The future of America’s partnership with Pakistan may now be in doubt following the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf. In the past, Pakistan, behind the leadership of President Musharraf, has been an important ally in the fight against terrorism. Now that the future of this relationship is clouded with uncertainty, the U.S. must look to its own military capabilities to ensure that the long-term mission in Afghanistan is successful.
One of the greatest threats to this mission remains the incursion of terrorists across the 1,500-mile border separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly the 500-mile border along the Federally Administered Tribal Area. This area--inhabited by Pushtun tribes and comprised of rugged terrain--continues to facilitate the lethal migration of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighter across the border.
The effectiveness of these fighters is illustrated by last month’s attack on a patrol element of the 173rd Airborne Combat Team near the border village of Wanat. While the enemy was prevented from taking position and ultimately defeated, nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 15 others were wounded. Clearly, the incursion of terrorists across the border presents a significant threat to U.S. ground forces.
Rugged border terrain may not be well suited for infantry patrols, but it is made to order for the ‘curtaining’ of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) coverage. ISR capability is America’s 21st Century advantage for covering small to large sized areas with ‘persistent” tactical surveillance through the use of cameras that are attached to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
This type of surveillance has successfully aided the U.S. in targeting roadside bomb emplacers in Iraq and, if utilized properly in Afghanistan, will prove equally valuable. A corps of UAVs, supplemented by manned systems and linked to a quick reactionary force of fighter aircraft, helicopters or artillery, could effectively identify and interdict al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists moving across the borderland.
Once insurgents are detected, they can be monitored by a succession of aircraft supplemented by ground observation posts and dealt with immediately by air-to-ground firepower. When all the transit corridors along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are covered by a curtain of persistent tactical surveillance, surprise attacks against U.S. ground forces along the border, such as the recent attack against the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, will be increasingly more difficult for the enemy to execute.