| Ander Nieuws week 50 / Midden-Oosten 2010 |
December 1, 2010
John T. Bennett
NATO and Washington's shared goal of withdrawing from Afghanistan by 2014 is just that: a nuanced conditions-based objective, and don't call it a hard deadline, U.S. and Afghanistan officials said Monday.
In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials stepped back from 2011 as the official beginning of the final phase of the American-led Afghanistan operation. They made it clear that areas will be moved to Afghan control between next summer and 2014, raising eyebrows across the world and questions about whether Washington can keep top allies involved for four more years.
The sudden policy change led Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to quip during a CSIS-sponsored forum that "2014 is the new 2011."
During the same session, Michèle Flournoy, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, and Adm. James Stavridis, who is both U.S. European Command chief and NATOs supreme allied commander, said the American-led mission will continue - with intensity - for years.
Flournoy told a packed room during a lunch-hour address that "2011 is not the end of our commitment" there, nor will 2011 bring a lessening in intensity of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan.
The U.S. officials said America's force presence there will be pared next year, describing 2011 as the end of the Obama administration's recent troop surge into the troubled nation.
Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan's deputy national security adviser, at several points during a panel discussion between Stavridis' and Flournoy's talks, called 2014 "a goal." Each time, he added a key caveat: Meeting the goal of transferring security matters to indigenous forces "will be conditions-based" that reflect "reality on the ground."
A problem for U.S. President Barack Obama: By all credible accounts, Afghanistan has a long way to go on both counts. Another problem for the U.S. commander-in-chief: Obama campaigned successfully in 2008 on beginning the end of the Afghanistan war; it remains unclear if a voting populace that is growing weary of the nearly 10-year-old war will accept the new 2014 withdrawal "goal."
To meet the new "goal," Abdali said, "it cannot be just security;" along with that must come "good governance" and economic development.
Stavridis earlier sounded a similar tone, saying: "We will not deliver security to Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun." Instead, a "comprehensive approach" is needed, he said.
But Julian Lindley-French, head of the commander's initiative group for NATO's Rapid Response Force, said what is lacking is a single definition of the comprehensive strategy. And without that, "it cannot be operationalized," said Lindley-French, who also is an adviser to U.K. defense staff chief Gen. David Richards.
Flournoy said challenges remain, but noted "only in the last 18 months" has Washington had "the right strategy."
"The ticket" to a U.S. withdrawal and a stable Afghanistan, she said, is a robust, well-trained and well-equipped Afghan security force. Flournoy hailed new recruitment and retention numbers to that end.
While U.S. officials at the CSIS event praised NATO members for stepping up earlier this month with new promises to help train Afghan security personnel, Cordesman said such promises are overly optimistic.
Asked by an audience member why European nations should remain involved in the Afghanistan mission, Abdali encouraged the gentleman to "remember the damage done ... by ignoring Afghanistan for the last three decades." He urged the West to avoid "repeating that mistake."
Flournoy also called for the prompt ratification of the new START pact with Russia on reducing nuclear weapons.
She noted that when the old treaty expired, so did verification regimes. That means no U.S. inspection teams are monitoring Russian missile sites, Flournoy said. What's more, failing to ratify the new START pact essentially shows Russia that Washington will say one thing in face-to-face meetings, then do the opposite.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate are holding up the new treaty, and it is unclear when the chamber might vote on it.
Additionally, NATO members must collaborate to ensure their electronic networks can withstand cyber attacks. Much work must be done, Flournoy and Stavridis said.
Unlike other domains of conflict, cyber has "few markers and guideposts," Flournoy said.
Stavridis said NATO's systems are vulnerable to cyber strikes. Hours later, Flournoy told the forum the alliance is working on a cyber review that is "due in June." That study should lead to stronger systems, she said.
And Flournoy said NATO members are not doing enough on a number of fronts, including pooling resources and identifying areas for nation-specific "role specialization."
As U.S. and European defense budgets tighten, Flournoy said NATO members must live up to the alliance's agreement that each nation will spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. A failure to do so, she warned, would "hollow out" the NATO force.
Finally, the Pentagon policy chief told the forum that U.S. and Russian officials are beginning talks about ballistic missile defense collaboration. Senior Russian officials recently put forth a plan, but that was shot down.
However, the proposal opened the door for a round of talks that Flournoy said will begin with "experts" looking at what is possible.
"Both sides have thought a lot about this," Flournoy said. "We do not want this to drag on for months and months."
© 2010, Gannett Government Media Corporation
| Ander Nieuws week 50 / Midden-Oosten 2010 |