Wed, Nov 21, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US Army turns to local Pakistani forces

MORE EFFECTIVE The surge in efforts to train and equip the Frontier Corps comes amid a worrying escalation in violence along the lawless border with Afghanistan


The Pentagon wants to nearly double the funding to train and equip a Pakistani paramilitary force, saying the locally based fighters are more effective in the difficult region bordering Afghanistan.

The US military has asked to spend US$97 million next year, compared with US$52.6 million this year, on training and equipping the Frontier Corps, which has personnel of the same ethnicity as the recalcitrant tribes along the border.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the US is not arming the Frontier Corps, but is spending money to build a training center in the region for the fighters while also looking for additional funds to buy them equipment such as helmets, vests and night-vision goggles.

The increased effort comes as violence along the border continues to escalate, raising questions about how long the Pakistanis can continue to battle the pro-Taliban and al-Qaida militants known to be hiding in the rugged mountains.

"We believe that, particularly in this part of Pakistan, it is more effective to work with a force raised from locals than it is to work with the [Pakistani] army, who [sic] is not viewed with the same respect in that part of the country as is the Frontier Corps," Morrell said.

It is more effective, he said, to deal with the Frontier Corps because it is made up of people who are "locally recruited and have local knowledge, language skills and most of all credibility with the people who live in those areas."

This year's funding is being used to set up eight new Frontier Corps battalions and the money for next year would continue the training and equipping efforts as well as set up an additional four battalions.

Morrell said the US Army expects to provide the trainers, but some other governments may also participate.

"I don't think we would be proceeding with a plan of this nature, at this cost, unless we had some degree of confidence that it would be fruitful," Morrell said, describing the program as a joint venture with the Pakistani government.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said his government will provide the fighters with tanks and guns so they can take a lead role next year, allowing the country's army to take a more supporting role.

Morrell said the Pentagon is also hoping to establish border surveillance centers and is moving ahead with plans for one on the Afghan side of the border.

The money for next year is tied up in the war funding legislation that has stalled in Congress, he said.

Morrell said the money would not be used to buy ammunition or weapons for the Frontier Corps and would only buy equipment that will help them patrol the region.

The retooling of the Frontier Corps is part of a strategy that includes flooding northwestern Pakistan with development aid and propping up beleaguered pro-government elders, dozens of whom have been killed as US spies by militants.

The government hopes that approach will be more effective than a series of peace deals struck in 2005 and last year under which tribal leaders were supposed to curb militancy in return for a withdrawal of troops after earlier rounds of bloody fighting.

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