October 3, 2008 -- After a long delay, a small group of American military trainers and advisors will arrive shortly in Pakistan to help with the training of the paramilitary Frontier Corps that patrol the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan that American military commanders have called a "safe haven" for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell tells ABC News that the first small group of trainers will arrive in Pakistan in the "next couple of weeks." He says their role will be to "train the trainers," small numbers of Pakistani trainers who will then go into the tribal areas to train the Frontier Corps.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen first told the LA Times two weeks ago that obstacles to the team's arrival had been overcome and that he expected them to arrive soon. Morrell says their numbers will be larger than a dozen and not be a big operation. Another Defense Official says the overall number of trainers will be 25 including a smaller contingent of British trainers.
Morrell calls the trainers' arrival a "positive first step" that shows a willingness from Pakistan to confront the threat from the tribal areas.
Since early this year, Pentagon officials have been privately and publicly urging Pakistan's government to accept the training teams. But Pakistani officials have been hesitant citing domestic political concerns and instead requested additional weapons and equipment that seem more suited for a conventional fight with India than a counterinsurgency fight in the tribal areas.
Sending advisors to train the Frontier Corps is part of a Pentagon push to improve the fighting capability of the Frontier Corps which has often been described as a rag-tag force unable to meet the security needs of the tribal regions. This year the US has already spent $25 million to equip the Frontier Corps with new body armor and other communications equipment. For next year, the Pentagon will spend $70 million on the Frontier Corps,$40 million for improving their communication networks and the rest to equip the troops. An additional $5 million will be provided by the State Department to assist with counternarcotics efforts.
The number of US military personnel at any given time in Pakistan is less than 50, most of them assigned to a US military liaison office in Islamabad. Those numbers increase slightly when small numbers of personnel arrive for training exercises with the Pakistani military.
Admiral Mullen has made it a priority to meet with the head of the Pakistani military, General Ashfaq Kayani, and has been to Pakistan five times in the past year for meetings with his counterpart. He's praised Kayani for initiatives in the tribal regions including taking control over the Frontier Corps. He has also been cautious in projecting that Pakistani moves in the border region will take time, likely years. As he told Pentagon reporters recently, "expectations for instantaneous results I think are probably a little bit too high."