Just after midnight on November 26, U.S. attack helicopters attacked two Pakistani frontier posts located roughly one mile inside Pakistan along the troubled Pakistan-Afghanistan border. At least 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed and another 13 wounded, according to Pakistani reports.
The Pakistani reaction was immediate and ferocious. Pakistan ordered the US to remove its personnel from an airbase in Baluchistan from which, according to press reports, Predator drone strikes have been launched. Pakistan also cut off two key NATO supply lines through Jamrud in Khyber and Chaman in Baluchistan.
The US claims that American and Afghan forces, part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operating on the Afghan side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, came under fire from Pakistani territory and called in air support. The Pakistanis deny this version of events and characterize the US attacks as unprovoked. Major General Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistan military stated, "I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF."
What really happened remains unclear. Investigations are ongoing. What is crystal clear at this juncture, however, is that over 100,000 American troops, plus tens of thousands of military personnel from other NATO countries are now virtually trapped in the landlocked nation of Afghanistan, completely dependent on supply lines that run through Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union.
And the news keeps getting worse. Sensing weakness, Russia has begun to make noises like it might also shut off supply lines transiting its territory. Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin recently told national lawmakers in Moscow that if NATO did not respond to Russia's concerns about missile defense, "We will have to link them with other matters ' this could include Afghanistan."
Sixty percent of the supplies used by US forces in Afghanistan transit Pakistan. The logistical requirements of the American army in the Afghan theater are staggering. Leaving aside food, ammunition and a million other necessities, the US military in Afghanistan consumes 300,000 barrels of oil a day. Every drop of that oil has to be trucked in country. NATO so far keeps stressing that there is no immediate threat to continued operations, but that will be true for only so long. Wars consume mountains of supplies, and without fuel, food and bullets soldiers will not fight for long.
The supply lines across Pakistan may reopen in the near future. We may well avert catastrophe, at least for the near term. But the potential for a true debacle is all too clear. If there is such a debacle, it will be one of our own making, one born of delusion. The truth is that there is nothing surprising about what happened on November 26, 2011 nor should it have startled anyone that American and Afghan troops were coming under fire from Pakistani territory. The Pakistanis have been firing on coalition forces and Afghan territory for months, and we have largely chosen to ignore it.
Since the summer of 2011, there have been countless reports of artillery fire into Afghanistan from Pakistani military outposts. During one previous incident, on June 18th, an American helicopter gunship was called in to provide air support. A Pakistani observation post, one mile inside that country, was hit. That action was taken only after Pakistani artillery shells had already struck several Afghan homes and attempts to communicate with the Pakistanis and terminate the shelling had failed.
In fact, Pakistan has shelled Afghan border towns all along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on numerous occasions in the last several months. In July, the New York Times reported that 42 Afghans had been killed and 48 wounded by Pakistani artillery fire within the last three months alone.
Nor have Pakistani attacks been confined to Afghan civilian targets. With increasing frequency, American troops have also come under attack from the Pakistani side of the border. In recent months, in fact, there has been a dramatic increase in mortar and rocket attacks launched from Pakistani territory against American military units inside Afghanistan.
Speaking earlier this year, LTG Curtis Scaparotti, deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan stated, "The cross border fires this year...are over four times higher than they had been in the past years." In many cases, such fire has been determined to have originated from the immediate proximity of known Pakistani Frontier Corps border posts. That means either that the Pakistanis themselves are conducting the firing or that they are looking the other way while insurgents are conducting the firing.
All of this is part and parcel of the overall Pakistani program of double-dealing and deception. While we insist on denying reality and maintaining the fiction that we are dealing with allies who share our interests and on whom we can depend, that does not make it so. Pakistan continues to take a whole host of actions, from supporting terrorist groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba to rocketing American soldiers, that are directly contrary to our national interests.
We may wish that it were otherwise. That does not alter the facts on the ground. Continuing to pursue a strategy that is built on the fiction that the Pakistanis are our dependable and steadfast allies is not a reasonable option. It is time we faced that fact and began to modify our plans in Afghanistan accordingly. We are perilously close to having an entire American army cut off and surrounded in the mountains of Central Asia. We are perilously close to paying the price for our delusions.