By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 29, 2009 - With a deteriorating situation in Pakistan, now is the time to strengthen the U.S.-Pakistan military partnership to help Pakistan in its counterinsurgency efforts, the undersecretary of defense for policy told Congress today. We believe that right now it is more important than ever to strengthen our military partnership with Pakistan," Michele Flournoy told the House Armed Services Committee.
The partnership is a vital component of the Obama administration's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, she said.
"We have a vital interest in defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies in the border region," she said. "We must deny them safe havens from which to launch attacks against the United States and our allies."
Flournoy described a rapidly deteriorating situation in Pakistan that she said demands a rapid response. Insurgents along its western border are steadily expanding and increasingly positioned to threaten the Pakistani heartland. Extremists basically control the Swat Valley, and last week established bases in Bruner, just 60 miles from Islamabad, she said.
"With instability increasing, many Pakistani civilians and political leaders fear violent retaliation if they openly oppose extremist groups," she told the committee. "Meanwhile, opportunities are growing for al-Qaida and its associates. From safe havens within Pakistan, they can plan and stage attacks against our troops in Afghanistan, and potentially against the United States itself."
The Pakistan government's recent military offensive underscores its recognition of the threat these extremists pose and the need to support Pakistan's efforts, Flournoy said.
"The Pakistan government is undertaking concrete actions to demonstrate their commitment to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism," she said. "We must show our Pakistan partners that if they take decisive action against extremists, we will give them the support they need."
Flournoy conceded that forging an effective partnership between the two militaries hasn't always been straightforward. For too long, she said, Pakistan has eyed India – rather than militants within its own borders – as its biggest threat, and has focused its resources accordingly. There's also been a "trust deficit" between the two countries, she said, that needs to be put behind as Pakistan and the United States recognize they share common interests.
"With only a limited capacity to conduct effective counterinsurgency operations, Pakistan's military needs assistance so it can do more," Flournoy said. "Unless we provide them with better equipment and training, such operations will continue to lead to short-term progress, but not necessarily enduring results. It is vital that we act now to provide Pakistan with the capabilities they so critically need."
Flournoy urged quick approval of the proposed Title X Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund, which she called "absolutely crucial to this effort."
The fund would give Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, the authority and funding needed to boost Pakistan's counterinsurgency capabilities quickly, she told the committee.
She called the fund "a critical tool that will allow our military assistance in Pakistan to be flexible, focused and fast, providing resources when and where they are most needed, in an urgent and rapidly evolving situation."
It also reaffirms U.S. commitment as Pakistan as it demonstrates its own commitment to taking assertive action against insurgents, she said.
Navy Vice Adm. James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr., director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, said the PCCF ultimately will benefit U.S. troops on the front lines in Afghanistan.
"It will support U.S. troops who are in an ongoing effort in Afghanistan, because this threat clearly does not respect borders in this fight," he said. Winnefeld echoed Flournoy's conviction that the U.S.-Pakistan military relationship is critical to the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.
"While we use diplomacy to build trust and buoy Pakistan's will in this very important fight in defeating the extremist threats, our ability and our efforts to build Pakistani counterinsurgency capability in the middle of an ongoing fight are also a key element of our new strategy," he said.