But those weren’t chickens coming home, they were Apache attack helicopters. And the roost wasn’t their own, it was the Taliban’s.
Unfortunately for members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps, that roost was also at one of their outposts:
NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.
Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s shipments by land.
The attack is the worst incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan, its ally in the war on militancy, have been strained following the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.
Ugly on its face, and certain to further inflame the ever-combustible Pakistani body politic and their military masters. But the invaluable Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal provides some much needed context:
The US has also conducted several cross-border attacks while in “hot pursuit” of Taliban forces. ISAF has maintained that it has the right to pursue retreating Taliban forces “after following the proper rules of engagement under inherent right of self defense.” [See LWJ report, Pakistan closes NATO supply route after latest US cross-border attack]
The US has pursued Taliban fighters across the border multiple times in the past. Two of the most high-profile incidents occurred in 2008, and three others took place in 2010. The first took was in June 2008, when US troops pursued a Taliban force from Kunar into Mohmand, and killed 11 fighters. The Pakistani government claimed that the US killed Frontier Corps troops, but the US released video of the incident showing the Taliban being targeted as they fled from Kunar into Mohmand. Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps is known to support the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The second incident took place in Khyber in November 2008, when US forces launched rocket attacks and ground strikes into the Tirah Valley, a known haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Lashkar-e-Islam. Seven people were reported killed and three were wounded in the strikes.
The last three such incidents took place in the fall of 2010, when US helicopters attacked Haqqani Network fighters crossing back into the Pakistani tribal agencies of North Waziristan and Kurram after the terror group attacked US bases in Khost and Paktia provinces. More than 50 Haqqani Network fighters were reported killed in the Kurram attacks. Pakistan claimed two Frontier Corps troops were killed.
Kill our guys, or provide aid and comfort to those who do, and we’ll kill you right back, seems to be the message here. Claims of “sovereignty” being little more than a fig leaf to cover all but open hostilities.
But Pakistan needs US aid, and so long as we’ve got boots on deck in Afghanistan, the US will need the Pakistani logistics pipeline. Sadly, that’s about the entire extent of the overlap between the two nominal allies’ interests. When the clock runs out in Afghanistan, as it will someday soon, the US will no longer need that pipeline. The Pakistani army, having “successfully” asserted a position for itself in deciding whatever comes next in Afghanistan and “preserving strategic depth” against their Indian nemesis, should concern itself with whether it will still need US aid. They can play the China card of course, but once the US is out they may find that China’s renmimbi comes attached with more conditions than does the US dollar, and that the loss of sovereignty can have many meanings.
I suspect we’ll see more of this, rather than less, as NATO tries desperately to find an honorable exit.