US plans bigger role in training Pakistani forces

March 2nd, 2008 - 7:36 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

Washington, March 2 (IANS) Even as Pakistan is getting ready to install a democratically elected government after many years, the US is planning to significantly increase the size and scope of its role in military training in the country. The US is to send about 100 trainers to work with a Pakistani paramilitary force fighting the Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the restive tribal areas, American military officials have said, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The US Central Command is considering a plan to help train the Frontier Corps, an 85,000 strong paramilitary force recruited from ethnic groups on the border with Afghanistan.

This drastically expands the existing programme under which small teams of US Special Operations forces have been training their Pakistani counterparts in counterinsurgency tactics, the paper said.

Initially, US trainers would be restricted to training compounds, but could eventually accompany Pakistani troops on missions against the militants, a senior US military official said. Britain is also considering a similar training mission in Pakistan, according to the Times.

“The US is bringing in a small number of trainers to assist Pakistan in their efforts to improve training of the Frontier Corps,” Elizabeth O. Colton, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Islamabad, said in an e-mail message, the paper said.

The Pentagon has spent about $25 million so far to equip the Frontier Corps with new body armour, vehicles, radios and surveillance equipment, and plans to spend $75 million more in the next year.

Overall, a senior Bush administration official told the Times, the US could spend close to $400 million in the next several years to enhance the Frontier Corps, including building a training base near Peshawar.

The proposed programme is considered modest compared with the US training efforts under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is unlikely to grow into a larger US combat presence because of Pakistani sensitivities to US military presence in the country, the Times added.

Until now, the US officials have worked closely with President Pervez Musharraf on counter-terrorism policies and training programmes. But the recent poll victory of Pakistan’s opposition parties has complicated that relationship. It is unclear how the new leaders like Asif Ali Zardari, the head of the Pakistan Peoples Party, will embrace those policies, the Times said.

However, US officials are taking some other steps to bolster Pakistan’s long-term ability to battle the militants. At the request of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the US Central Command has sent a four-member intelligence team, led by a lieutenant colonel, to work with Pakistani intelligence officers in Islamabad.

This involves techniques on sharing satellite imagery and addressing Pakistani requests to buy equipment used to intercept the militants’ communications, a senior American officer told the Times.

The US is also helping to establish coordination centres on the border of Pakistan with Afghanistan for Afghan, Pakistani and US officials to share intelligence about extremist groups in and around the tribal areas.

The proposal to train Frontier Corps is subject to the approval of the commander, Admiral William J. Fallon, and top Pentagon officials, including Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Admiral Fallon said in an interview at his headquarters last week that additional trainers would be part of “a comprehensive approach” to address Pakistan’s security needs.

Pakistani officials acknowledged the Pentagon’s offer for more trainers, but said they were yet to get details of the Central Command plan, the Times reported.

The Frontier Corps had till recently not received US military financing because the paramilitary force falls under the Pakistani Interior Ministry, a non-military agency that the Pentagon does not deal with ordinarily.

But the corps is drawn from Pashtun tribesmen, who know the language and culture of the tribal areas, and is considered the most suitable force to combat an insurgency there. It will take several years, however, to build the corps into an effective counterinsurgency operations outfit.

Pakistani troops, trained to fight a conventional war with India, are said to be weak in counterinsurgency skills. In January, hundreds of Islamic militants attacked a paramilitary fort in the South Waziristan tribal region, killing 22 soldiers and taking several others hostage.

A Pentagon official said the fort was overrun in part because the commander had failed to range his artillery properly before the attack, the Times said.

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