Hillary's advisers pushed for 'targetted' action against Pakistani military officials

Published: July 2, 2015
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Former Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar (R) shakes hands with then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) prior to an important meeting in Brussels on December 4, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

Former Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar (R) shakes hands with then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) prior to an important meeting in Brussels on December 4, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: In the fall of 2009, as US President Barack Obama conducted a long, divisive review of whether to pour more US troops into Afghanistan, an influential group of advisers were quietly pushing a hawkish line.

The advisers didn’t work for Obama’s White House, however. They were veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration and they peppered Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, with messages urging a robust counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan and a tougher US stance toward Pakistan, according to emails released by the State Department late on Tuesday.

The emails reveal how, even as Obama ran a highly formalised Afghan policy review of near-endless meetings and position papers, Hillary Clinton was receptive to outsiders’ sometimes off-the-cuff views delivered through back-channels.

How much they influenced Clinton, who was also getting plenty of advice on Afghanistan and Pakistan from officials at her State Department, remains unclear. But Clinton eventually threw her support behind a troop “surge” and there is some evidence the external advisers formed part of her thinking.

Read: Work harder to ‘squeeze’ Haqqanis, Clinton tells Pakistan

Some had more national security expertise than others, but all appeared to have Clinton’s ear – and her private email address.

In one missive on Oct. 11, 2009, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a confidant of the Clintons, warned against repeating in Afghanistan the’incrementalism’ of gradual troop increases during the Vietnam War.

“Hopefully, we can be more decisive: lean harder on the Pakistanis, provide more troops to (Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley) McChrystal … and raise the heat on al Qaeda,” Clark wrote.

Others in the Clintons’ orbit weighed in with similar advice, including former national security adviser Sandy Berger, Clinton pollster Mark Penn and a consigliore to both Bill and Hillary, Sidney Blumenthal.

On Oct. 3, Berger emailed Clinton with a provocative proposal: the United States should take targetted measures against military officials in Pakistan, nominally a US ally, who support al Qaeda.

“Assuming we have adequate intelligence, we can go after bank accounts, travel and other reachable assets of individual Pakistani officers, raising the stakes for those supporting the militants without creating an inordinate backlash,” he wrote.

“Thanks, Sandy. This is very helpful,” Clinton replied. Through a spokesman, Berger declined comment on Wednesday.

There’s no evidence Berger’s idea gained traction. But on a trip to Pakistan later that month, Clinton came close to accusing Pakistan of sheltering terrorists, publicly voicing a US suspicion normally whispered in private.

“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get to them if they really wanted to,” she told Pakistani journalists.

The email exchanges took place during a wrenching Obama White House debate over sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Obama, elected on a promise to end US ground wars, had already deployed 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and was weighing the military’s request for tens of thousands more.

Read: ‘Clear’ on both ends: US talks war, Pakistan preaches peace

Critics charged Obama with dithering as the debate dragged on for months, pitting the US military and its allies against White House advisers who favored a narrower mission that would target al Qaeda and ignore the Afghan Taliban.

Penn, the pollster, wrote to Clinton to denounce the latter course as “dangerous morally and politically.”

“Obama maintained throughout the campaign and the start of his presidency that this (Afghan war) is the one to fight and backing down here makes him and the administration vulnerable to losing moderate support and seeming weak and indecisive,” Penn wrote.

“A single terrorist incident would be blamed on the administration) for failing to do the job right,” he added.

Penn may have been reacting to a front-page New York Times article that morning quoting those who favored the narrowed mission. That camp was led by Vice President Joe Biden.

Neither Penn nor Clark could be reached for comment.

Clinton, in her book, “Hard Choices,” says she laid out her thinking in a Nov. 23 White House Situation Room meeting, supporting a proposed troop increase but arguing against “an open-ended commitment.”

Obama announced On Dec. 1 he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan – temporarily – to pursue a broader counter-insurgency strategy.

About 9,800 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan today.

The 2009 troop increase may have prevented even worse instability in Afghanistan at a time when the Taliban were resurgent and Washington’s focus had been distracted by the Iraq war. But it failed to pacify the Taliban, who continue to launch deadly attacks as the international presence wanes and Afghanistan’s political leaders feud.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • FlyOnTheWall
    Jul 2, 2015 - 12:51PM

    That’s a Pandora’s Box that nobody in Pakistan dare open. They wear a uniform and carry a stick. Enough to put the fear of the creator. All allegations of wrong-doings can only be made on civilians.Recommend

  • Sammy
    Jul 2, 2015 - 12:52PM

    Hillary for President !!Recommend

  • Usman
    Jul 2, 2015 - 12:55PM

    Goes on to show who was working for Pakistan’s interests (its dedicated Army officers) and who for American interests (the likes of Hussain Haqqani).Recommend

  • khalid
    Jul 2, 2015 - 1:10PM

    What a confusing report…totally different than the sensational heading..ET you are loosing itRecommend

  • Raghu reddy
    Jul 2, 2015 - 1:11PM

    It looks Hillary as president will make Pak nervous and rightly so. After all they remember those Clinton days.Shame that Pak listens to China but not to US.Recommend

  • Paksolider
    Jul 2, 2015 - 1:38PM

    @FlyOnTheWall:
    They are patriot and they love pakistan, Just to know world more they spend their rest of life after retirement in Australia, U.S and U.k Recommend

  • Kam
    Jul 2, 2015 - 1:47PM

    The Americans pursued a Policy to make Pakistan do more. Pakistani Generals knew what doing more means it would suck all terrorist activities into Pakistani territory for revenge attacks clearing Afghanistan of all terrorists. Job done for Americans clear victory all credit goes to them. While Pakistan in total and massive chaos. Nothing personal you can’t shoot yourself to save others. Recommend

  • samir
    Jul 2, 2015 - 2:05PM

    Does it really matter. Cables of 80s would have been requesting funding for proxies in afghanistan. State dept changes stance by the decade and who knows whats gonna happen to India if they dont toe US line in the next decade. Recommend

  • insaf
    Jul 2, 2015 - 2:05PM

    @raghureddy @sammy

    How jobless do you have to be that you try to troll and bash Pakistan on a Pakistani news website? Is the economy really that bad there? Are the unemployment rates really that high? I wouldn’t be surprised; India (even after all the mayhem it tried to sponsor for Pakistan) still has a higher poverty rate than Pakistan. Tsk tsk.Recommend

  • whatever
    Jul 2, 2015 - 3:38PM

    @insaf: sir in our part of world IT companies do provide internet to our desks and it does not take much time to type some words of wisdom for madarsa taught pakistanis.
    @samir rest assured it will be different than ‘pakistan fate’ same like ’71Recommend

  • Waseem Sarwar
    Jul 2, 2015 - 4:07PM

    @whatever:
    That’s good to know then. BTW when will your government or any other company provide you people with toilets? Recommend

  • flora
    Jul 2, 2015 - 4:21PM

    @waseem, Why worry about toilets for indian net users when you should be worried for bomb blast around the corner.Recommend

  • ron
    Jul 2, 2015 - 4:28PM

    @Waseem Sarwar:

    48% of Pakistan defecates in the open, 70% of Pakistan is illiterateRecommend

  • Angeline
    Jul 2, 2015 - 4:43PM

    Since when you think that you are intelligent, it’s Pakistan decision they are not a slave nation .does not mean India listens to USso world should @Raghu reddy: Recommend

  • Sach Bhol
    Jul 2, 2015 - 4:52PM

    @Waseem Sarwar:
    Your arrogance, combined with ignorance, suggests that your government has provided you toilets made of gold. My dear chap, the world laughs at you guys: you don’t use water, let alone toilet paper, but mud and sand after doing you know what. According to WB and UN reports, 58% of Pakistanis do not have toilets (forget water to clean up!). It would help if you came down from your high steed, o’ mighty one. Recommend

  • emad
    Jul 2, 2015 - 5:14PM

    If the intelligence agency of a “failed state” such as Pakistan can successfully create havoc for a world superpower such as the US then I believe that its American officers whose bank accounts should be siezed not PakistaniRecommend

  • Karachiwala
    Jul 2, 2015 - 7:59PM

    please give us the technology to go after individual army office bank account.
    this will be the crux of all the problems we are suffering with.Recommend

  • Milind
    Jul 2, 2015 - 8:59PM

    @Raghu reddy – You touched a raw nerve there. As it is Pakistanis are running scared, with the advent of Modi in India.. Now with Hillary talking tough action, they’re understandably more jittery. In fact a Hillary & Modi combine would be an ideal proposition to neutralize China and tame our rogue neighbour.Recommend

  • Rumormonger
    Jul 2, 2015 - 9:52PM

    Would like to know if someone has done any research on how many Pakistanis read Hindustani newspapers and vice versa. It would be an interesting study.Recommend

  • Ibrar
    Jul 3, 2015 - 7:32AM

    @Raghu reddy:
    There are no permanent enemies and friends in international relations, Indonesia-Pak being an excepton.

    Pakistan had both good and not so good days with Madam -H but If she is elected she will acquire a new layer on her and show the maturity of la Global leader. She will not get into what she said about other countries as a sec of state. As a president she would set her own agenda and would not act against any country unless it was in US’s best interest. There is therefore no reason for Pakistan to feel nervous. Remember America would never want to see Pakistan weakened vs India because a strong Pakistan would act as a facilitating factor for America to do business on its terms.Recommend

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