British Forces Train Pakistan's Frontier Corps To Fight Al-Qaeda

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
London Times
March 21, 2009
By Jeremy Page, in Islamabad
The Viceroy of India founded the Frontier Corps in 1907 to control unruly tribesmen in the mountains that now form the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also known as the Scouts, the corps united the Khyber Rifles and other militias recruited from the Pashtun tribes but was trained and led by British officers in search of adventure.
For the first time since Pakistan's independence in 1947, British soldiers are training the Frontier Corps again in an effort to transform it into a strike force against al-Qaeda and Taleban militants on the Afghan frontier.
“A small team of conventional British military personnel is working in a Frontier Corps training school, conducting mutual co-operation training to assist the Frontier Corps in enhancing its capability,” a spokesperson for the High Commission in Islamabad told The Times.
The Ministry of Defence said that the team had been in Pakistan since last year, but declined to give further details.
It was the first time Britain had confirmed that it was helping the United States to train the 60,000-strong Frontier Corps, which still recruits locally and polices the frontier, but is now a neglected part of the Interior Ministry.
The team is working alongside 30 US military advisers, thought to include special forces personnel, who began training the corps last summer in an effort to reduce dependence on the Pakistani Army, which is preoccupied with its traditional enemy, India. The MoD declined to say how big the British team was but Bob Ainsworth, the Armed Forces Minister, said last month that there were 23 British military personnel in Pakistan, engaged in training, liaison and diplomacy.
The numbers may be small, but any British deployment is hugely sensitive in a Muslim country that is a linchpin in the US-led War on Terror and harbours widespread anti-Western sentiment.
The project also represents a significant tactical shift as President Obama prepares to announce the results of a comprehensive overhaul of American policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Its purpose is to create a counter-insurgency force that knows the local geography, language and culture and does not get distracted by Pakistan's regular disputes with India.
US officials have been lobbying for this for years, but were blocked by Pakistani generals who wanted to control American military aid, and by the Bush Administration's preoccupation with Iraq.
“We've been pushing this because the Pakistani Army is simply not designed for counter-insurgency,” a US official who championed the scheme said. “It's designed for a conventional war with India.”
Washington has given the Frontier Corps $43.8 million (£30 million) of equipment: Anne Patterson, the US Ambassador, handed over $1.5 million of it in January, including helmets and bullet-proof vests. Armoured vehicles will follow in a few months, the embassy said. US officials say that Washington is ready to spend up to $400 million on upgrading the corps, and building it a new training base outside Peshawar over the next few years.
They are full of praise for Major-General Tariq Khan, previously the Pakistani Army's representative at US Central Command in Florida, who took over the Frontier Corps in September. They also highlight the success of its new 500-man commando unit, credited with killing or capturing more than 60 militants since September.
In the meantime, however, the corps remains heavily reliant on the Pakistani Army, which provides all its officers and air support. “It'll be a long time before the FC can operate independently,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military analyst.
There are also doubts about the corps' loyalty after recent reports of desertion, infiltration by the Taleban and even complicity in attacks on US forces on the border.
Seth Jones, of the Rand Corporation, said: “The danger is that the US and Britain could build a more competent Frontier Corps that may be helpful in some instances, but also subvert US and British interests in other instances.”