As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, March 27, 2009

The New Af-Pak Strategy

OK, so I just listened to President Obama's statement about Af-Pak policy. Essentially, Obama will deploy 4,000 additional trainers to build up the Afghan security forces to the peak number of around 200,000 (army and police) by 2011 instead of 2013. In addition, thousands of civilians will be added to aid in development and reconstruction efforts. There is an expected commitment from NATO along those lines as well, but I'll believe it when I see it. And the President will properly fund the war effort, characterizing it by saying that no longer will Afghanistan and Pakistan resources come up short due to the war in Iraq. Of course, a recent GAO report says that withdrawal in Iraq will be massively expensive in its own right, so the idea that savings in Iraq can be transferred to Af-Pak doesn't make a lot of sense, at least not in the short term. We'll still be bleeding treasure, as well as additional lives, through the near future.

President Obama's new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy will require significantly higher levels of U.S. funding for both countries, with U.S. military expenses in Afghanistan alone, currently about $2 billion a month, increasing by about 60 percent this year [...]

Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said the official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy. The president will describe his plan in a White House speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and nongovernmental aid groups.

The officials declined to put dollar figures on aspects of the strategy other than the cost of U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan. Initial funding requests for hundreds of additional U.S. civilian officials to be sent there, as well as increased economic and development assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, will come in a 2009 supplemental appropriation that the administration has not yet outlined.

The goal is certainly more focused, a counter-terrorism effort to deny a safe haven, but it's tied up with a lot of counter-insurgency efforts, aiding locals on the ground, strengthening the corrupt government (and hopefully weeding out corruption), and trying to siphon off reconcilable Taliban. He will seek basic benchmarks for progress instead of throwing in more troops and hoping for the best.

In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.

“The era of the blank check is over,” Mr. Obama told Congressional leaders at the White House, according to an account of the meeting provided on the condition of anonymity because it was a private session [...]

Although the administration is still developing the specific benchmarks for Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said they would be the most explicit demands ever presented to the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. In effect, Mr. Obama would be insisting that two fractured countries plagued by ancient tribal rivalries and modern geopolitical hostility find ways to work together and transform their societies.

American officials have repeatedly said that Afghanistan has to make more progress in fighting corruption, curbing the drug trade and sharing power with the regions, while they have insisted that Pakistan do more to cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban. Mr. Obama telephoned President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan on Thursday to share the main elements of the strategic review.

There's a substantial civilian component as well as a regional diplomatic component. In fact, Iran will attend a conference on Af-Pak next week at The Hague. Clearly the United States seeks support for this effort, and Obama played up the need for all nations to be concerned about Al Qaeda safe havens in the region.

I guess my reaction is one of pessimism that this can work. That's not a reason to try, but particularly with respect to Pakistan, I think we have limited reach. Just today, the day of the announcement of a new way forward, a suicide bomber killed 48 during prayers at a Pakistan mosque. And this week has yielded reports that the Pakistani intelligence service still helps the Afghan insurgency. The intelligence service characterizes this as a counter-weight to Indian influence in the region and a hedge against American withdrawal, and now that this commitment has been made, perhaps it will subside. But perhaps not. Getting the whole region, including India, to work together against a common enemy will be a monumental task. And relying on a larger NATO commitment doesn't seem realistic.

Russ Feingold responds:

“I am pleased that the administration is focused on al Qaeda, which is our top national security threat. I particularly appreciated the President's remarks, which addressed the role of Pakistan in these problems first. A new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy has been sorely lacking for years. I am pleased that the plan includes specific benchmarks for progress in Afghanistan, with a strong emphasis on fighting corruption in the Afghan government, and an increase in civilian assistance. I am also pleased with the beginnings of the necessary emphasis on the even greater problems in Pakistan.
“However, I am concerned that the new strategy may still be overly Afghan-centric when it needs to be even more regional. As the bombing near the Khyber pass this morning highlights, we need to fully address the inextricable links between the crisis in Afghanistan and the instability and terrorist threats in Pakistan.

“Unfortunately, the legacy of the Bush administration in this region can best be compared to a comment the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made in 2007: 'In Iraq, we do what we must and in Afghanistan, we do what we can.' This new administration must ensure that we do what we must not only in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan."

"In other words, the proposed military escalation in Afghanistan, without an adequate strategy in Pakistan, could make the situation worse, not better."

There was an op-ed this week (I can't find it right now) that essentially said we can't fix Afghanistan without fixing Pakistan, and we can't fix Pakistan.

So what then?

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