Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate's Committee on Armed Services, spoke with reporters this morning by phone from the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, where he was preparing to board a plane for Israel, the final stop on a fact-finding trip that had already taken him to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Discussion of the latter took up most of the conference call, with Levin urging that NATO forces based in Afghanistan amend their rules of engagement to allow troops to engage enemy fighters on the Pakistani side of the border.
"It's not right for our troops to be shot at and not respond," Levin said. "We have every right." In fact, U.S. forces already return fire across the border when attacked, but NATO partners—Germany to the north; Canada and the UK to the south—do not. Levin said that a tougher response from troops based along the border would help prevent Taliban and Al Qaeda from slipping back and forth so easily, a continuing frustration for the U.S. military.
The other side of that coin is the Pakistani government's apparent lack of effort to stop the cross-border flow of insurgents and weapons. Levin told reporters that U.S. intelligence agencies have evidence that Pakistani army troops not only give Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents free passage, they also, in certain cases, have actively aided their military operations—a fact that brings into question continued military aid for the Pakistani regime. The Frontier Corps, in particular, a tribal militia that has become the recipient of millions of dollars in U.S. support, is of suspect loyalty, said Levin. (Read my earlier piece on the Frontier Corps here.) Whether funding for the Corps or other parts of Pakistan's military will continue depends on whether those forces are being used for their intended purpose, namely to crush Taliban fighters and establish some modicum of government control over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. "We don't want to strengthen the Pakistan side if they're going to misuse the support," Levin said.