1. Withdraw Troops from Afghanistan but Stay Engaged

    Published: January 4th, 2012

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    The war in Afghanistan has cost a lot. In terms of dollars, it has cost $570 billion since 2001, including over $120 billion budgeted for 2012. Caring for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan could cost an additional $700 billion. Afghanistan alone has cost the lives of 1,800 US troops, as well as at least 12,000 Afghan civilians.

    Having spent so much on the war, naturally the American public would like to ensure that we’ve gotten something out of it. This is a favorite refrain of those who oppose an accelerated drawdown. If we withdraw troops now, they say, we might as well be abandoning all our achievements and goals in Afghanistan.

    This argument is deeply flawed, and also dangerous. The flaw is in equating withdrawing troops with ending our engagement with Afghanistan. The danger is in the underlying assumption that the only kind of engagement is military engagement, and the only way to ensure that our troops have not died in vain is by sending more troops.

    Developing a successful strategy for Afghanistan means getting past this idea that “engagement” means “maintain a military presence”. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted in its most recent report, “The U.S. role in Afghanistan is changing, but Washington should repeatedly stress that its engagement is not ending…[after the transition to local security forces] the United States will remain vigorously engaged on security, governance, and economic and social development.”

    Adapting to this new role and developing a new strategy for Afghanistan will not be easy. It will require a realistic assessment of US interests in the region, as well as capabilities and limitations. It will require building the economy, not just providing aid. It will require some kind of near-term political reconciliation and long-term investment in improving governance. It will require commitment from the international community, and it will require working with regional actors.

    The alternative to this approach – continuing to rely on military engagement – is a strategic and economic quagmire. By relying too much on the military arm our foreign policy, we have allowed it to grow too large – larger, and not necessarily more effective. The result is a military footprint that reflects old security interests, but does not address current threats. Lack of strategic discipline has had fiscal consequences as well. US military spending has grown out of control – a staggering 81% since 2001 according to SIPRI. The costs of the two wars alone, at over one trillion, were a main driver of the current deficit.

    Bringing the troops home is not retreat, and it is not abandonment. It is simply the first step towards a more effective Afghanistan policy and a smarter, more responsible defense budget.

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  2. Merkley Amendment Update

    Published: December 1st, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Yesterday, the Senate passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for an expedited drawdown from Afghanistan. As we noted before, the amendment, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley and a sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators, is a good step towards a smarter Afghanistan strategy. But it is just one step.

    The NDAA still has to clear a number of hurdles before becoming law, and its chance of success is unclear. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. If it passes, Senate and House will then have to reconcile their different versions of the bill. Whether the Afghanistan amendment will stick or be stripped out in the conference committee is anyone’s guess.

    On top of all this, even if the bill makes it out of Congress, it may not get past the White House, which has threatened to veto the bill over controversial amendments relating to detention and prosecution of terror suspects.

    Assuming the NDAA survives this process with the Merkley amendment intact, there is still a big caveat: the amendment calls on the president to produce a timeline for an accelerated drawdown, but it is not legally binding. Drawdown critics like Sen. John McCain have noted this, dismissing the amendment as “a nice informational, notional kind of thing.”

    Caveats and questions aside, the Senate’s approving the amendment is a very positive sign. It means that some members of Congress are starting to ask the questions that need to be asked. Sen. Merkley posed a particularly good one in yesterday’s floor debate. “Given our success in destroying al-Qaida training camps and pursuing those responsible for 9/11, why haven’t we brought our troops and our tax dollars home?” he said. Questions like these should be the driver for getting our Afghanistan strategy back on track.

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  3. Momentum for Ending the Afghanistan War

    Published: November 21st, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Last week, we noted that most of the GOP presidential candidates don’t seem to be on the same page as the American public when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. This week, however, we have a more encouraging sign that some members of Congress are listening.

    The indication that support for ending the war in Afghanistan came in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Merkley, a Democrat, was joined by two Republicans (Rand Paul, Kentucky, and Mike Lee from Utah) and five Democrats (Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Iowa’s Tom Harkin) in sponsoring the amendment, a Sense of the Congress on Transition of Military and Security Operations in Afghanistan.

    The amendment (text available here) notes the continued high costs of continuing the war in Afghanistan, the fact that the primary US objectives have already been achieved, and that the US “will continue to support the development of Afghanistan with a strong diplomatic and counterterrorism presence in the region” even after troops are withdrawn. It calls on the president to plan an expedited timetable – bringing troops home earlier than the currently planned 2014.

    The Merkley amendment represents the growing momentum in efforts to end the war. If passed, it would be a tremendous achievement.

    As always, however, there are several caveats. First, this amendment is simply a “sense of” resolution. It is not legally binding, as the text makes very clear:

    “It is the sense of Congress that…the President should expedite the transition of the responsibility for military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan…” [emphasis added]

    Sense of the Congress resolutions may create political pressure for the administration, but have no direct effect on policy.

    Secondly, even if the amendment is passed and even if it does create political space for an accelarated drawdown, it may be too little too late. If momentum for ending the drawdown is growing, there are signs that the opposition is growing stronger as well. Afghanistan’s recent Loya Jirga laid the groundwork for a ten-year strategic agreement with the US that could allow US troops to remain in the country long after 2014.

    Speaking of the drawdown deadline, it’s far from clear what is supposed to happen by December 2014, the date which President Obama established as the goal for removal of all United States combat troops from Afghanistan and the transition to local security forces.

    The Merkley amendment says that “President Obama has established a goal of removing all United States combat troops from Afghanistan by December 2014.” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Fluornoy has a completely different take on the 2014 deadline:

    “2014 is not a withdrawal date,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s an inflection point where we put Afghans firmly in the lead and we step back into a consistently supporting role, but with much lower numbers of troops.”

    Those who want to prolong the war are gearing up for a long debate. Passing the Mekley amendment would be a welcome step, but it is just one step. Ending the war will require many more.

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  4. The GOP Candidates on the Afghanistan War: “I can’t, …. I can’t, sorry. Oops.”

    Published: November 15th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Ninety-seven thousand (97,000) US troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, but you might never have known that from Saturday’s debate. The Republican presidential candidates were eager to talk Iran and Pakistan, but generally fumbled their way through the few questions presented to them on Afghanistan. Here’s a breakdown of what they said – and what they should have said.

    Rick Perry: Perry’s Afghanistan strategy seems to be to give as few strategic details as possible. Asserting vaguely that “The mission must be completed there,” Perry went on to say that “The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate.” If it were up to Perry, it seems that much more blood and treasure will be spent for the nebulous goal of securing Afghanistan.

    Perry also ridiculed the idea of a drawdown timeline as “irresponsible”. Perry isn’t alone in this belief, and it’s not without strategic merit. But those who oppose a timeline are forgetting two things. First, contrary to what Perry says, the US is not “in conflict with” Afghanistan – Afghanistan is our ally in the fight against terrorism. It may seem like a technicality, but it’s important. Treating Afghanistan like an ally and partner surely means letting them in on our withdrawal plans. Secondly, the American people are paying for this war, with their lives and their taxes. Policymakers should be accountable to the public for their Afghanistan strategy, and that includes a drawdown timeline.

    According to a recent CBS poll, 53% of Americans support a drawdown. Perry would do well to listen to the public.

    Rick Santorum: Santorum certainly has a vision for victory in Afgahnistan: “The Taliban is a neutered force. They are no longer a security threat Afghan people, to our country. That would be victory.” Whether that vision is achievable at a viable cost is another question.

    With Afghanistan out of the way, Santorum pivoted rather abruptly to “the bigger issue.” “This is the most important national security issue that we’re gonna be dealing with here in this year,” he said. “And that’s the issue of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”

    It’s worth noting that both Perry and Santorum were clearly more interested in talking about Iran than Afghanistan. Perry used half of his allotted time for Afgahnistan wrapping up his comments on Iran. Moderator Scott Pelley gave Santorum a break, acknowledging that Santorum was more interested in Iran, and actually posed Iran and Afghanistan questions simultaneously. Perhaps he suspected Santorum was going to talk about Iran no matter what the question was.

    Michelle Bachmann: Let’s give Rep. Bachmann the benefit of the doubt and assume that when she referred to “the decision that by next September, our troops will be withdrawn” she meant the surge force will be withdrawn. That is the current administration’s plan – return to pre-surge levels of 68,000 by summer 2012 and transition to local security forces by the end of 2014.

    Rep. Bachmann then made an interesting leap. If the drawdown progresses as planned, “How do we expect any of our allies to continue to work to– with us?” It’s unclear what exactly she means by this. Britain, France, and Germany have already announced plans to follow the US lead in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

    Bachmann concluded by asking “How can we even begin to seek the peace with the Haqqani Network that are in the eastern regions?” Again, this is an inexplicable leap. The presence of US soldiers and Marines has done little to facilitate the peace process thus far and this seems unlikely to change.

    Jon Huntsman: Once again, Huntsman has shown that he can he articulate a clear stance on Afghanistan, he will stick to that position (Perry should be taking notes).

    Huntsman laid out the mission:

    “I say this nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve uprooted the Taliban. We’ve dismantled Al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden.”
    He showed that he understands current priorities:
    “I say this nation’s future is not Afghanistan. This nation’s future is not Iraq. This nation’s future is how prepared we are to meet the 21st Century competitive challenges. That’s economic and that’s education. And that’s gonna play out over the Asia-Pacific region. And we’re either prepared for that reality or we’re not. I don’t want to be nation building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built.”

    And he even outlined defense requirements:

    “We still have work to do. We don’t need 100,000 troops nation building, many of whom can’t cross the wire. I think we need a component that gathers tactical intelligence. We need enhanced special forces, response capability for rapid response. And we need some ongoing commitment to train the local Afghan National Army.

    That’s not 100,000 troops. That’s well south of that. We are fighting an asymmetric threat, a counterterror threat. Not only there, but in Waziristan and every other corner of the world. And we need to prepare for that as a reality of our 21st Century foreign policy.”

    Mitt Romney: After floundering on Afghanistan policy early in his campaign, Romney seems to have come up with an answer he’s happy with: “Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by December. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces.”

    It’s hard not to see this answer as trying to appeal to a broad base. On the one hand, by critiquing the timeline for surge troops, he differentiates his position from the administration, and appeals to traditional hawks. But by sticking to the 2014 date, he can appeal to the fiscally minded, and the ever growing segment of the public that wants a drawdown.

    All in all, not a bad answer – but not a great answer either.

    Newt Gingrich: After the vagaries and equivocations of the other candidates, the former speaker of the House was refreshingly straightforward. “I think this is so much bigger and deeper a problem than we’ve talked about as a country that we– we don’t have a clue how hard this is gonna be,” Gingrich said. He was referring to the strategic complexities of fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan and a shadow war in Pakistan, but his point applies to Afghanistan policy as a whole. How hard will it be to “secure Afghanistan”? Will it take another ten years and a trillion dollars? Anyone who wants to stay in Afghanistan should consider these questions carefully.

    Herman Cain: Cain’s contribution to the discussion of Afghanistan policy was limited to noting how complicated it is. “There is a lot of clarity this whole region,” he said. Asked whether he would send US forces into Pakistan “to clear out those safe havens of the enemy,”
    Cain replied, “That is a decision that I would make after consulting with the commanders on the ground, our intelligence sources, after having discussions with Pakistan, discussions with Afghanistan. And here’s why. We pointed out earlier that it is unclear as to where we stand with Pakistan. It is unclear where we stand with Afghanistan.” A diplomatic answer, perhaps, but one would like a presidential candidate to have a greater command of the details.

    Cain finished with a valid point: “Victory is not clearly defined.” But you have to wonder if he would be able to follow through on his promise to “make sure that the mission is clear, and the definition of victory’s clear.” He certainly wasn’t able to articulate a clear mission in the debate.

    Overall, it was a disappointing showing from the GOP candidates. When they weren’t fuzzy on the details, they were dismissive. The 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan probably would not agree with Cain’s assertion that Afghanistan is less important than Iran or Pakistan. They, and all Americans, deserve better answers.

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  5. Beyond boots on the ground – A cost-effective approach to US foreign policy

    Published: October 18th, 2011

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    In her recent Foreign Policy op-ed on forward deployed diplomacy in the Asia Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, “With Iraq and Afghanistan still in transition and serious economic challenges in our own country, there are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities.”

    Sec. Clinton went on to argue for a comprehensive foreign policy that employs a wide range of diplomatic tools; she did not explicitly equate the Afghanistan drawdown with downsized engagement. However, others have made that claim, calling the drawdown “neo-isolationism” and equating “leaving Afghanistan” with “abandoning Afghanistan.”

    This argument overlooks the nuances of a balanced foreign policy – a policy that relies on more than just military strength. As Admiral Mike Mullen, former JCS Chair, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “American presence and interest and commitment are not defined by boots on the ground, but rather by persistent, open and mutually beneficial engagement.” Bringing the troops home will not mark the end of the US commitment to Afghanistan, but a new approach that will be not only more effective but also more cost-effective.

    The violence of the past several weeks, particularly the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the collapse of the peace negotiations, have highlighted the multifaceted nature of Afghanistan’s troubles: poor governance, faltering economy, not to mention ongoing tensions with Pakistan. US soldiers and Marines cannot provide solutions to these problems – they are not trained to do so, they shouldn’t be asked to try.

    Developing a more nuanced strategy that includes fostering economic development and regional diplomacy will be not only a more effective approach, but also far less costly. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that the cost to deploy one civilian is about $570,000, compared to $697,000 for a soldier. According to a recent report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the State Department will spend $25-$30 billion in Iraq over the next five years. That’s more than twice what the Department of Defense spent in the first year alone, according to CRS.

    We should be spending smarter, not more. Bring the troops home, and revise our approach to make the most of our many foreign policy tools.Our economy will be the better for it, and our soldiers will thank us.

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  6. Afghanistan and Iraq War Costs, Part 2: Operational versus Personnel Costs

    Published: October 10th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    War costs will go down as we withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. But they won’t go down quickly.  A lot of our war expenditure is in support operations, not personnel. As a result, even factoring in the drawdown, we should expect to spend hundreds of billions on the wars over the next several years

    Operations costs are not insignificant, particularly in remote and difficult environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. (In just one example the Department of Defense spends an estimated $20 billion per year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan).  Fuel is costly, as are base construction and maintenance. Then there are the substantial costs associated with decommissioning bases.

    Ongoing costs include support for local security forces. Last year, however, the Afghan government was only able to contribute about 4% of of the $11.6 billion that the US invested in the Afghan security forces. So it seems likely that security assistance, as well as economic aid, will continue for some time.

    The result is that the costs associated will not drop quickly, even as the drawdown progresses. We’ve seen this trend over the past several years, as operational costs have increased significantly from $507,000 per troop in fiscal year 2009 to $667,000 in 2010 and $694,000 in 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service.

    Because of continuing costs not associated with personnel, war costs will continue even as the drawdown progresses The Center for a New American Security estimate is $7 billion in savings in Afghanistan war costs, assuming we go down to 85,000 troops over the next year.

    The Congressional Budget Office estimates that war costs will decline from $118 billion in 2012 to $83 billion in 2013, $54 billion in 2014, and about $35 billion a year from 2015 on, assuming a reduction to 45,000 troops in 2015. The grand total would be $325 billion over the next five years.

    Knowing that the wars are winding down, and war costs are declining, it’s easy to get complacent. This is a mistake. We can’t afford to be complacent or irresponsible, especially on the scale of billions of dollars. The wars are winding down, but war costs are still significant, and we should question how our money is being spent.

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  7. The Afghanistan War: Ten Years Later and Counting

    Published: October 7th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    “Much of the goodwill the U.S. built up by liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban’s rule has been dissipated by mistakes made after the fighting died down.” - October 9, 2002

    Violence is still common – a vice-president was assassinated in July, another minister was killed in February and President Hamid Karzai escaped an attempt on his life last month – and though there is the beginnings of a government army, warlords remain powerful.” – October 7, 2002

    “Afghanistan continues to stumble along, barely one level above that of a failed state.”  -  October 5, 2004

    “Soldiers on the ground are eagerly looking forward to Afghanistan’s upcoming winter when, because of the harsh conditions, there’s normally been a break in the violence. In Afghanistan, unfortunately, there is always next spring.” – September 21, 2006

    We will read many stories similar to these today, the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. These particular quotes, however, are not from October 7, 2011. They are from earlier anniversaries: 2002, 2004, and 2006. Same story, different years.

    The fact that the news from Afghanistan is virtually indistinguishable from one year to the next is very troubling. It seems that for every small step forward we have taken two or three steps back.

    This lack of progress in everything from establishing peace and security to working with Pakistan is in fact responsible for the one thing that has definitely changed: support for a drawdown is at record lows. Nearly two-thirds of Americans want troop levels decreased. And only one in three veterans think the wars were worth fighting.

    The increasing support for a drawdown has been attributed to isolationism, lack of patriotism, and just plain pessimism. Actually, it’s none of the above. The real reasons behind calls for a drawdown are simple: we haven’t progressed in ten years, and there is still no end in sight.

    A Pakitstani reporter recently said what was on everyone’s mind when he put this question to former JCS chief ADM Mike Mullen:

    “I believe that we can stay in Afghanistan for a hundred years, and we are not going to resolve this issue. So when you look at American mothers who lose their sons, can you tell them honestly that it’s worth to give up blood in Afghanistan, the country that has become battleground between India and Pakistan?”

    Insanity, after all, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. After ten years of doing the same thing, it’s time for a new approach to Afghanistan.

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  8. “Extraordinary Sacrifices”: We don’t need to lose any more of our precious resources in Afghanistan.

    Published: August 10th, 2011
    Author: Clarissa Griebel, Matthew Hoh

    Mathew Hoh – Director, Afghanistan Study Group
    Clarissa F. Griebel – Afghanistan Study Group

    For almost ten years the United States has been in Afghanistan. On Saturday, our forces there suffered the single largest loss of life in one day.  Just a few weeks after the President’s announcement that a withdrawal of 30,000 troops would begin this year, 30 American troops were lost when Taliban forces shot down a Chinook transport helicopter.  In addition, to U.S. casualties, which included Navy Seal Commandos, one civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos were also killed in the attack.  What are we still doing in Afghanistan?

    We continue to make, in the words of President Obama,  “extraordinary sacrifices”, in Afghanistan.  Our national debt is at 14 trillion and change, the war costs us approximately 2 billion dollars a week, and we have lost 1727 lives with over 13,000 physically wounded.

    And what of the additional costs for caring for our wounded troops?   An unknown number of veterans suffer from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder and countless military families have been torn apart.  There are estimates that we will spend between 3.7 and 4.4 Trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.   All of this, for a country that has a GDP of 15 billion dollars, and whose people do not want us there.

    In addition, according to the White House, there has not been an al-Qaeda threat from Afghanistan to the United States for seven or eight years.  We are fighting the Taliban who according to Paul Pillar of The National Interest:

    There is no end in sight to the violence in Afghanistan.  In the past twenty-four hours another NATO helicopter has made a “hard landing” in southeastern Afghanistan.  In the past month there have been several high profile assassinations in Afghanistan, including Kandahar’s Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi and half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s,  Ahmed Wali Karzai.  This year the civilian death toll in Afghanistan is at its’ highest since the United Nations began keeping track in 2007.  Given the seemingly endless and escalating violence in Afghanistan it is time for American troops to come home.  They are too valuable to be spent on a war that is not in our strategic interests in a country that does not threaten the American people.

    The special operations commandos and air crew our country lost on Saturday are the finest warriors the world has ever known.  They were men who readily gave their lives for their country without question or hesitation, as did the 255 other Americans who have been killed in Afghanistan this year.  As a country, we need to have the courage and the honesty to say that the United States mission in Afghanistan is not worthy of those sacrifices. We don’t need to lose any more of our precious resources in Afghanistan.

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  9. Obama’s Speech: Beyond Troop Levels and Timetables

    Published: June 29th, 2011
    Author: Edward Kenney

    Edward Kenney Afghanistan Study Group

    In many ways, the President’s decision to withdraw 10-thousand troops this year and an additional 23-thousand next year was anticlimactic.  For weeks prognosticators had expected this level of withdrawal, and unsurprisingly Obama has staked out the middle ground between war skeptics and war boosters, the only place he is comfortable. The responses on Capitol Hill were similarly predictable.  Progressives denounced the announcement as insufficient, while conservatives denounced it as “an unnecessary risk” to “hard won gains”.

    Troop levels and timetables always receive the most attention, but what about the rest of the speech? The President talked about the gains that had been made through the surge at reducing al Qaeda’s threat:

    When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives:  to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country…We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.  Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.  Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.

    This is undoubtedly a slight misreading of history:  The destruction of al Qaeda had little if anything to do with the 2010 troop surge—al Qaeda has not had a large presence in Afghanistan since 2002; however his overall assessment is correct.  Al Qaeda is both significantly weaker and more fractured than at any time its history. Its presence in Afghanistan has been estimated at 50 to 100, certainly not a threat worthy of the loss of thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

    The President also emphasized the need for a political settlement with the Taliban:

    …as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.  Our position on these talks is clear:  They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.  But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

    Again the President is a little off on the facts although his heart is in the right place:  The military effort has, if anything made talks less likely to succeed. The Taliban field commanders have become increasingly radicalized, and distrust among the various parties is at an all time high.  With that said, the President’s commitment to reconciliation with the Taliban is an important step in the right direction.

    These were the positives, now for the negatives: Unfortunately the lack specificity in President’s address raised more questions than it answered.  Are we abandoning the failed counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says no, but the numbers don’t add up for COIN in the East next year—some commentary have already predicted that campaign to be even more violent (kinetic is the word they use) than the current effort in Southern Afghanistan.

    What neither the President, nor the pundits in DC seem to understand is that the number of troops is less important than what they are sent to do.  The focus needs to shift away from combat operations, towards building and training an Afghan army capable of protecting major cities.  The ability to conduct counter-terror operations against known international terrorist should be maintained, but used efficiently and sparingly against high level al Qaeda.  Until the president articulates this vision, the downward trends in the war will continue.

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  10. What a Load of Crocker! Senate Hears Nominee for Ambassador of Kabul

    Published: June 9th, 2011
    Author: Edward Kenney

    Edward Kenney Afghanistan Study Group

    Ryan Crocker, nominee to be the next ambassador of Afghanistan, testified on Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as part of his confirmation process.

    An exchange between Senator Webb (D, VA) and Crocker was emblematic of the event, with Webb questioning both the cost of the war and our strategic priorities. Quoting a Peggy Noonan op-ed, the Senator suggested that we need plenty of nation-building right here in the United States:

    “Spending billions of dollars on infrastructure in another country.  It should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest…To be quite frank we need a lot of that here.”

    He ended with the question, seemingly taken right out of the Afghanistan Study Group Report.

    “Can you articulate for us your view of the strategic interests and how the current military strategy can get us to an endpoint in this strategy?”

    Crocker, well versed in the President’s strategy, correctly recited the rationale for war, “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and ensure that Afghanistan can never be a safe-haven for terrorist.  But then something interesting happened.  Instead of simply nodding and moving on to other issues, the Senators began to question these strategic goals.

    Webb, a Vietnam War veteran, likened our presence in Afghanistan to a game a “whack-a-mole”, pointing out that the insurgency is mobile and has proven adept at both moving across international lines and bringing the fight to soft targets inside of Afghanistan.  Along similar lines, Senator Kerry asked whether it made sense to focus on Afghanistan as a sanctuary for terrorists, when the real terrorist safe-haven is in Pakistan.  Even Senator Risch (R, ID) got in on the action:

    “This is a messy situation that isn’t getting any better… to articulate what our objectives are and what our goals are and how this is going to end with us achieving those, is very very difficult to grasp…I am very skeptical about how we’re going to handle this.”

    The Senators of the Foreign Relations Committee are asking the right questions.  It’s time for the administration to come up with some answers.

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