U.S. doubts Pakistan’s plan to defeat Taliban: report

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pakistan lacks a robust plan to defeat Taliban militants and its security forces struggle to hold areas cleared of the al Qaeda-linked fighters at great cost, according to U.S. report released on Tuesday.

The United States wants Pakistan to subdue Taliban fighters using safe havens in its rugged tribal areas to attack U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan.

“There remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 forces,” President Barack Obama’s administration said in a report to lawmakers in Congress.

Major security operations by Pakistani forces along the lawless Afghan border have failed to break Taliban fighters’ resolve, a fact underlined by twin suicide bombings of a Sufi shrine in eastern Pakistan on Sunday that killed 41.

The report highlighted concern that even if areas were cleared of militants, fighters were not being kept out.

“This is the third time in the past two years that the army has had to conduct major clearing operations … a clear indication of the inability of the Pakistani military and government to render clear areas resistant to insurgent return,” the report said.

The doctrine of clearing ground occupied by insurgents, holding it against their return and then building up the infrastructure and public services to engender confidence in the local population was used effectively by U.S. forces in Iraq.

One problem was the “low operational readiness” of the Pakistani military’s helicopter fleet — a vital tool in effective counterinsurgency strategy. The report noted this situation had been exacerbated by Pakistan’s reluctance to accept U.S. maintenance teams to work on the helicopters.

On a more encouraging note, the report said U.S.-Pakistan military cooperation had survived the outcry caused by a deadly shooting incident involving a CIA contractor.

“In spite of strains on the relationship stemming from the detention of U.S. official Raymond Davis, bilateral military cooperation continues on a positive trajectory,” it said.

A Pakistani court acquitted Davis of murder charges last month after a deal that involved the payment of compensation, or “blood money,” to the families of two men that he shot and killed. Davis said the men he shot were trying to rob him.

On Afghanistan, the report was sharply critical of a financial crisis involving Afghanistan’s Kabulbank that it said could undermine international donor confidence in the country.

“The Afghan government’s inability – thus far — to respond adequately and prosecute those responsible for the KabulBank financial crisis has given donors great concern,” it said.

The Afghan government has agreed to break up Afghanistan’s biggest private lender after a multimillion-dollar fraud scandal, in the face of the threatened loss of support from the International Monetary Fund and billions of dollars of aid.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Christopher Wilson)

U.S. doubts Pakistan’s plan to defeat Taliban: report