Putting Afghans in the Lead
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the U.S. will shift its primary mission from combat to advising and training Afghan security forces next year. Defense experts have said for the last year that such a shift represents the best way to protect long-term U.S. interests at a reasonable cost. Moving from a combat to a training mission is part of broader transition to put Afghans in the lead, which will enable the U.S. to transition out of Afghanistan. Immediate opposition to this move has focused on its details, without offering an alternate plan to win or end the war.
Defense experts: shifting the focus of the mission in Afghanistan from combat to training Afghan security forces is the best way to protect long-term U.S. interests. As Lieutenant General David W. Barno, USA (Ret.), Andrew Exum and Matthew Irvine of the Center for a New American Security wrote last December: “It is time for a change of mission in Afghanistan. U.S. and coalition forces must shift away from directly conducting counterinsurgency operations and toward a new mission of ‘security force assistance’: advising and enabling Afghan forces to take the lead in the counterinsurgency fight. This shift is more than rhetorical. With a 2014 transition looming in Afghanistan, U.S. and allied military leaders must recognize that U.S. and coalition forces will not defeat the Taliban and its allies in the next three years. Instead, they must direct the military effort toward working by, with and through the Afghans. This effort will protect long-term U.S. security interests without a never-ending commitment of immense U.S. resources.” This idea has currency inside the Pentagon as well. General John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said last December he would accelerate the role played by Afghan security forces. [CNAS, 12/11. John Allen via NY Times, 12/13/11]
Shift is part of a broader plan for transition in Afghanistan. As Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, “With this strategy, the administration accomplishes three goals: (1) U.S. troops are removed from combat earlier, reducing lives lost and cost; (2) U.S. troops return home earlier; and (3) both security and political risks are made manageable… for the United States, the war is coming to an end. Its critical goals have been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda there is virtually dead. There are no vital interests to justify further great sacrifices. And now it’s time to act upon this reality and bring the heroes home.” [Leslie Gelb, 2/1/12]
Endless war won’t achieve U.S. goals in Afghanistan—opponents have no plan to win or end the war. Conservatives immediately responded to Panetta’s announcement by criticizing the decision to further align U.S. commitment with our interests there. But they have criticized tactics – setting a date certain, specific withdrawal numbers – without offering an alternative policy that meets both realities on the ground and the war-weariness of Americans. As the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel wrote last month, “How do you win? Well, by beating your opponent, of course. And how do you beat your opponent? By winning. That tautology was essentially former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s answer when he was asked about how, as commander in chief, he would end the war in Afghanistan without talking to the Taliban.” [Mitt Romney via CNN, 2/1/12. Amanda Terkel, 1/23/12]
What We’re Reading
Pakistan’s foreign minister said that the country will use its leverage with the Haqqani network in the Afghan peace process.
Egyptians are blaming the military’s inaction during a riot after a soccer match that killed 74 people.
South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy believes that aid will bring North Korea back to the negotiation table regarding its nuclear weapons program.
Philippine officials report that they have killed top leaders of the Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesian al Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah.
Nigeria arrested the spokesman for the militant group Boko Haram.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that China is considering helping the Eurozone during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit.
Negotiations on a UN Security Council resolution on Syria are slated to resume.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s win in a snap primary has caused observers to anticipate that he is consolidating his position ahead of possible early elections in the fall.
Colombian police are blaming the left-wing militant group FARC for the bombing of a police station that killed seven and injured 70.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Somalia and called for more resolve in fighting Somali militant groups.
Commentary of the Day
Daniel Treisman examines the Russia-Syria relationship.
Emad Shahin argues that Egypt’s neighbors and allies can help by following through on promises of financial assistance that they pledged after Mubarak’s downfall.
Michael O’Hanlon and John Prendergast decry the international community’s negligence in Sudan and Congo.