Defense Secretary James Mattis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that Pakistan might be dropped by the United States as a NATO ally due to its support for the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. Currently, Pakistan is formally designated as a major non-NATO ally (MNNA) - a defense relationship which confers military and financial benefits but does not automatically imply a mutual defense pact.
During the hearing which covered a wide range of national security issues, Mattis was asked if the US would consider revoking Pakistan's status, and responded, "I'm sure it will be." The firm but not completely unexpected response which is sure to add tensions to the already shaky US-Pakistan alliance came after Mattis stated in his opening remarks that, "we will firmly address Pakistan's role. NATO's demands need to be heard and embraced in Islamabad."
Mattis along with Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that they view Pakistan's main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as an enabler of terrorism in Central Asia. General Dunford said, “It is clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups.”
Image source: Andrew Harnik, via The Middletown Press/AP
President Trump himself recently singled out longtime US ally Pakistan as a "safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror" when he announced a new plan for ramping up US anti-terror actions in Afghanistan back in August. Trump specifically blamed Pakistan for harboring Taliban leaders and other radical Islamic allies like the Haqqani network, which has long been leading insurgences against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif recently warned Washington against using Pakistan as a "scapegoat" for US failures in America's 16-year long war in Afghanistan. Pakistan sees its role as a key regional US partner against terrorism, and consistently points out that it has suffered tens of thousands of casualties from terrorist attacks since joining the US campaign after 9/11. But US officials have pointed to Pakistan's consistent willingness to "look the other way" when it comes to the extremist groups that have long operated in its territory. Famously, Osama bin Laden himself was found to have been living comfortably in Abbottabad not far from Pakistan's premier military academy.
Lawmakers were also briefed Tuesday that the thousands of additional US troops President Trump has ordered to Afghanistan - about 3,500 to augment the roughly 11,000 currently there - will cost over $1 billion a year, bringing the Pentagon's annual expense of its Afghan operation to a whopping $12.5 billion annually.
The White House has sold the plan as a necessary long term counter terror measure with a general advisory mandate in a region long seen as the epicenter of global terrorism, but has adamantly downplayed any talk of nation building in Afghanistan. Along with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Haqqani network, a branch of the Islamic State is also on the rise in the country since 2015.
In the midst of the briefing by America's top military officers, Senator John McCain repeatedly chastised Mattis and Dunford for not bringing a clear vision of the new Afghan strategy, saying, “We want to be your partners, but this committee will not be a rubber stamp for any policy or president." And added, "unfortunately, we still have far more questions than answers about this new strategy.” But lost on McCain and other lawmakers (or more likely well known and willfully suppressed), which better explains the question of "how we got here", is the deeper issue of the origins of these terror groups which the panel acknowledged are in cahoots with Pakistan intelligence.
The birth of Sunni Islamic terror groups like the Haqqani network, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda are rooted in 'Operation Cyclone' - the 1980's CIA program to arm Afghan and Arab mujahideen fighters against the Soviet Union in Central Asia. The now well-known and exhaustively documented program produced the original Frankenstein of global jihad that spawned an entire generation of veteran terrorists, and it is the previously US-sponsored jihadi gift that keeps on giving.
In what was probably the first ever US government classified report to identify Osama Bin Laden as a terrorist threat, a 1993 paper (now declassified) called The Wandering Mujahidin: Armed and Dangerous admitted the increasingly global "jihadist movement" was spawned from "US support of the mujahidin."
The report produced by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted that the “support network that funneled money, supplies, and manpower to supplement the Afghan mujahidin” in the war against the Soviets, “is now contributing experienced fighters to militant Islamic groups worldwide,” and concluded the following:
The alleged involvement of veterans of the Afghan war in the World Trade Center bombing [February 1993] and the plots against New York targets are a bold example of what tactics some former mujahidin are willing to use in their ongoing jihad. US support of the mujahidin during the Afghan war will not necessarily protect US interests from attack.
So ironically, when Pakistan's foreign minister repeatedly tells the US to stop exclusively scapegoating Pakistani intelligence for the jihadist menace, there is more truth in his words than meets the eye. The Inter-Services Intelligence agency was but one of many US partners (Saudi Arabia and Egypt were other big ones) the US joined with in funding and supplying the original jihad which helped to leave the entire region in shambles and which spawned future generations of terrorists.