Today the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs talked about Afghanistan. See comments below from the NY Times:
“The trends across the board are not going in the right direction,” the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters. “And I would anticipate next year would be a tougher year.”
Admiral Mullen said Afghanistan was likely to continue what a new intelligence assessment calls “a downward spiral” barring rapid, major improvements to curb Afghanistan’s booming heroin trade, bolster district and tribal leaders to offset a weak central government in Kabul, breathe life into a flagging economy, and stem the flow of militants who are carrying out increasingly sophisticated attacks from safe havens in Pakistan.
Admiral Mullen struck a pessimistic note when asked about the likelihood of those badly needed changes falling into place. “Both the trends and the status specifically of where we are on those other things right now would indicate that the trends are going to continue,” he said.
The sobering forecast comes as a draft report by American intelligence agencies casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence there, and as the Bush administration has initiated a major review of its Afghanistan policy.
Part of the review will address increased troop levels. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has said he needs as many as 15,000 combat and support troops beyond the 8,000 additional troops that President Bush had recently approved for deployment early next year.
But Admiral Mullen underscored a point he has made repeatedly in the past: that the military can be only one part of the solution in Afghanistan.
“We’ve got to impact pretty significantly, pretty fast on the poppy issue,” he said, citing a scourge that by some which by some estimates accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan’s economy and which pours $100 million a year into the Taliban’s coffers.
General McKiernan said last week that NATO forces would be authorized to attack narcotics bosses, their foot soldiers and infrastructure if they were linked to the movement of weapons, improvised explosives or foreign fighters into Afghanistan.
But Admiral Mullen said a broader counter-narcotics solution involving the 42 countries with a presence in Afghanistan has so far proved maddeningly elusive. “There isn’t universal agreement on how we should approach this,’ he said. “We’re all not in agreement on how to attack this problem.”
The admiral has issued stern warnings before about the deteriorating security and stability in Afghanistan. Last month, he told Congress, ”I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan.” But he quickly added, ”I am convinced we can.”
Afghanistan does have challenges, but the important ones are the ones that we just are not talking about. The first problem, and its one that Senator Obama keeps making mistakes on, is about troop strength. Every time I hear him talking about it, it is discussed as if US Troops are the only ones there. Afghanistan is not Iraq. When I left in January, and I don't think it has changed much, we had a coalition of 37 nations serving under the ISAF / NATO Colors. This is not just a US Challenge, it is an ISAF Challenge. That means that not only does the US need to send more forces, but so does NATO. In addition troops can not be sent with prerequisites upon their usage. If they are deployed to the theater, they must be used as the ISAF CDR needs them to be used.
Many of the countries have begun placing restrictions on how their troops can be used. Whether they can conduct combat operations, or stating blatantly that they will not leave the FOB and only conduct support operations. You can imagine how this works out. Most recently one nation committed to additional troop numbers, but then when they arrived they could only be used in a "support" role on the installations. What does this do for the overall effort? Worse, what does it do for morale of the other nation's troops when they see this as they are preparing to go out on patrol?
The second issue is the challenge of the border with Pakistan. We must work with the Pakistan Government and respect their sovereignty, to overcome this challenge. The FATA and Northwest Frontier Province problem must be taken care of. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are enjoying a complete safe haven and using it to launch more effective and complex attacks across the border in Afghanistan. I am by no means saying that the Pakistanis are doing nothing. But we have to work with them in much more detail to overcome this. With GEN Petraeus in place now as the CENTCOM CDR, I have no doubt that it is a top priority for him and he will be taking care of that challenge.
The third major issue, is the advisers within Afghanistan. There has to be more of them to fully outfit the teams to the full authorized strength. Our decisive effort must be working with the Afghan Army and Police to make them fully mission capable.
The final issue is their economy and the poppy farming. We need a comprehensive strategy that just doesn't eradicate fields, but works with the farmers to transition to an alternate crop that will bring them in the same amount of money. It needs to address the security of these farm areas. It has to address taking the middle man out of the picture, and making sure the farmers aren't in debt to these heroin loans. Many people have made the simplistic comment, of just burn them down. Well you very honestly just added thousands of people to the Taliban's active supporters and operatives. Work with them to improve their lives, and you just made thousands of friends who will support you to their dying breath.
I also believe it is completely a wrong assessment and improper to be doing so in a national public forum such as the debates, to make statements that President Karzai and his government are ineffective. These men within the Afghan Government have sacrificed much, and given their very blood to making their government work and especially work for the people. I have the utmost respect for President Karzai, and I have been completely taken aback to hear from some of our politicians that he is ineffective. Do we still have work to do with them, yes; but are they giving it everything they have, yes, they most certainly are.
As Admiral Mullen said it is a fight that can be won. Afghanistan needs a surge just as we did in Iraq. But make no mistake, Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is not just US Troops, it is all of the coalition that needs to surge. This will be the decisive point for the administration and the next administration in accomplishing that with our allies.
God Bless America
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