Capturing Osama

Today, Center for American Progress senior fellow Brian Katulis and Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Lisa Curtis debate the effect of breaking the U.S.-Pakistan alliance. Previously, they debated U.S. foreign aid to the country, prospects for a legitimate election under Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto's legacy and Pakistan's role in the war on terror.

Work with Pakistan to get Bin Laden

Barack Obama was right: The United States should be prepared to do what it takes to capture key Al Qaeda figures such as Osama bin Laden. For far too long, these figures have been on the loose — it is a national embarrassment every time the leaders of an organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans taunt the United States in tapes released to the media.

This failure is in large part a consequence of the Bush administration's strategic error to shift resources to an unnecessary war of choice in Iraq and away from completing the mission in Afghanistan. By taking the United States into Iraq, President Bush diverted precious national security assets from dismantling Al Qaeda's leadership. A 2006 2006 National Intelligence Estimate from the top U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Iraq war gave a boost to global terrorist networks by providing them with a rallying cry and recruitment tool. A separate NIE released last year detailed how Al Qaeda had reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure and lines of global communication — with key parts of the ungoverned areas of northwestern Pakistan becoming a major terrorist haven.

The Pakistani government's inability to control many parts of its territory is a key part of the problem. The failure to capture top Al Qaeda leadership is a result either of a lack of capacity or a lack of desire on the part of Pakistani authorities — or some combination. As long as the Pakistani government does not deal with this problem, the United States and other countries have a responsibility to address this threat.

The best path forward, of course, is to work with Pakistani governing institutions to boost their capacity to conduct these operations. If the Pakistani government is willing and able, so much the better. One of Sen. Obama's main points was that the United States would mount a unilateral operation if and only if the Pakistani government can't or won't mount such an operation.

The United States and other countries are taking steps to work more closely with Pakistan's government. Earlier this week, the top U.S. military commander in the region said that Pakistan's government recently expressed increased willingness to cooperate with U.S. forces that could be introduced on the ground. That's perhaps a step in the right direction, but the nature of increased cooperation and support needs to be part of a broader strategy that focuses on performance and outcomes — and not just an unconditional program that allows for more corruption and diverted military assistance funds. There are signs that other countries are looking to step up their cooperation with Pakistan's government. Earlier this week, the British government sent a high-level counter-terrorism delegation led by the prime minister's security advisor to discuss joint efforts.

But we cannot afford to just focus narrowly on military cooperation. The United States and other countries need to redouble their efforts to resolve the political tensions growing in the run-up to Pakistan's elections next month — the last thing Pakistan needs is more instability from an illegitimate election. Boosting the capacity of Pakistani institutions also means garnering support from the Pakistani public and key figures such as tribal leaders — which is why a singularly focused military approach is not likely to eradicate terrorist havens.

In the long run, cooperating with the Pakistani government is the best way forward, but it shouldn't be unconditional cooperation. When it comes to addressing the threat posed by global terrorists, the United States should take no option off the table. But we also cannot afford more of the same simplistic strategies to address problems that have deeper roots.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is the coauthor of the forthcoming book, "The Prosperity Agenda."

Don't make provocative statements

If the U.S. has good, actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas, it should certainly act on it — in coordination with the Pakistani leadership. In fact, we have already seen at least two targeted attacks against suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda deputy Ayman Zawahiri in Bajaur, one in January 2006 and another in October 2006. These attacks demonstrate that when actionable intelligence is available, it will be acted on.

While I agree that eliminating the burgeoning terrorist haven in Pakistan's borderlands should be Washington's No. 1 counter-terrorism goal in 2008, I disagree, Brian, on the best way to achieve this goal. Taking precipitous U.S. unilateral military action on Pakistani territory could backfire and worsen the global terrorist threat emanating from South Asia. Such action could lead to a revolt within the Pakistani military, thereby destabilizing the Pakistani government and tipping the balance in favor of Islamist extremists. It could be just the sort of destabilizing event Al Qaeda needs to make a run at controlling Pakistan and its nuclear assets.

Barack Obama overlooks the fact that the Pakistanis are already cooperating with the U.S. against Al Qaeda targets, having captured and handed over several senior Al Qaeda leaders, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Obama also fails to take account of the close coordination that exists between U.S. and Pakistani forces in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. Although there may not be U.S. forces stationed on Pakistani soil, they operate just over the border in Afghanistan and communicate regularly with their Pakistani counterparts. Pakistan has about 100,000 troops stationed near the border with Afghanistan.

One problem with statements like Obama's is that they come across as direct threats to the Pakistani public and create a sense of insecurity about the U.S. role in the region. Instead of making threatening statements, we should focus on convincing Pakistanis that these terrorists pose a direct threat to their own national security interests and on developing a joint strategic approach to addressing the problem. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden recently made this point when he commented that the turmoil in Pakistan over the last few weeks has deepened U.S.-Pakistan cooperation and highlighted our mutual interests.

Besides getting Pakistan onboard with a strategy that pools our intelligence and brings U.S. military resources to bear on the situation in the tribal areas, Washington also needs to persuade Pakistan to proactively undermine the Taliban/Al Qaeda ideology and break entirely with Islamist militancy. Remaining sympathies and links between elements of the Pakistani security establishment and Islamist militant groups that previously fought in Kashmir or with the Taliban in Afghanistan hamper Pakistan's ability to gain the upper hand against the extremist threat.

Last July's showdown at the Red Mosque was a turning point in Pakistan's battle with extremism. Most of the suicide bombings over the last six months, which have targeted Pakistani security forces, are retaliation for the military operation at the mosque. The situation in Pakistan is fluid and delicate and requires strategic diplomacy, not provocative statements.

I disagree with the idea that publicly conditioning U.S. assistance on "performance and outcomes" will serve U.S. counter-terrorism objectives in Pakistan. It will only feed the perception that the U.S. is using Pakistan to achieve its own goals, rather than demonstrate that the U.S. and Pakistan are partners in the battle against extremism.

Lisa Curtis is a senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation (

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