For the last week, targeted violence aimed at derailing the transition to Afghan control has plagued Afghanistan. In the wake of the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council in Kandahar province and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as another high-level assassination, the U.S. and the broader International Security Assistance Force should focus on the need to improve governance so that it relies on institutions, not individuals. Such a shift can assist the transition that began this week, symbolized by the promotion of Marine General John Allen to the commander of forces in Afghanistan and initial transfers of provincial control to Afghans. If the Afghan government is going to keep control of the country, the focus should shift to finding a political solution, both among the parties in Afghanistan – including the Taliban – and regionally. As NSN Senior Adviser Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Eaton notes, “Rebalancing American and ISAF efforts from an almost-exclusively military focus to a more balanced approach that values diplomacy and political solutions is long overdue.”
Tomorrow, President Obama will announce his plan for a reduction of American forces in Afghanistan starting next month. Reports indicate he will pledge to remove 30,000 “surge” troops by the end of 2012. That plan would begin a gradual but sustained transition and is broadly supported by commanders on the ground. These numbers exist in a broader context. Beginning the transition means recognizing the successes of the core counterterrorism mission -- with 20 of the top 30 terrorist targets in the region having been killed on Obama's watch. It means putting Afghans in the lead following an increase in resources that helped stabilize the situation after years of neglect. America’s commitment in Afghanistan has been costly and lengthy. Troop reductions will allow Afghans to take responsibility for their own country and begin to align American interests in the country with our commitment there.
The next challenge lies in the overall mission, military but above all political and economic. Troops that remain should focus on continuing to root out terrorists. The secondary focus for the security mission should be training Afghan security forces to take the lead in protecting their country. Importantly, making security gains last will require a renewed focus on a political solution, both between parties in Afghanistan and regionally; governance reforms; and fostering sustainable economic growth.
President Obama is currently conducting a review of America’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan. He will announce the size of the July 2011 drawdown in the coming days. National security experts, public opinion leaders as well as a growing number in Congress and the public all support a substantial troop drawdown starting next month. Their reasons for supporting a substantial reduction vary, as do specific recommendations on the number of troops that should be withdrawn. But a consensus has formed around the conclusion that a substantial drawdown would help align American interests with our commitment in Afghanistan and push Afghans to take responsibility for their own safety and governance. In that context, the National Security Network has put together a special report outlining that consensus. Below are excerpted quotes demonstrating that consensus. The full report can be found here.
Today, the Obama administration released its strategy review of the war in Afghanistan. The review shows fragile progress in the military campaign against the Taliban, as well as robust actions against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - but has less to say about civilian and political milestones. Over recent months, a consensus has quietly emerged among experts across the centrist-realist-progressive spectrum on a way forward in Afghanistan. This consensus recognizes the importance of military gains but promotes the primacy of political efforts, looks ahead to a military drawdown and promises to be more effective, more sustainable - and less costly. This fall, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for American Progress, the Afghanistan Study Group and the Center for a New American Security all issued reports on Afghanistan that - perhaps surprisingly - largely agreed on the eight central points below.
Yesterday in the Rose Garden, President Obama displayed the leadership qualities that helped put him in office. By accepting the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal and replacing him with CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus, the President disposed of an unnecessary, potentially compromising distraction at a time of war. He also reinforced the integrity of our time-honored tradition of civilian rule over the military. These moves garnered immediate support from across the political spectrum.
Yesterday, the Obama administration took its strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen began the task of explaining the Administration’s strategy to America’s elected officials. For the sake of the strategy’s integrity, and in order to make certain that the Administration remains focused on its core objectives, it is vital that Congress ask the tough questions, and maintain vigilant oversight.
After months of deliberations, the President has reportedly issued the orders that will deploy 34,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan over the course of the next year. But, as progressives have been arguing for months, and top Administration officials have recognized, no strategy for Afghanistan will succeed with a focus on troop numbers alone. The Administration must back these deployments with a strategy that lays out clear objectives in accordance with U.S. interests, spelling out the essential duties of U.S. military and civilian personnel, and how those duties fit within the broader effort to secure the main U.S. strategic objectives.