US Makes Plans to Train Security Forces in Pakistan

By Julian E. Barnes

The Los Angeles Times

Thursday 24 January 2008

American troops would have a limited role in the South Asian nation, where public anger is expected.

Washington - The Pentagon is making plans to send military personnel to Pakistan to train its security forces, taking advantage of promising ties with the country's new top general, Defense officials say.

The Bush administration has avoided using American troops in Pakistan because it would be deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.

The plans would limit the U.S. mission to instructing Pakistani trainers, officials said recently, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proposals are not final. Those Pakistanis then would train their country's forces.

"The U.S. has to be careful of what it is doing inside Pakistan," said a Defense official who studies Pakistan and was one of those who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If it becomes obvious, that's one of the things that could undermine the stability of the Pakistan government. It could provoke a response that could easily get out of hand."

If the training efforts go forward, it will be in part because of the influence of Gen. Ashfaq Kiani, Pakistan's new army chief of staff. Kiani, who took over as military chief in November when President Pervez Musharraf relinquished the post under growing political pressure, already has taken steps to move the Pakistani military away from its focus on preparedness against rival India and toward fighting Islamic extremists.

"Kiani wants to get the military where it needs to be, improve morale but with a focus of going after the militants," said the Defense official.

Kiani has established a training facility with U.S. support that would help prepare Pakistani forces to take on militants, Pentagon officials said.

The general also has moved to improve the paramilitary force known as the Frontier Corps, which patrols the tribal region along the border with Afghanistan, an area believed to be a haven for militants.

The army said it attacked suspected militant hide-outs Wednesday and early today near the border in South Waziristan, killing 40 rebels and arresting 30, the Associated Press reported. At least eight soldiers also died.

U.S. Defense officials said they believed Kiani could initiate a more intensive series of operations against Al Qaeda, something that Musharraf has avoided.

The Frontier Corps, drawn from local recruits but led by army officers, has been plagued by a lack of funding, poor training, ancient equipment and terrible leadership.

Despite improvements, other U.S. Defense officials said, the Pakistani military's counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism abilities are still poor, especially in the autonomous tribal areas.

"The Pakistani military has a ways to go," said a Pentagon official who has studied Al Qaeda's operations in the area. "Can they deal Al Qaeda any sort of decisive blow that in past years they haven't been able to do?"

The new Pentagon plans come as Islamic militants have refocused on a Pakistan that has grown politically less stable in recent months and as American lawmakers have complained that billions of dollars in military aid to the Musharraf government have been misdirected.

U.S. Defense officials have signaled that they would like to take a more active role in the training of Pakistan's military forces. But they say they are keenly aware of the danger of provoking a backlash in Pakistani public opinion.

The Pentagon has ruled out any use of combat forces in Pakistan to go after top Al Qaeda figures directly. For years, Musharraf has warned emphatically against such U.S. action.

The plan to "train the trainers," using U.S. special operations forces or other military experts, would address those concerns, officials believe.


Times staff writer Peter Spiegel in Washington contributed to this report.