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U.S. Special Forces Sent to Train Pakistanis

By YOCHI J. DREAZEN and SIOBHAN GORMAN

May 17, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. is sending Special Forces teams into one of Pakistan's most violent regions as part of a push to accelerate the training of the Pakistani military and make it a more effective ally in the fight against insurgents there.

Senior U.S. officials said 25 to 50 Special Forces personnel are deploying to two new training camps in Baluchistan, a Taliban stronghold on the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. The deployment brings U.S. personnel deeper than before into tribal regions of Pakistan, which the Obama administration views as among the world's most-dangerous flashpoints.

The Special Forces personnel will focus on training Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who cross freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said. The U.S. trainers aren't meant to fight alongside the Pakistanis or accompany them into battle, in part because there will be so few Special Forces personnel in the two training camps.

A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan's borders. A former U.S. official familiar with the plans said the deployments would "get more American eyes and ears" into the strategically important region.

The project, which draws on proposals first discussed under the Bush administration, is a joint effort with the U.K., senior U.S. officials said. The U.K. plans to help fund the training, although it is unclear if British military personnel would take part in the initiative. British officials have been pushing for such an effort for several years. It builds on small-scale, U.S. training efforts already under way in the northern part of Pakistan.

The Pakistani and British embassies in Washington declined to comment. The U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also declined to comment.

The Pentagon has asked Congress to allocate $400 million this year for a new "Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund" that is designed to allow U.S. military commanders to quickly direct money to specific Pakistani training and equipping needs. The money, the first installment of a five-year program, would be funneled through Central Command rather than the State Department.

Senior U.S. commanders argue that the arrangement would allow them to ensure Pakistan uses the money to train its forces in counterinsurgency, rather than in conventional warfare.

Pakistan has regularly rebuffed Pentagon offers to provide military trainers, saying U.S. trainers would be irresistible targets for the country's militants. Many Pakistani officers also say Pakistan's primary threat comes from India, not the Taliban, and question the utility of counterinsurgency training.

A senior Defense official said Pakistan has in recent weeks warmed to the idea of accepting training assistance from the U.S., after the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari realized that militants pose an existential danger to their country. "They finally get it," the official said.

Baluchistan is believed to harbor an array of senior leaders from al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and other armed groups. The area is also seen as strategically important because it borders Afghanistan and Iran and is home to a strong separatist movement.

Under the current plans, the U.S. is deploying two Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha to the region. So-called ODAs typically have 12 soldiers, but a U.S. official said the teams might be augmented to help speed training work.

Special Forces teams are seen as ideal for the deployments because they are used to operating clandestinely and in harsh conditions with little external support.

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com and Siobhan Gorman
at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com





:: Article nr. 54336 sent on 17-may-2009 22:03 ECT

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Link: online.wsj.com/article/SB124241541672724767.html?mod=googlenews_wsj



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