US plans a military offensive in Pakistan

Daniel W. Drezner has an interesting thread on a planned US offensive deep within Pakistan – to get bin Laden and other jehadis. Coupled with stories that the US is losing patience with Pakistan on the nuclear proliferation issue, US-Pakistan relations may be on the brink of departure.

What the US is probably doing is preparing a contingency plan should the ‘stand up guy’ fall. In spite of all the great deeds Musharraf has done, the key jehadis are still at large. His partners in parliament – the MMA- are unapologetic about their support for jehadis in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

U.S. Central Command is assembling a team of military intelligence officers that would be posted in Pakistan ahead of the operation, according to sources familiar with details of the plan and internal military communications. The sources spoke on the condition they not be identified.

As now envisioned, the offensive would involve Special Operations forces, Army Rangers and Army ground troops, sources said. A Navy aircraft carrier would be deployed in the Arabian Sea.

Referred to in internal Pentagon messages as the “spring offensive,” the operation would be driven by certain undisclosed events in Pakistan and across the region, sources said. A source familiar with details of the plan said this is “not like a contingency plan for North Korea, something that sits on a shelf. This planning is like planning for Iraq. They want this plan to be executable, now.” [Chicago Tribune]

But it is unlikely that the US will push its luck and attempt an direct military offensive when Musharraf is still around. The ‘certain undisclosed events’ almost certainly include Musharraf’s exit from the scene.

The Reaction from Pakistan

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan, however, described the report as “totally baseless and fabricated”. [Daily Times]

Update

That poses a dilemma for the administration: how to press the hunt for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda without putting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the “war on terror,” at further risk.

Two administration officials said some senior Pentagon officials were pushing for an aggressive hunt for Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, while some officials at the State Department and in the National Security Council argued that Musharraf’s already fragile regime, under growing pressure from Islamic hard-liners, would be further destabilized if he allowed foreign troops to operate on Pakistani soil [LA Times]