On April 24, President George W. Bush announced his intention to
nominate General David H. Petraeus as Commander of U.S. Central
Command (CENTCOM). As a Combatant Commander he will be responsible
for overseeing all military action in the Middle East and South
CENTCOM includes the three most violent and decisive fronts in
the battle against al-Qaeda's transnational terrorist network.
Senate leadership has indicated its plan to hold confirmation
hearings on the appointment before Memorial Day. Those hearings
should focus on the single most important issue--recognizing that
the fights in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are inextricably
linked, in much the same way as the campaigns in France, the
Mediterranean, and the Russian Front were integral to defeating
Nazi Germany during World War II. The CENTCOM commander will have
to pursue an integrated strategy that wins on all three fronts.
A War to Be Won
There are three vital fronts in the war against al-Qaeda. After
escaping Afghanistan in 2001, elements of al-Qaeda holed up in the
Pakistan border region. "The survivors split into two wings," as
international terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna recently explained
to the Los Angles Times, "Internal operations ran combat in
Pakistan and Afghanistan [helping the Taliban
regroup]….External operations oversaw attacks elsewhere."
Most of the international efforts showed only a modicum of
Iraq was an exception. Groups in the region aligned themselves
with Osama Bin Laden; one even renamed itself "al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Exploiting the poor security conditions in the country, they went
after both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians with a vengeance.
Pipelines were set up to import foot soldiers from Europe, the
Middle East, and North Africa.
Al-Qaeda has staked its reputation on demonstrating it can make
America fail in Iraq. Without question, Iraq has become a crucial
battleground in the war against al-Qaeda. Leaving al-Qaeda to
prosper in the country would be a disaster.
Breaking Taliban/Al-Qaeda Nexus in
Winning in Afghanistan and Pakistan are just as vital. In fact,
Pakistan is of major importance in the war against al-Qaeda. The
Taliban, capitalizing on the sanctuary they share with al-Qaeda in
Pakistan's tribal border areas, continue to fight coalition forces
in Afghanistan and conduct terrorist attacks against innocent
Moreover, most major international terrorist plots that have
either been executed or thwarted in the last three years have had
links to Pakistan, particularly the tribal areas. The Taliban and
al-Qaeda have a symbiotic relationship. Al-Qaeda relies on the
Taliban, which has links to the local population, to maintain its
safe haven in the Pakistani-Afghan border areas, while the Taliban
relies on al-Qaeda for ideological inspiration and access to
material support and fighters, to help it fight coalition forces in
Afghanistan. Allowing al-Qaeda to continue to operate there would
only enable it to conduct its next terrorist atrocity.
Bin Laden has taken globalization to heart. He is outsourcing
his destructive agenda by inspiring groups to adopt terrorist
tactics. It is not just the occasional bin Laden video on
al-Jazeera that creates the problem. Bin Laden's propaganda
factories are cranking out a steady stream of material. Hundreds of
DVD's and videos--on average, one every three or four days--are
finding their way throughout the Muslim world, increasingly
distributed through the Internet.
A few dozen Web sites on the Internet are "hate central." They
are providing the tools for individuals and groups to
self-radicalize. Policing the Internet and eliminating the
Web-based threat is impractical--maybe impossible. Getting online
and waging a battle of ideas in the chat rooms and file-sharing
serving is a better tactic.
Stabilizing Afghanistan and driving al-Qaeda out of its
Pakistani safe haven will also help de-legitimize the movement and
break the back of Bin Laden's operation "hate central." Ensuring
al-Qaeda has no safe harbor and no place to hide requires winning
in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
An Anvil-and-Hammer Strategy
Operations in Afghanistan need to be the "anvil." NATO
operations need to hold back the Taliban insurgency and build the
capacity for the Afghans to defend themselves. The Pakistani
military must become the "hammer" driving al-Qaeda out of its
border regions. Achieving both these goals will require significant
assistance and the focused attention of the CENTCOM commander.
The new Pakistani government's attempts to negotiate with
hardcore Taliban elements--although perhaps providing temporary
respite from suicide bombings inside Pakistan--are unlikely to
address the international threat emanating from the region and may
even heighten it. The "cease-fire" and potential pull-back of
Pakistani military troops from the region would likely only
increase the Taliban's ability to cross back and forth to
Afghanistan to fight coalition forces and continue their suicide
bombing campaign there.
The terrorist problem in Pakistan is broader and deeper than any
one Pakistani administration or any one individual leader. Links to
Taliban run deep within the Pakistani establishment and there
remains support within Pakistan for Taliban efforts to try to oust
coalition forces from Afghanistan.
Hearings Ahead: What Should Be
Washington should focus on getting the new Pakistani government
on board with a joint strategic plan that employs economic,
military, and political tools to address the terrorist threat in
the border areas. Washington should convince the civilian
government and military leadership that efforts to negotiate with
al-Qaeda-backed Taliban leaders (such as Baitullah Masood) will
only boost the influence and legitimacy of the most dangerous
terrorists in the region.
A better approach is to peel off the less ideologically
committed elements of the Taliban and demonstrate that the
hard-line leadership aligned with al-Qaeda will be defeated by
cooperative efforts between Pakistan and the U.S. Defeating
al-Qaeda in Pakistan will require a sophisticated campaign
employing all the instruments of Pakistani national power, as well
as the support and assistance of the U.S.
During the upcoming confirmation hearings, senators from both
sides of the aisle should make clear to the incoming CENTCOM
commander that winning all three fronts is vital to American
interests and that they will do everything in their power to
support accomplishing these goals.
James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research
Fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Studies, and Lisa Curtis
is Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Studies Center
at The Heritage Foundation.