The recent attack by Pakistan Taliban fighters, based in Afghanistan, into Pakistan, where they killed 13 Pakistani soldiers, has not gotten the attention it deserves.
The Pakistani Taliban fighters fled the Swat Valley in Pakistan after a Pakistani army assault beginning in 2009. They found refuge in Kunar and Nuristan provinces–remote areas of eastern Afghanistan where the U.S. Army fought many fierce battles (Sebastian Junger’s book War and his film “Restrepo” are set here) before pulling back. That pullback was undertaken because these frontier regions are not major population centers but, because U.S. forces are no longer there in substantial numbers, various insurgents have been able to filter back in. This should serve as a stark warning of what can happen, on a far larger scale, if the U.S. pulls out prematurely from Afghanistan, either before or after 2014.
The Council on Foreign Relations has just published my Policy Innovation Memorandum suggesting what it will take to secure recent gains in Afghanistan. Among the most important steps that I urge are not cutting funding for the Afghan security forces and not cutting U.S. force levels prematurely. This may be a hard sell for a war-weary nation, but consider the alternative. If the Afghan Taliban come back into power, it seems safe to say their territory will be a staging ground for various multinational terrorists. The most prominent of these groups is al-Qaeda, which remains alive despite all of the losses it has suffered recently. But just as worrisome is the Pakistani Taliban, which poses a mortal threat to the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan.
By maintaining stability in Afghanistan, we also enhance the survival prospects of the shaky Pakistani state. If we pull out completely, the recent raid by the Pakistani Taliban will be a harbinger of terrible things to come.