Failed Strategy to Halt Pakistan-Based Militant Groups Has Helped Lead to Rising Number of U.S. Terror Plots

For Release

June 21, 2010

The rising number of terrorist plots in the United States with links to Pakistan—most recently the failed car-bombing in New York City—is partly a result of an unsuccessful strategy by Pakistan and the U.S. to weaken the range of militant groups operating in Pakistan, according to a new RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study examines counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan and finds that militant groups persist in the nation because Pakistani leaders continue to provide support to some groups and have not yet developed an effective counterinsurgency strategy that protects the local population.

The long-term objective of developing a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy—including addressing deficiencies in local police forces, providing aid and assistance to displaced civilians, expanding development efforts, and creating new legal structures and improved governance—must take precedence over efforts to destroy the enemy if Pakistan is to end the militant threat, the study finds.

Researchers say the United States should restrict some military assistance to Pakistan until the nation ends its support of militant groups operating on Pakistan soil. U.S. strategy is focused too much on carrots and too little on sticks.

"While Pakistan has had some success halting militant groups since 2001, these groups continue to present a significant threat to not only Pakistan, but to the United States and a host of other countries as well," said Seth G. Jones, the study's co-author and a political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "A number of militant networks—including al Qa'ida, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad—remain entrenched in Pakistan and pose a grave threat to the state and the region."

In addition to al Qa'ida, numerous foreign and domestic militant groups have established networks in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, the North West Frontier Province and other areas of Pakistan. Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing, reportedly had ties to several groups, such as Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan and the Haqqani Network.

Jones and co-author Christine Fair of Georgetown University say that Pakistan's army and Frontier Corps have failed to demonstrate a consistent ability to clear and hold territory for long periods. While Pakistan has undertaken a number of operations against insurgent groups since 2001, the study finds the successes are short-lived and do not address the long-term threat.

Pakistani military efforts during Operation Al Mizan—especially in South Waziristan in 2004—showed serious deficiencies in conducting cordon-and-search operations and holding territory.

Army and Frontier Corps forces have had some recent successes, however. This includes efforts during Operation Sher Dil in 2008 (Bajaur region), Operation Rah-e-Rast in 2009 (Swat region) and Operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009 and 2010 (South Waziristan region), the report finds.

Yet even with this success, Pakistan's efforts are thwarted by its decision to support some militant groups. The country's acquisition of nuclear weapons emboldened its support to militant groups by dampening concerns of retaliation by India. However, the policy of supporting militants backfired after Sept. 11, 2001, when militant groups, including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, conducted terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

In recent months there appear to be changes in Pakistan's policy as evidenced in the capture of senior Taliban leaders such as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. But it remains unclear whether Pakistani leaders have made a systematic break with militant groups, the report finds.

"Pakistan has long used its support of militant groups as a foreign policy tool, so ending that will take time," Jones said. "U.S. leaders need to work with Pakistan on a timeline with measurable benchmarks for success, as well as the establishment of an enforcement mechanism through intelligence collection. Military aid should be conditioned on success in meeting these objectives."

The study highlights the success of the unmanned aerial vehicle strategy as worthy of continued support. The two nations have cooperated in the use of UAVs for intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance and occasionally targeting militants. Drone attacks have killed or wounded dozens of al Qa'ida and other militant commanders over the last several years.

The report, "Counterinsurgency in Pakistan," can be found at Funding for this study was provided by RAND's Investment in People and Ideas program, which combines philanthropic contributions from individuals, foundations, and private-sector firms with earnings from RAND's endowment and operations to support research on issues that reach beyond the scope of traditional client sponsorship.

The report was prepared by the RAND National Security Research Division, which conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Combatant Commands, the defense agencies, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Intelligence Community, other U.S. federal government departments, allied governments, and foundations.

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