By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 24, 2010 - The Pakistani military and government are grappling with the problems of militants in the country and don't get enough credit for the sacrifices they are making, according to U.S. military officials here. Since the beginning of the Swat campaign, the Pakistani military has been involved in 16 months of continuous combat against extremist groups in Swat, South Waziristan and the Northwest Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), a U.S. military official said on background.
The Pakistani military has more than 140,000 troops involved in the operations – or more than seven infantry divisions worth of soldiers. "It's the longest military campaign in Pakistani history," the official said. "They have never fought anything this hard, for this long."
The official added that there have been thousands of military and civilian casualties in the affected provinces. "The Pakistani military deserves our respect, and frankly, they deserve our support," the official said. "They are fighting extremist elements that are a threat not just in Pakistan, but across the broader region."
It is not all straight progress. There are things that the United States would like the Pakistanis to do, but they either cannot or will not at this time, the official said.
Counterinsurgency is one of the toughest campaigns to fight, and the Pakistanis – like the NATO and Afghan troops across the border – are learning as they go along. The official said the Pakistani effort is not perfect and that there are groups that American leaders would like them to go after.
"Still, they have cleared thousands of square kilometers of extremist presence," he said. "There are still thousands left to do, and the Pakistanis will be the first to acknowledge it."
The toughest aspect is getting the civil-military mix correct. The mission is to get the people of these regions to side with the government and not the extremists. The government has to be able to deliver basic services to the people and give them a path toward progress, the official said. This is proving to be a tougher and longer slog.
The areas did not have government trained or funded police, and local tribes provided the only security. Now even that is gone and the army has moved in to provide security. But the military cannot leave the region for fear the extremists will return.
The Pakistani government has made progress in training police for the area, but there still are too few to allow army units to leave.
"The Pakistanis understand that their clearing operations cannot be the totality of what they are doing," the official said. "They know they have to develop law enforcement capabilities. They know they have to do development and governance."
The bottom line is the Pakistanis have a plan for dealing with the problem of violent extremism in the tribal areas, the official said. But that plan will take time and is hampered by lack of resources.
"That resonates with me," the official said. "They are dealing with tens of thousands of violent extremists, and we ought to give them some space and some time, given what they have sacrificed for the last 16 months. The reality is they are headed in the right direction."