In Senate testimony on Wednesday, Secretary Napolitano, FBI Director Mueller, and Michael Leiter, Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center, outlined the terrorist threat to the United States. According to Leiter:
Despite our counterterrorism (CT) progress, al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and allies remain resilient and adaptive enemies intent on attacking US and Western interests—with al-Qa‘ida’s core in Pakistan representing the most dangerous component of the larger al-Qa‘ida network. We assess that this core is actively engaged in operational plotting and continues recruiting, training, and transporting operatives, to include individuals from Western Europe and North America… We assess that al-Qa‘ida continues to pursue plans for Homeland attacks and is likely focusing on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the population.
How to deal with this “most dangerous component” is the subject of intense controversy in a number of capitals, and certainly in Washington.
But it is probably in Islamabad — or, more realistically, in Pakistan’s military capital of Rawalpindi — where the decision that matters most will be made.
Looking at the world from Rawalpindi is a bit like that classic New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg, where reality is dominated by Manhattan’s street grid and even New Jersey seems distant and barely relevant.
Until this Spring al-Qaeda seemed no more relevant than California. The Afghan Taliban were certainly wild, but as well-contained as residents of the Central Park Zoo. “Taliban-in-Pakistan” was just a new name for the fractious gangs that have long inhabited Pakistan’s equivalent of the South Bronx (before gentrification).
India was — and is — the real threat; just as middle class values creeping over from Long Island are a threat to Manhattan.
Then in April some deadly serious toughs from the South Bronx suddenly claimed the Swat Valley (think the northend of Central Park) and were gathering at 110th Street for a sweep south along Fifth Avenue. That got Rawalpindi’s attention and the gangs were mostly dispersed, at least back into the depths of Harlem.
The issue now is whether Rawalpindi should try taking out the gangs on their own home turf (think Ft. Apache, the Bronx).
Earlier this week David Ignatius, reporting from Ft. Apache in the Washington Post, predicted, “A new battle for control of Waziristan is coming, as the Pakistani military prepares a ground offensive in the Mehsud areas against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The army has code-named the operation ‘Rahe Nijat,’ which the commander here translates loosely as ‘The Way to Get Rid of Them.’ The assault could start within the next month.”
Writing in the October 8 New York Review of Books Ahmed Rashid disagrees. “However, Pakistan’s general made it abundantly clear that they will not invade South Waziristan for the moment. ‘It’s going to take months’ to launch a ground offensive, the senior commander in the area, Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmad told reporters… The army would prefer to wait and see what happens in Waziristan and also in Afghanistan.”
And in Washington. While far away, Washington D.C. looms large in Rawalpindi, much as a full moon fills the sky over Manhattan.
What Washington decides to do (or not) in Afghanistan will determine what Rawalpindi does (or not) in Waziristan. Washington currently holds the Bronx Zoo (Kabul) and can keep the Grand Concourse open to traffic. Will NATO and Pakistani troops eventually meet for a friendly game in Yankee Stadium? Or will the US and and its European allies gradually withdraw across the George Washington Bridge to far-away New Jersey?
Over the weekend an Army spokesman in Rawalpindi said that ground operations in Waziristan are “a matter of time.” Rawalpindi is ready in Waziristan. But it will not cross the East River — it will not fully engage –until it is sure that Washington and Brussels are committed east of the Hudson.
“We are up for what it takes,” says Sir David, “we will do what is asked of us,” meaning the Army will deliver whatever troops the Americans require. Although Sir David refuses to confirm the figures, the consensus is that the numbers serving in southern Afghanistan will rise from 9,000 to around 10,000. “We can, on an enduring basis, do more – there’ll be no problem with that. We all know if we get this wrong there are all sorts of implications, not just for this generation but our children’s generation.
So all eyes are on Washington. What did Thursday’s Armed Services Committee vote mean? What did the President and McChrystal say to each other on the tarmac at Copenhagen? How will Saturday’s battle near Kamdeysh influence the White House?
These are beautiful nights for moon gazing in the Hindu Kush. The winter storms are still, oh… maybe four weeks away. It’s just a matter of time.
OCTOBER 6 UPDATE: Later today CNN International will, almost certainly, displace both Bollywood and the BBC for late night viewing in Rawalpindi. At 3:00 pm (eastern), and 1:00 am Pindi time, Christiane Amanpour will interview Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding, among other topics, the war in Afghanistan. By the time the exclusive interview is over there should be an update on the results of today’s 2:30 pm White House meeting with bipartisan Congressional leadership focused on our Afghan strategy. As if this might not be sufficient, at 3:00 pm Secretary Clinton will meet with the Pakistani Foreign Minister face-to-face. At the same time, Gen. Petreaus will give a major speech (what might the topic be?). The National Security Council principals committee is scheduled to convene at 4:30. Coincidentally or not, this morning the President will visit the National Counter Terrorism Center. Looks pretty well choreographed to these eyes.