Twin developments today bring into focus the challenges the
U.S. faces in South Asia: a devastating
car bomb in Kabul killed five U.S. troops and more than a dozen Afghan
civilians, even as top U.S. officials travel to Pakistan to build pressure on countering
terrorist activity in the region. As the deaths in Kabul took the
American death toll in Afghanistan past 1,000, it is essential that the U.S.
remain concentrated on the core task of fighting extremists who seek to harm
Americans in the region and at home.
When President Obama addressed the nation to announce his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he recognized the "fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan." Six months later, developments within the two countries remain closely intertwined, with major consequences for U.S. strategy in the region. Tempting as it may be to seize on specific developments, in order to best assess U.S. regional policy, the broader trends must be examined. In Pakistan, there are hopeful signs. The Obama administration has revamped U.S. - Pakistan relations, moving American interests forward after years of neglect by the previous administration. However, as a new Pentagon report highlights, the situation in Afghanistan remains challenging.
Yesterday, India and Pakistan reopened talks, following over a year of elevated tensions in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Both Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates have welcomed the resumption of diplomacy. This reflects the Obama administration's commitment to a comprehensive strategy for the region. But ultimately, as Secretary Clinton has acknowledged, the problems between the two countries must be "solved by the two countries themselves."
This week has seen a wave of successes for the Obama administration and our allies against extremists abroad. The capture of senior Taliban leadership this week has demonstrated that Obama administration is taking the fight to the extremists, with concrete results. Despite these successes conservatives see terrorism and national security as a political opportunity not a strategy to keep America safe.
Yesterday, it was revealed that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the number two in the Afghan Taliban and the de facto leader of the insurgency -- was captured in Pakistan. This is the most recent in a trend of success in the Administration's counterterrorism efforts at home and abroad that utilizes diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and armed force to disrupt and dismantle terrorist organizations and plots. Yet simultaneously, conservatives have gone to Dick Cheney for leadership and actually heightened their criticism, opting for an ideological, not reality-based approach to America's security.
The last few weeks have highlighted significant obstacles to the Administration's efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Karzai, whose rule is already overshadowed by widespread allegations of corruption and vote-tampering, has encountered new difficulties in working with the Afghan Parliament. The President and his team must maintain focus, holding the Afghan government, and more importantly itself, accountable, creating the conditions for a transition away from a large-scale military presence, and resisting the calls for limitless commitment that Al Qaeda is happy to promote.
Tuesday night, President Obama will lay out his Administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Media attention continues to focus on troop numbers and tactical debate over elements of counter-insurgency strategy. The president’s political opponents, meanwhile, will seek to portray the strategy as dead on arrival if it does not mention “victory” enough times or if it sets out benchmarks toward an eventual end state to American involvement
Even as deliberations over the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy continue, and President Obama traveled in Asia, notable steps in the Afghanistan – Pakistan region set the stage for productive US efforts, with senior officials encouraging their partner governments to step up. This weekend, Secretary of State Clinton used strong language to pressure the Karzai government to act against corruption, a tough stance followed by the Karzai administration’s launch yesterday of a new anti-corruption initiative. National Security Advisor Jones visited Pakistan to convey support for the government’s recent offensive against militants, along with a letter from President Obama urging continued resolve. Steep challenges of governance, security, and managing delicate national pride remain in both countries. This week’s events show the Administration squarely focused on a core part of any successful strategy: motivating the Kabul and Islamabad governments to take the lead.
Today President Obama will visit the National Counterterrorism Center to review its operations, especially in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. While much of the attention of the media and the public has been devoted to issues such as health care, the economy, dealings with Iran, and the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has maintained its vigilance in the struggle against transnational terrorism. The President’s approach to counterterrorism has made America safer and significantly weakened terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
This week marked a significant step toward a counter-terrorism policy that is sound and secure, not based on hype. At the UN, President Obama was making progress on the international underpinnings of our security, strengthening international efforts to control nuclear weapons, gaining global backing against Iran, and moving forward on Middle East peace. With little fanfare back in Washington, the government has also been defusing what appears to be a highly developed and operational al-Qaeda plot.What was missing from this investigation were the multiple press conferences and politicized hype that accompanied terrorism prosecutions in the Bush years.