996 State Department cable declassified last year and obtained by the National Security Archive said Islamabad had used the Frontier Corps to train and fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. "These Frontier Corps elements are utilized in command and control; training; and when necessary - combat," the cable said.


Edited Video of the Jun 10th Battle Along the PK-AF Border (Cleared for Public Release)

No comments:

Post a Comment