U.S. Bails On Key Military Strategy

By John Barry

As the U.S. army retreated last week from its final outpost in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley--the short way up to Kabul for insurgents coming over the remote Pakistani border--American officials tried to frame the move as part of the administration's new strategy to shift focus away from the frontier and toward protecting large population centers and main roads. But Pakistan fears the pullout confirms the U.S. is walking away from a key military agreement.

Under the "hammer and anvil" deal, the two sides agreed to coordinate efforts to prevent insurgents escaping an offensive on one side of the border from taking sanctuary on the other. The Pakistani military has spent two years exerting control over its side of the Korengal border, just to see an estimated 700 Taliban take refuge in Afghanistan, unchallenged by withdrawing U.S. forces.

The future of the hammer-and-anvil strategy has become the No. 1 topic for the Pakistani military. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani pressed the issue in Washington last month, as did Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani during the recent nuclear-security summit. Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani says Pakistani forces played the "anvil" role during recent U.S. operations in Helmand province, but requests for reciprocal backup for Pakistani operations in the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas have not been met. "Hammer-and-anvil has to work both ways," he says.

Pakistani officials have pointed out that the Soviets adopted precisely the same "urban centers" strategy back in the mid-1980s, abandoning efforts to stop the flow of insurgents across the border. It was a huge tactical blunder. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. is in the process of making that same error.