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.”
A recent wave of violence in Iraq, including a triple car bombing today in Baghdad, should be a cause for concern. Its main source is the lack of political reconciliation among Iraqis; the planned American troop withdrawals for the most part have yet to occur. President Bush’s surge reduced the levels of violence in Iraq, but it was not able to bring about the tough political compromises necessary to bring about reconciliation – leaving the Obama administration a potential powder keg.
During his trip to Iraq yesterday the President reaffirmed his commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011, redefine the mission to focus on training and counterterrorism, and send a clear message to the Iraqis and the world that America’s troop presence in Iraq is coming to an end.
In his last days commanding U.S. forces in Iraq, General Petraeus issued words of caution – the security gains that had been achieved were “tenuous.” The increase in U.S. forces played an important role in creating the decrease in violence, but during this time almost no progress has been made on political reconciliation.
American officials, experts, and military personal are unified in their view that the only way to bring Iraq’s civil war to a permanent end is through a political agreement between the various parties.