Afghanistan Panel Event
- Kimberly Kagan, President, Institute for the Study of War
- LtCol Gregory Lemons, Atlantic Council Marine Corps Senior Fellow; veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq wars
- David Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia
- Damon Wilson, Vice President and Director, International Security Program, Atlantic Council
December 4, 2009
SHUJA NAWAZ: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for coming on a Friday afternoon. I’m Shuja Nawaz; I’m director of the South Asia center at the Atlantic Council, and on behalf of the council, I’d like to welcome all of you. I’m very grateful to my fellow panelists for taking time off from their extremely busy schedules, so what I’m going to do is to take advantage of David Sedney’s presence.
To my left, David is the deputy assistant secretary for South Asia and other territories that fall within his orbit at the Department of Defense, and has really been out of circulation in terms of the public for many months while this review was going on. So I’m delighted that he’s taken the time to be with us. Unfortunately, David has to leave at 4:00, so we’re going to try and get the maximum out of him before he leaves.
I’m going to ask him to speak first, but let me quickly introduce my other panelists. I’m delighted to have, to my right, Damon Wilson. Damon is vice president and director of our international security program. He’s been in the White House in the National Security Council; he served in Iraq; he was working with Lord Robertson at NATO headquarters, and we hope to get a lot of insight from him about how our allies in Europe and NATO view the new strategy.
And then – your eyes are not playing tricks; Fred Kagan is not here but we actually got upgraded – (laughter) – and so we have Kim – Kim Kagan – who is the president of the Institute for the Study of War. And she was also on the assessment team that worked with Gen. McChrystal, so we’re going to get a lot of firsthand information and analysis from her, whereas from people like Fred and myself, you would get secondhand information compared to what Kim knows.
And then, of course, to the extreme left of the podium, we have Lt. Col. Gregory Lemons, who is the senior Marine fellow at the Atlantic Council this year. He is in uniform and so, as a result, he will be not reflecting official opinion but he will be reflecting his own views, though I just wanted to be clear that he’s representing the Marine Corps in uniform.
We are delighted to have him here, among other things, because he has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so we will have some ground-level experience, and because one of the major projects that he’s working on while with the council is to study how counterinsurgency works and what doesn’t work. So we hope to get a lot of value from the ground up from Greg.
So without further ado, I’m going to ask David if he could start us off with a short overview of where he thinks the strategy is going and what are the kinds of benchmarks and things to look out for. We’re going to leave lots of room for questions and answers, so I’m going to be asking all the panelists to keep their remarks to five or six minutes each. So David?
DAVID SEDNEY: Thanks very much, Shuja, and I’m going to actually give you back time; I’m going to take less than five or six minutes because I know that this audience is already quite familiar with what we’ve been saying in the administration in terms of the president’s speech, the many hours of testimony that Secretaries Clinton, Gates and Chairman Mullen just finished giving over the last two days, as well as interviews from everyone coming out of the president’s speech down to many levels; some of you may have already participated in some of the outreach events we’ve done; we’re doing more.
The reason I have to leave at 4:00 is to go back to do another one with ambassadors and defense attachés from other countries over at the Pentagon. So rather than go into things that I’m sure that everybody here already knows – but if you don’t, come to me afterwards and I’ll be happy to give you Web sites to send you to the content – let me focus on three areas that are the ones that have the most questions attached to them.
The first is the July 2011 date, where transfer of lead security responsibility, beginning withdrawal of the additional forces that the president’s sending – you all know the president’s sending 30,000 additional forces with Secretary Gates having the authority to add additional forces as required, as well; so there’s no hard cap there again, to answer a question that I get asked a lot – if there’s a hard cap, and the answer is no.
That date is an inflection point. It is a date at which, based on all the information we have – and I can assure you we looked very carefully at what we’ve achieved to date, what we’ve achieved elsewhere; we looked a bit at Iraq, as well, understanding – I can tell you I do – Afghanistan is very, very different than Iraq; what our forces have accomplished; what we expect them to be able to accomplish; what we expect the Afghans to be able to accomplish.
And that date, 2 years from the Marines’ deployment to Helmand in July of 2011, is, based on the very best operational information and the best intelligence information, we have a very high degree of confidence that we’ll be able to turn back lead security responsibility to the Afghans for areas and, therefore, allow us to begin withdrawing some of the troops that the president has added.
But that’s not a withdrawal date for U.S. troops. This is not April 1989. This is the beginning of a process – a process with no end date; a process with no timetable; a process that has a beginning, and has to have a beginning; a process with an end state, indefinitely. President Karzai, in his inaugural address, said in 5 years, he wanted Afghanistan responsible for its own security. That’s what we want, too. We’d like it sooner; I would have liked it yesterday, but that’s not possible. The Afghans don’t have the institutions to do that; if we tried to do it now, things would be worse.
Secondly, people talk a lot about troop numbers and the original assessment and 40,000. Gen. McChrystal is not only going to get more troops faster than he asked before because there was a lot of evolution during the discussions at the National Security Council, throughout the interagency over the last three months; he’s going to get more troops faster. He’s going to be getting certainly in the neighborhood of 40,000, and maybe more. This morning, NATO Sec.-Gen. Rasmussen announced that there will be 7,000 or more troops that the allies will be sending to Afghanistan, as well, in the next six to 10 months.
When I did my first press interviews on this at 9:30 at the end of the president’s speech, we were saying 5,000 to 7,000 and a number of people were saying, you’d never get 5,000. I said – and some of my colleagues actually criticized me – but I said we’ll get 7,000 and more, I believe. And I’m happy to see that we’re already there and I’m actually quite positive we’re going to get significantly more than 7,000 as we move forward towards the London conference.
This is actually an incredibly positive response – I’ll leave this to Damon, who knows the area more than I do – incredibly positive response from our NATO and other allies, troop-contributing nations. That’s much greater than people even in the administration – some people in the administration – thought was possible a few weeks ago. But it shows that the process that NATO has been going through really since the NATO ministerial last spring, as Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen said in their testimony on the Hill the other day, there was really a sea change in the effectiveness of NATO.
Those of you who’ve worked on NATO before may not be as impressed with NATO as you should be right now, but the way that NATO has stood up – has stood up and moved forward and taken responsibility, taken action, and achieved things, such as standing up the intermediate joint headquarters for Gen. Rodriguez in a time, again, faster than most people in the Pentagon thought they could – has been very impressive. And I think – again, I’ll leave this to Damon – I think that there’s a lot positive for NATO out of this whole process.
The third thing I want to mention, because it does get lost sometimes because of the focus in our own internal media on troop numbers, and therefore on Afghanistan, is Pakistan. The president was speaking – all of our speakers the last few days – were speaking to a number of audiences. Perhaps the most important audience, actually, is the people and the military of Pakistan.
The role of Pakistan – as we say, Pakistan and Afghanistan are interlinked. Pakistan is very much the focus; Pakistan is very much the center of the issues, whether it’s al-Qaida, whether it’s the Taliban, whether it’s ungoverned spaces on the border, and it’s all interlinked. I’ll be happy to discuss that; many of you know this already but I wanted to stress that point about how important Pakistan is, even though a lot of the focus – and, naturally so, because it’s American troops that will be fighting and dying and many unfortunately will die in Afghanistan in the coming years.
I’m going to stop there. I know there are lots of open questions here and I look forward to hearing questions, and I’m sure that there will be many from this audience. Let me turn over a few minutes back to my colleagues.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, David. And I’m sure there will be lots of questions but I will ask people to hold off until the panel has shared its initial comments, and then we’ll get into them. I also do want to let everyone know that this session is on the record, so we will want to make sure that we capture everything that is said accurately. Damon?
DAMON WILSON: Thank you, Shuja. First of all, let me say it’s a bit humbling to be sitting here because I used to work for David Sedney, so I have to admit that up front.
MR. SEDNEY: And now it’s my dream to work for him! (Laughter.)
MR. WILSON: And I learned much, and it’s terrific to watch you in action on an issue so critical to our national security right now. I also used to work for Lord Robertson at NATO headquarters as his deputy chief of staff, and I handled Afghanistan. I handled Afghanistan before we were allowed to even have an Afghanistan portfolio at NATO headquarters. And so I wanted to take a minute today, this afternoon, to talk a little bit about the allied piece of it, and leave the judgment on the strategy itself to my colleagues.
A lot of the commentary leading up to this is, is this Obama’s war? The implication of that is, where are the allies – or the allies are insignificant. So what I wanted to hit on today was four quick points: how we engage the allies through this process; how NATO is reacting; what are the unanswered questions vis-à-vis the alliance; and why the alliance is where it is today.
A bit of context: The McChrystal report hit on September 17th, and it really hit up through U.S. channels. It didn’t grow out of a NATO periodic review, but Washington basically bounced it back and NATO-ized it, working closely behind the scenes with Adm. Stavridis. It went back to Brussels; it was translated into a combined joint statement of requirements put into NATO language to become a NATO document, but it didn’t initiate as such.
So as this process has unfolded since the report came in, there’s frankly been a little bit of tension I’ve observed between deliberations – or internal deliberations here – consultations with our allies, and then actually lobbying of the allies. Towards the end, I think the administration, as it had a little bit more clarity in where it was going to be coming out, really ramped up its outreach to allies – frankly, really drawing some good lessons from the way the missile defense rollout was not handled as elegantly, to put it diplomatically. And the integration of the European team with the Afghan teams in this as the decision reached, I think, was significant.
I think it probably led a little, in part, to some of the rationale for the delay in the U.S. decision, and it really was a U.S.-driven process in that the NATO force generation conference for Afghanistan was long scheduled for November 23rd. It was pushed back to be after – to actually this upcoming Monday – after the NATO defense ministerial. The U.S. set the timetable in that sense, and really did it in such a way that it put an emphasis on what’s happening today – the NATO and ISAF ministers meeting out in Brussels – wisely, in my view, to help ensure an echo chamber – an echo effect – to the president’s decision.
Behind the scenes, some of the allies are griping a bit, saying, look, you took three months to come through this and now in the past couple of weeks you’ve jammed us to come forward with real numbers. The reality is, the U.S. has turned it back and said, wait, we all did get this report at the same time; you also had that time to go through this process. And the reality is, it’s coming out pretty well. The 7,000 figure is a benchmark that was crossed today; it’ll be firmed up on Monday at the force generation conference. And just speaking to journalists over the past couple of weeks, people were struggling to really see where are these troop numbers coming from? And they were delivered.
I think much of the high-level outreach – part of it delayed as there was a debate here in Washington on whether really to put an emphasis on trying to generate allied numbers now or to postpone until the January conference. I think rightly so, the debate was won that there needed to be an effort now; President Obama had to step out, speak publicly, about the U.S. position and be backed up immediately.
But the U.S., I think, did this fairly well, pushing Rasmussen out front. It was Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, who took the numbers, who took the lobbying directly to allies both privately and publicly. Adm. Stavridis worked this privately in the background, and the U.S. in their calls – even President Obama in his calls then reinforced and said, we’re not asking you for numbers; we’re asking you to do what NATO has asked you to do. And I think that was a bit of an effective way to do it. Calls from the president himself to Prime Minister Berlusconi are what helped secure 1,000 Italian troops – one of the largest contributions to come out of this.
So where are we? You’ve gotten over 7,000 troops. That’s quite good. You’ve got welcoming statements coming out of the alliance. The secretary general, in particular, has been strong; others have been out, as well. I think part of the issue that you have seen in some of this are the French and the Germans, which I’ll come to in just a second, who have a little bit of a different take on some of this, as well.
And also being one of the key things coming out of the alliance today is, there is interesting language on conditions-based process – more conditions-based language in what you saw coming out of NATO headquarters today than you saw in President Obama’s’ speech – and no specific date referenced in all the official NATO documents that came out today, in contrast to the president’s speech.
It doesn’t mean there’s a disconnect there, but it’s quite interesting to see how the secretary general has emphasized and hit at some of the points I think that David began with – the process has no end date; it has a start date. As this was unfolding, the allies had a bit of a cynical perspective on some of this in that, because this wasn’t a NATO process – it really was a U.S. process that was NATO-ized – there were opportunities when the allies could have objected or could have raised a red flag on some of these.
Some in the corridors at the time were saying the allies were quiet, one, because they recognize the importance of American leadership on this issue, but more cynically, because they recognize that their own exit strategy from Afghanistan was either Afghanization or Americanization. Now, the reality is the cynics, I think, have been put to rest as many of the allies are stepping up with concrete contribution. The Brits and the Italians are at the top lead of this with new contributions over 1,000; the Poles, the Spanish and the Georgians are next in line. But you’ve had over 20 allies and ISAF contributors step forward to get to this aggregative – 7100 is the last count that I saw.
Three things that are relevant to this: one, the reality is a lot of these forces – about 2500 or so – are those that were deployed for the election-support force and they have been left in theater rather than withdrawn. It’s easy to challenge that, but the reality is those are new capabilities that McChrystal couldn’t have counted on before this process was underway.
There’s a big question mark looming over the Canadians and the Dutch with their firm, publicly set withdrawal dates. You saw Holbrooke out already trying to make the case of potentially transitioning the Canadians and the Dutch from combat roles to training roles – therefore, being able to leave their forces in as their politically set withdrawal dates approach. But that’s a remaining question – a focus on a robust trust fund.
And then the outliers – I know, in particular, the White House and folks here were concerned, you can’t announce a major strategy on Afghanistan and have the number-three and number-four troop contributors, the French and the Germans, be quiet. That was a bit of the challenge. I think, to much of Washington’s pleasure, President Sarkozy, after being quite outspoken about “not one more troop,” following his conversation with President Obama on the weekend, opened the door.
And the Élysée immediately began to leak the fact that the French will revisit this. And this creates quite a strong expectation for additional announcements of French troops, particularly around the time of January, which lends credence to what David said. We have a 7100 figure today, on Monday, but we’re likely to see the French come through, from all the signaling we’re seeing from the Élysée today.
The Germans have been a bit of a harder nut to crack, and I think there’s been some frustration – and having just renewed the Bundestag mandate that doesn’t allow for the increase, will the Germans be able to take on their political debate at home? The Europeans, much like Americans, are watching three factors. Will the Afghans make the same sacrifice and effort for the same objective that the alliance is committing to? Is the Karzai government more interested in securing its people or profiting from the insecurity? And what are the roles of the regional actors in this process?
The other big, unanswered issue in my view is the civilian side of this. I think Richard Holbrooke was making strong statements that we now have a unified military effort and command; we still have an ununified civilian effort. This was the second prong of President Obama’s strategy. We don’t have a lot of the details yet, in part because the U.S. isn’t the sole decision-making power. It can’t decide in the same way it’s set the direction on the military force that it will on the civilian side. That’s the challenge, I think, in the conference in January: how do we get this international civilian coordination element right?
To conclude, I just want a brief contextual note. It’s easy to be critical of the allies in Afghanistan, but the allies in the NATO alliance have never been set up to succeed in Afghanistan. And I think we need to keep that in context. How did we get there? September in 2001, I was working for Lord Robertson, and the informal NATO defense ministerial was held right after 9/11. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz came out and basically delivered a message of, thank you but no thanks; we’ve got it.
And while, on the one hand, that made sense in terms of what we were trying to do – move quickly into Afghanistan – into an area that the allies couldn’t reach; they didn’t have aircraft carriers, the strategic long-range bombers – it also led to a bit of a dousing of some of the enthusiasm we had out of the allies for this.
Secretary Rumsfeld followed up at the NATO defense ministerial in December of 2001 with a message of, we’re going to be basically out by March, 2002. This led to an incrementalism approach. It led to the first U.N.-mandated ISAF, which was not a NATO mission, but nationally-led – eight nationals involved, rotating headquarters every six months, dysfunctional, bringing in new command elements – very difficult.
It really wasn’t until August, 2003, that NATO took command of ISAF – what had been a dysfunctional ISAF, frankly. And at that time, it was still limited to Kabul. And over the next 3 years, NATO went through a laborious process of expanding north, west, south, east. And it did all this with the United States on the outside of the ISAF mission, not on the inside of the ISAF mission. The United States was running OAF and NATO was running ISAF.
Over time, towards the end of the Bush administration, many more efforts to try to get, first, unity of effort; increasingly, unity of command. But it was a story of incrementalism. It wasn’t until the United States took over the leadership of ISAF, recognizing that the U.S. is part of the NATO mission and integrating that. There, I think we began to get some of the elements right. And it’s only been with McChrystal’s deployment, the new three-star command out there, that we have the elements of alliance success being built in Afghanistan.
But we’re now 8 years into it. I only offer this because it’s easy to criticize the allies in Afghanistan, easy to recognize their failures. But I also think we never set up the alliance for success, we treated the alliance as a second class throughout the process and now we’re getting the elements right just at the time when we’ve lost public support particularly in Europe and we deprived some rationale for European leaders to speak up and defend the mission.
But it’s easy to – I think it is also a bit of a problem that they have taken themselves out of that leadership side. The next part of the challenge is something we struck on this morning, is how increasingly does a NATO operation where NATO are putting forces on the ground yet the political control that NATO exercises through the NAC is becoming even more distant to the fact that NATO forces are operating on the ground because of the relationship that we have with CENTCOM in the region, how that relates to shape. That’s one of the challenges in getting this story right. So let me conclude there.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Damon. And the reference to this morning was to a meeting that we had here of our strategic advisors group. Thank you for setting that background. Kim, now that we’ve reached the point of the unified command, where do you think this is going?
KIMBERLY KAGAN: That is exactly where I would like to start, so thank you very much, Shuja, Damon. The truly impressive result of this strategic review process is that Gen. McChrystal is now actually able to implement the concept that he developed in his strategic assessment, the document that hit on the 17th of September and that I had the privilege of contributing to intellectually in the June and July time period.
And I think within the document, there are actually two features that are really distinctive and distinguish McChrystal’s thinking about the problem set compared to his predecessors. First, understanding that the insurgency is actually not just a source of violence against, say, the United States or the NATO partners that it has, but also a source of violence and intimidation against the people of Afghanistan.
It is very easy in retrospect to see how that is the case, but when we began to look at the problem set in Afghanistan, the violence that we were measuring really was violence against coalition forces – the numbers of IEDs, the numbers of significant acts, the numbers of coalition casualties. And so it is actually a rather new component of the operational description of Afghanistan that the reason why the insurgency is thriving in Afghanistan is that it is conducting a campaign of intimidation against the people of Afghanistan.
The second feature of Gen. McChrystal’s assessment that I think differentiated it in terms of the way it defined the problem from its predecessors is that it identified the government of Afghanistan as a partial contributor to the sympathy for the insurgency, not because the government was necessarily bad in every way but because the government isn’t necessarily good in every way, and that there was a culture of abuse of power that had alienated the people and caused a crisis of confidence among them.
And it was really in this definition of the problem that the solution began to be developed – namely, an idea for conducting a counterinsurgency campaign not in the areas where necessarily there had been a lot of violence against us, but where there had been a lot of violence against the population, and a look at the enemy as an entity capable of rivaling the government of Afghanistan for the authority over the people through its campaign of intimidation but also through the sort of shadow governance structures that it had established, whether they be courts or whether they be mechanisms of taxation on licit and illicit crops.
And it’s really the redefinition of the problem and the focus on counterinsurgency in this context that has really generated the operational concept for this here. As far as we can tell, Gen. McChrystal will use the bulk of his forces in Regional Command-South – will focus them heavily on Kandahar, which has been largely ignored in terms of plus-ups over the past few years, and to a different extent in Central Helmand, creating a systemic effect, I think, on the enemy system in the South in areas that the enemy has to hold because that ground is important to them. That is really where they have their homeland, their support, the population, their main supply routes, their safe havens, their bases and their ways of directly affecting the leading families of Afghanistan, who also live in those areas.
And so I think what we will start to see, over the course of 2010 is, of course, a deployment of these forces in such a way that changes the dynamics within Southern Afghanistan – not necessarily rapidly but sufficiently – that over a period of 18 months, I think it is certainly reasonable to expect a degree of security in Helmand and a beginning of security in Kandahar that we really could not have expected without the addition of more forces, as the operations that our forces undertook this summer really culminated in about the late August timeframe as they were designed to do – around the elections.
I think it is also important, then, to understand that McChrystal has not been sitting around for the past four months kind of debating strategy with the White House. We’ve actually seen a lot of changes within Afghanistan, including the development of the intermediate joint command – the three-star headquarters – something that a year ago, we all thought was impossible – so pretty neat how possible that turns out to be.
And it is also really interesting to see the redrawing of boundaries in RC-South. The apportionment of U.S. forces to battle spaces that had originally been – really almost belonged to coalition partners – and the way that allows the planners within theater actually to allocate forces in a much better way, to take advantage of the capabilities that our allies bring without undermining their authority over a particular area.
So I think that we can point to about five or six things such as that – the redefinition of the problem, the refocus on counterinsurgency, the creation of new headquarters and command-and-control structures, and laying the precursors for partnering with the Afghan national security force, all of which make Afghanistan today different from what it was when I was there in July. And I think that initiative really has set the groundwork for some success, particularly as forces will be added much more rapidly than was thought.
There are still some problems, I think, with the strategy as formulated, and I want to flag them for you so that we can get to them in question-and-answers. I do think that it is of particulate note that the administration chose to go on a year-to-year basis for the growth of the Afghan national security forces rather than setting a target number or goal.
I understand why they might do this but I think that it is actually difficult for us to understand the magnitude of the task that we face developing the Afghan national security forces if we look at an incremental approach to growing them. It also makes it much more difficult to plan how it is that we’re going to use the great partnering and capabilities that our additional forces are going to bring in.
And quite frankly, we need to grow the Afghan national security forces as large as possible. They are what permit our forces eventually – not to exit but to take up a different role within the battle space. And I’d like to highlight that as an area we could come back to in questions.
The last area that I think is a little bit problematic does lie in the political realm. If there is a political or, let us say, a civilian-side campaign plan that really works hand-in-hand with Gen. McChrystal’s concept of operations. It is the best-kept secret in Washington and I am really impressed with how well the embassy has kept that under the lid in an environment when so much has come to light about other kinds of plans.
And so I seriously hope that there will be a good revision and consideration of the plans that we saw developed in July and August, and updating of them for the environment that they will be executed in. And an updating of them really to take into account the fact that the counterinsurgency campaign will rely on having a vision for where Afghan politics heads that our ambassadors and their staffs, their counterparts, actually have to execute on the ground.
So with a reasonable degree of hope, perhaps – not necessarily optimism – I think that 2010 will be a very interesting year, and 2011 will be extremely fascinating for those of us interested in military operations. Thank you.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Kim. “Interesting” may be the understatement of the year. I’m going to ask David to add to some of the comments that he made before we pass on to Greg Lemons.
MR. SEDNEY: I apologize for not having put this in, but it’s a little bit of a commentary on what Damon said, because I want to stress that is – while this is a NATO-led process – that ISAF is a NATO-led process, this is not a European process, and this is something that I want to stress.
For example, in the last month, Korea made a major decision to open a PRT with over 200 combat troops going into Afghanistan to protect their PRT. This is a major reversal from a country that left Afghanistan following the kidnapping and murder of several of its citizens and the reputed paying of ransom and the pledge to leave Afghanistan and not to come back. Similarly, the country of Japan made a very large and generous new pledge of billions of dollars of assistance and is relooking at what it can do in Afghanistan.
And this ties back to a point that, as we talk about all the strategy, the troop numbers, deployments and all that, and the response that it’s got, is that I think that the core issue – and you’ve heard everyone on the administration talk about the core goal – a threat that remains – and I pick out the one line that I think is in many ways the most important line from the president’s speech, which is that in recent months we’ve uncovered plots that go directly back into that area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The threat is still there. It’s not just a threat to the United States. It’s a threat to Indonesia; it’s a threat to Spain; it’s a threat to the United Kingdom. And it’s a realization that that threat is still there – and not only still there but still very active – that underpins everything that we’re talking about here. And I want to make sure that we all remember that as we focus on many of these tactical, operational, implementational details.
And I would point out for those people who are interested in internal dynamics that the articles that David Brody wrote in the New York Times detailing his time in Pakistan, his imprisonment in the continuing state of the Taliban – I think it was the fourth article in the series – had a particular impact on a lot of people who are involved in this process because he was able to say that the Taliban rule still exists. It hasn’t changed; it just happens to be here in Waziristan where he was imprisoned. And if you haven’t read that story, I highly recommend it.
And, similarly, the attacks of the Taliban in Pakistan and their extremist allies in Pakistan – the escalating violence in Pakistan – took place at the same time this decision process was going on, both the decision process in the United States and in the countries, as Damon mentioned. And that showed the power, the continuing power of these extremist groups.
And we just saw another example of that this morning: the horrific attack at the mosque in Pakistan that killed people that actually some of us know, and some of their children. This is the kind of enemy that we all face, including Pakistan, including all of our allies. And I want to make sure that we don’t lose that focus as we go on.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, David, and I’m sure you also would want to mention Singapore as having a great deal to do more –
MR. SEDNEY: Singapore has also done a lot – I could mention a lot but I focused on Japan and Korea because at my last job, I used to be responsible for them. That’s why I focused there.
MR. NAWAZ: Sorry to keep Greg waiting, but Greg, as I had mentioned, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and so he has a very real view of exactly what can work on the ground and what won’t work. So Greg, over to you.
LT. COL. GREGORY LEMONS: Thanks, Shuja. Again, my comments are not the official views of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense since I’m on loan here to the Atlantic Council, but I’ll briefly cover some tactical principles of COIN strategy, the troop surge impact, how policy impacts tactics, and how the Afghan people and the Taliban and al-Qaida view the troop surge.
From a military perspective, the doctrinal strategy option – of course, we all know this is a counterinsurgency. So that’s the only option we pretty much have at the strategy level. What’s kind of been missing, and I think what Gen. McChrystal has really started working, is the campaign plan.
And for the COIN strategy, there are five principles but, really, three of them are the basic principles of which I think most people are familiar with now: security, development and governance. We’ve heard that in Iraq; we’ve heard it in Afghanistan. And what you’ve got to consider – Mr. Sedney had mentioned this – Iraq and Afghanistan are different but yet there are similarities.
But these variables – you can look at Iraq: We called it reconstruction not development because Iraq was a developed nation and we could go in there and kind of repair what we tore down, reestablish institutions. And the people of Iraq were also used to having a strong central government, where the people of Afghanistan are not.
Then with those principles of development and governance, they can’t take place without security. And that’s why there’s such an emphasis on the troop levels, the security, building a host-nation force. And the security can’t be provided on a part-time basis. Security has got to be provided to the local population. And the way you do that is you’re living with that population 24 hours, seven days a week.
You can’t go into a village in Afghanistan on a mobile patrol once or twice a week and expect to gain anything from that because the insurgents will be in there when you’re not, coercing the villages. We’ve got to remember that the enemy has the will – a will of their own – and it’s not ours.
As Westerners, we tend to think linearly; we saw this in Iraq in how we planned the phases. It was a phased approach. Counterinsurgency is a cyclic process. We need development and governance – good governance. Like I said, you have to have security first but once you have the development and some good governance, then we get a return in security from the population. Once we reach that point, then the insurgency in Afghanistan will be defeated.
Afghanistan – there’s been a lot of talk that it was overshadowed by the operation in Iraq. Simply, my personal opinion, I don’t think we had enough forces to sustain two theaters of war at high troop levels. But since hostilities in Iraq are starting to diminish now, we are at a point where we can shift our focus of effort to Afghanistan. Also my opinion – which, I spent most of my time in Iraq working force protection issues – I don’t think we ever had enough troops on the ground in Iraq, and if it hadn’t had been for the Sons of Iraq movement, the situation in Iraq may be very different right now.
In Iraq, when we did the troop surge of the 20,000 troops, it was very effective in Sadr City, an area that we’d had a lot of problems in. But it didn’t have much effect in the rest of Iraq because the troop surge wasn’t spread to the rest of Iraq. And there, again, is where I say the Sons of Iraq movement was probably the key. It started in al-Anbar, and I think that was the relationship that the Marine Corps leaders had established with the local village leaders at the provincial level – the sheikhs – not the higher central government. We built it from the bottom up. And I think that’s a key in Afghanistan.
I think the impact of the troop surge in the major population centers in Afghanistan will be positive in terms of security in those areas as long as we’re there. What happens is – and we’ve seen this already in the South, in the Helmand province with the introduction of the Marine RCT – the regiment in Helmand in May of this past year – what we called “the balloon effect.”
We’re cleaning up Helmand but the insurgents have now moved to the North, which was an area which, until recently, didn’t have much activity. So we just pushed them. One of the differences – well, before I go there – the result of that, too, if we send enough troops into Afghanistan and cover all of Afghanistan, the insurgents are going to do what they’ve done since 2002. They’re going back to Pakistan, and as mentioned by pretty much all of the panel members here.
A difference between the Iraqi culture and Afghani culture is the provincial level – the tribal. There are similarities at the same time. The Iraqi culture and the Afghani culture – both tribal. I think we need to learn from the successes we had working at the tribal level in Iraq and apply it in Afghanistan. And we talked about – you all are probably more familiar; it’s hit the press – the corruption with the Karzai government.
I don’t have the solution – all the details, as far as a plan – the campaign plan, which Kim mentioned – but I agree. I think it should be at the provincial level. Maybe we need to start there and build it from the ground up. On the doctrinal side talking about troop levels, you know, Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal both had involvement in rewriting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. And that doctrine calls for a ratio of 20-to-25 troops per thousand. We’re nowhere near that. Gen. Petraeus has mentioned that we’re nowhere near that in that request.
But if you use that modeling – and I think they base it off of Kosovo and Bosnia – that’s 660,000 troops. That’s not attainable. We know that. And best-case scenario, if NATO could provide 250, 300,000 troops combined, we’d still require the other 300,000 to come from the Afghan army. And if the Afghan army, we grow them that strong to what effectiveness are they? But not having enough troops to cover the battle space, we create tactical vulnerabilities, or gaps. And one such vulnerability that we have in doing a counterinsurgency operation the way we’ve conducted it in Iraq and Afghanistan is the roadside IED.
Because our doctrine calls for us to secure the lines of communications, or the road, to prevent emplacement of explosives. So if we had enough troops out there to cover that battle space, we’d reduce the number of casualties. But we don’t have that number of troops, so again, we rely on building that Afghan army so we can leave. But we’re fighting a tougher enemy in a tougher terrain who prefers the guerilla tactics. And their favorite tactic is, again, the roadside IED.
So if the president’s policy to increase troop levels and start withdrawing in 2011 is – as Mr. Sedney said, it’s not a complete withdrawal, but the perception of the Afghan people is, we’re leaving. America is abandoning them again, just as we did in 1989 when the Soviets withdrew. So they’re going to ride the fence and that creates problems within the population that we’re trying to secure. So if we defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, again, as my colleagues have mentioned, what about the Taliban and al-Qaida within Pakistan’s borders?
That, to me, is still the key issue and the key point to Afghanistan attaining their own security forces. My question is, who’s sustaining them when we leave? We have a major problem in building the leadership in the Afghan security forces, since their education system – most of them are illiterate – it will take decades to build the leadership required for them to sustain their own military forces, as well as economics. And as far as the ungoverned space in Pakistan, it’s ungoverned by the sovereign government of Pakistan, but it’s governed by the Taliban. So – and with that, I’ll close. Shuja?
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Greg. I’m just going to take a minute to just throw out a couple of points about Pakistan. I know David has to leave at 4:00 so I hope we can get to the questions very quickly so we can get some questions to him, as well as answers from him. But on Pakistan, I think that one of the issues that we still face is that there appears to be a disconnect in the dialogue.
It appears that the United States has consulted Pakistan; it appears that Pakistan thinks it hasn’t been consulted, if one follows the public statements. So either we are getting some posturing, I don’t know aimed at what audience – either that, or it’s a reflection of the division inside Pakistan. I think if Pakistan is going to be the key to the success of the president’s strategy in the region, then this is an issue that needs to be fixed. And it needs to be fixed in Pakistan first before the U.S. starts leaning on that as a strong reed. Otherwise, I think we’re in trouble.
The other issue is that after a very long time, there’s been some coalescing of public opinion in support of military action against the Tehreek-e-Taliban and the militancy in Pakistan, the results of which are evident in the daily – almost daily – attacks on the state and on soft targets, particularly the attack on the mosque that David talked about. And that’s going to hit the morale of the forces, on the one hand, but it may also steal their resolve, on the other. So out of this horrific tragedy, something might emerge which will focus the attention so we stop differentiating between the good Taliban and the bad Taliban.
Question still remains as to Pakistan’s capacity. Have we done enough – can we do enough to enhance that capacity, now that there’s a willingness on the part of the military to engage forcefully? Much more important, and again, going back to something Kim has said, you need a civilian strategy to go along with that military strategy.
What I keep hearing from my contacts within the military is that they’re still waiting for that civilian component to emerge. Until there is a development plan, ‘til there is some engagement with the people, till there’s ownership and there isn’t a division between what is being done on the ground and what is being said in public between the government of Pakistan and the government of the United States, there’ll be confusion in the minds of the people.
And particularly now, with the speech and with the dates of potential withdrawal or beginning of withdrawal or thinking of beginning of withdrawal, I think a lot of these new answers may be lost on the people. As far as they’re concerned, they’ll go back to the old Taliban adage, “if you’ve got the watches, we’ve got the time.” So they will hedge massively and try and wait out whatever emerges. Let me stop there with my comments, open up to questions. I have Harlan over here, Edward at the back and then I’ll go around.
Q: First, thanks for a very, very informative discussion. I’m grateful. My question is really for David Sedney, to take Shuja’s rather elegant and polite critique and put it more crisply about Pakistan. It seems to me that the strategic dilemma we face is that we want Pakistan to accept a new strategic arrangement and the Pakistanis are very loathe to do that absent some sort of sign and commitment on our part. The Pakistanis, as you well know, think that what we’ve done for them so far is miserly.
They look at Kerry-Lugar, which is not money in the bank yet; they look at the billions of dollars that have been spent, obviously, in Afghanistan, and the fact that their troops are not equipped. And so they say, what are you going to do for us? And we say, we need a partnership first. What can you do to break this vicious spiral, especially given that the response from Pakistan so far in support of the president’s speech has not been overwhelmingly favorable?
MR. SEDNEY: Well, first of all, when it comes to Pakistan – and this will color some of my remarks, and I think Shuja and others who know Pakistan will agree – that in terms of building, effectively, the relationship with Pakistan, we both need to do it in ways that are effective publicly, but we need to do it privately. And having a megaphone to talk about the way we’re developing our relationship with Pakistan will be counterproductive.
So I’m going to be cautious in what I say, and ask you not to trust me or anything like that, but just to ask you to understand that in dealing with Pakistan, we, of course, as we said, we did consult whether what we did constituted the kind of consultations that Pakistan wanted – consultations about the same subjects that Pakistan would have wanted to have been consulted about. I think that’s an area that might answer some of Shuja’s question on that.
In terms of the expansion of the relationship into the areas of development and assistance, I think you saw, on Secretary Clinton’s trip there, further steps beyond Kerry-Lugar-Berman. In the president’s speech and the mention of a strategic partnership with Pakistan, there is certainly the promise to do more. But the way that we can do more is limited, right now, by the limits of the Pakistan-American relationship. There are a lot of areas where it is difficult to tread; there are a lot of things where it is difficult to do things. And we want to make sure that we move at the right pace.
Shuja has laid out an area of particular sensitivity, which is sort of a civilian strategy that meshes with the military strategy. We have the Pakistan military having done – and I’ll repeat what my secretary has said – done a very impressive job in Swat, in going in and the military operation that’s carried out, but facing a very large challenge in what comes after that clearing phase, in what is essentially a counterinsurgency action. In South Waziristan, they’ve gone in and begun this clearing phase. The next stages are going to be much harder, much more difficult, much more costly.
And the question of the resources that Shuja raised – what kind of resources are there, both in terms of governmental personnel, in terms of money, in terms of effectiveness, in terms of models of assistance to do that hold-and-build phase in South Waziristan? These are very open questions. These are areas where the United States has some experience, where we’re also learning still, in Afghanistan. We have resources that we’re willing to offer. As the president said in his speech, we’re willing to offer the help that Pakistan wants and needs, but we have to do it at a pace and in a manner that’s acceptable to Pakistan. And that is a challenge, but it’s a challenge we’re very much focused on. I hope that at least partially answers your question, and where it doesn’t, explains why not.
MR. NAWAZ: Okay, Edward?
Q: Thank you, Shuja. Edward Joseph with the Helsinki Commission. The chairman is Sen. Cardin. I’ll also direct my question to David, and to say that I heard your very effective presentation on the phone call with Denis McDonough and Paul Jones on the White House. David, obviously there’s no limit to questions that one could ask you. Col. Lemons raised a couple – that fact that to be effective in counterinsurgency, you have to be in villages 24/7 and yet, this seems to be more directed to urban areas.
Col. Lemon’s mentioned the Sons of Iraq initiative. Can you do this community defense initiative – militias – without undermining the Afghan National Army? The abysmal performance of the police – is that really a military mission? How realistic is that? No limit to questions I could ask you. So let me, in the short time that you have, ask the question this way, David: What, in your own estimation, is that essential military component of this strategy that you, yourself, are not really sure we can achieve – own estimation? Thank you very much.
MR. SEDNEY: You’ve asked me a really tough question because, as Kim has laid out – and I have to say, I very strongly agree – Gen. McChrystal has laid out an exceptionally effective way forward – a way that’s already having big effects. I was in Afghanistan 2002, ’03 and ’04. At that time, some of the things that Gen. McChrystal has changed, I worked very hard behind the scenes to change and failed – part of the process that failed in those days, based on my experience.
The changes in the concept of operations, the tactical directives that Gen. McChrystal has put out, is already having major impacts in non-directly kinetic ways – changing the way people think about the United States, changing the way people think about the coalition. So I’m not going to be able to answer your question in terms of the purely military. I think the biggest question is one that was raised repeatedly in the last several days of hearings and made columns – and Harlan mentioned it as well, I believe. Shuja mentioned it.
Everyone’s sort of referred to this question, do the Afghans and the Pakistanis think that we are leaving in 2011? We’re not leaving in 2011. We know that and that’s been made clear. But that’s not really the question – what we know and what we think. It’s what do the Pakistani people think? What do the Taliban think? What do the Afghans think? And that is going to be a big challenge to us. But the best way to answer that question, in pure military terms, is to use the troops that Gen. McChrystal is going to get – again, more troops sooner than even he asked for – in order to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.
If you look at every measure of Taliban influence, control, violence in the last 4 years, it’s been going like this, on an exponential curve. And that process was well underway – the additional 33,000 troops that we sent at the beginning of this year didn’t arrive in time to affect the fighting this year, didn’t arrive in time to affect – until the very end, until, say, September. I believe – and we’ll see whether it’s borne true in the next six months; we’re already seeing effects on that. But what we’ve had from the very beginning – and Damon laid out very deftly the history here – we’ve never had enough. The Taliban were never defeated. They withdrew into Pakistan. They rearmed, they resupplied, they retooled and then they came back as we left space for them, in my view.
Now, in order to get ahead of this accelerating curve, we need more troops, we need them faster, we need them in the right places and the right times. Afghanistan is different than Iraq, though. Yes, we need people in villages and valleys, but you need them in the right villages and valleys. And to do that, you need the very smart application of intelligence.
And one of the ways that is sort of not a visible part of the strategy is the way that intelligence is going to be used in a targeted way in Afghanistan, building upon the very exceptional way that I think many of you know was used in Iraq – in a much more complex environment in Afghanistan to target where we put military force and where we use that in order to blunt that Taliban’s momentum. Will it work? I have to say I have a very high confidence it will, but we won’t know. Will we have a clear idea – six months, 10 months – whether it’s working? We will.
That’s why, as Secretaries Gates and Clinton said, we’re going to have a very intensive review a year from now to see where we are and then either adjust our policies one way or another. I know I left a lot of questions unanswered. You raised a lot of them. Unfortunately, I did have to leave at 4:00. It’s already a few minutes after 4:00, and I apologize. If you want to ask one more question for me, I can do that, but then I really have to get up and run.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, David. I was going to ask you if you could take one more question before you leave. I did have Taha there. So over here, please. I’ll come back to you, sir.
Q: Taha Gaya with the Pakistani American Leadership Center. I just wanted to raise a question that Mr. Lemons and Mr. Nawaz both touched upon, and that was, Mr. Lemons, in speaking, talked about the balloon effect, where if you have a surge in Afghanistan, that’s going to drive insurgents, possibly, elsewhere, most likely to Pakistan. And then Mr. Nawaz raised the issue of capacity of the Pakistani army to deal with, maybe, that influx of insurgents. I know when the Pakistani army entered in South Waziristan, before doing that, they signed some ceasefire agreements with other tribes in South Waziristan, and also in North Waziristan. So if we do find this influx, aren’t we just setting Pakistan up for, essentially, the creation of a safe haven, where the Pakistani military is busy in South Waziristan. They don’t have the ability to go after these new insurgents. So those new insurgents will just hide out in Baluchistan, in North Waziristan and create problems for NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan?
MR. SEDNEY: First, on the spillover effect – and I won’t call it a balloon effect; I’ll call it a spillover effect – the government and military of Pakistan raised that issue beginning a year ago, when we put the additional 33,000 troops, including about 10,000 troops in Helmand this summer.
We have seen no evidence – and the Pakistani government, intelligence and military has provided us no evidence that, that has had any effect of that spillover effect that they are concerned about. I know we had the prime minister speaking about this just a day or so ago in Pakistan. And we understand the fears of the Pakistani government, based on what happened in 1979, in terms of the 10 years of refugee flows out and what, again, happened during the civil war in the ’90s in terms of the impact on Pakistan.
So we understand why Pakistan is concerned. But the facts on the ground simply don’t show that. As NATO – I’m sorry, as ISAF has ramped up over the last several years, there has not been that spillover into Pakistan that the Pakistani people and government are so concerned over. The refugee flows have not begun. There’s absolutely no data to support those fears yet. So is it a legitimate fear? Yes. Is there evidence? No. And I think that goes back on why I have been perhaps a little bit at disagreement here. The Taliban effort in Afghanistan is very much a local effort, area-by-area.
Yes, they’ve expanded what they’re doing in Afghanistan, but it’s very much a part of a yearly campaign plan. But the actual fighters that are used in every area, by and large, are local fighters, sometimes augmented by people from Pakistan. But they’re local fighters who are recruited through a variety of means. Sot he fight in Afghanistan is very much a valley-by-valley fight. And the local people don’t really have many places to go. And then finally, a big part that I didn’t mention of the president’s strategy, and something that President Karzai endorsed, is the reintegration and reconciliation of those exact fighters.
We’ve already started, in some small ways. This process has to be Afghan-led. President Karzai and his government have bought onto it. Gen. McChrystal has brought out Gen. Graham Lamb, who’s already put in place a lot of the building blocks for that strategy. There’s an Afghan government strategy that matches with that.
So in order to prevent that kind of balloon effect, what we have to do is ensure that the fighters who we wish to defeat are not pushed other places. Our objective is certainly not to kill all of them; our objective is to bring them back into the Afghan polity. And this is a fascinating subject. I can’t wait to continue discussing it with the ambassadors and the defense attaches over at the Pentagon, which I have to do now. Sorry.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much, David. We understand that you have to leave. We’ll continue with the questions. I know right behind Taha, there was Christina Lamb and then I’ll come to the gentleman over on this side.
Q: Thanks. Actually, I had a question for David, but he’s running away. I was going to ask – well, I was going to make a couple of comments. And I’m Christina Lamb for the Sunday Times, and I’ve been reporting from Afghanistan, actually, since the Russians were there. And it seems to me quite similar – the situation, now, when you travel there – to how it was in the late ’80s, when I was going there as a very young journalist.
So what I was going to ask was, first of all, it seems unclear to me why we should think that 30,000 extra or 40,000 extra troops should turn this situation around, given that over the last year, the number of international forces in Afghanistan has doubled, and yet – I’ve gone there three times this year – each time I’ve gone there, I’ve been able to travel to fewer and fewer places because the security situation has worsened so much. So I’m slightly baffled as to how that’s suddenly going to change.
The other thing that I would like to hear more about is the whole Taliban negotiations, because it has been said by many people that this can’t be won militarily – this conflict – in which case, surely, the focus needs to be on a negotiated settlement. And how is that going to work? Thank you.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Christina. I’m going to ask Kim if she could address this, please?
MS. KAGAN: I can certainly address the first portion of the question. And I think it’s good to ask why is it that 30,000 more troops are more important or likely to have an impact when the 21,000 troops that arrived earlier this year did not. That’s actually a really fair question and it’s one that you ought to have asked, if you haven’t. And I think one of the problems that we have in the way we think about troop surges is that we really think about an additive effect of what happens when we add 10,000 more troops or 20,000 more troops to a particular force pool that already exists.
And I think what we’ve learned from our experience in Iraq is that there is a critical minimum footprint, and after you add beyond that critical minimum, every brigade combat team that you had, every enabler you add actually generates an exponential effect on the ground, not an incremental effect.
And I know that’s a lot of math words and a lot of big concepts, but it’s really important to understand that the difference between having had, you know, something like 12 or 15 brigades on the ground in Iraq and then, ultimately having something like 22 brigades on the ground in Iraq was not a difference of plus seven brigades; it was the additional combat power and capability and visibility, and the way in which those forces could interact with one another and support one another on the ground that created the nonlinear effects that we saw in Iraq that essentially caused al-Qaida in Iraq to lose control of the country over the course of 2007 from, let us say, May to the end of the year.
Now, I don’t think that we will achieve exponential effects against the Afghan Taliban to the same degree because, as David said, they are somewhat more localized. Al-Qaida in Iraq was a system that functioned countrywide and it was possible to generate effects on Al-Qaida in Iraq in Mosul by operating on Al-Qaida in Iraq in Baghdad. Now, that said, I think it’s actually a problem that we have not tried to figure out how all of these groups come together and what is it that they’re trying to do and what is it that they find most important. And is there terrain that they actually need to be on more than other terrain? Are there ways that we can generate problems all across the enemy groups even if we can’t be in every single valley and every single village?
And the answer I think is, you know, we’ve never actually thought about the problem set that way, so we haven’t tried. We haven’t actually tried to use our forces in different places simultaneously to generate multiple effects on this enemy. Clear them out of enough places at once so that, if they’re ballooning up, they’re ballooning up in places that really don’ matter. Because you know what, Kandahar is much more important that what is going on in Golestan, right? What’s going on in Lashkar Gah is more important than what’s going on in Farah. And it’s just that way because that’s the nature of the terrain, it’s the nature of the political terrain, it’s the nature of the human terrain and it’s the nature of the enemy.
And so I can’t guarantee you that 30,000 more forces is going to revolutionize Afghanistan. What I can tell you is that the reapplication of force and its concentration on different population centers, different enemy centers of gravity, different enemy sanctuaries, all tied into one another in a way that Gen. McKiernan and his predecessors didn’t do, is going to have a different effect on the enemy and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on it in a way that transports it from being something that changes each district to something that changes enough districts to change the way in which the government has to interact with its people, the insurgents have to interact with the people and the way in which the people function in Southern Afghanistan.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Kim. Damon, do you want to add anything?
MR. WILSON: Just a brief comment. I mean, I think one of the key elements, in terms of effects on the ground, is not necessarily the overall number – it matters, but from my experience watching this from the embassy perch in Baghdad before, while we were in the review process, through the review process, the decision-making, the surge, was the psychological impact, and that what we saw in Iraq – folks, on a micro basis – individuals were hedging their bets, reading the U.S. debate, perceiving that the U.S. was ready to walk away.
And despite lack of public support, despite no congressional support, a decision about a surge in Iraq, which came across to average Iraqis as believable, in part because they almost believed President Bush was crazily focused on this issue, wouldn’t’ countenance failure. And it was actually believable.
And we saw, even before the arrival of troops in Iraq, an increase, an up-tick in those that would be willing, in neighborhoods, to pass on tips to coalition forces because, as they were sitting on the fence before the decision, they realized, okay, actually the Americans aren’t walking away today. They’re here. There’s a chance of success. And there was much more cooperation on an individual, micro basis so that I think the psychological impact’s significant.
That’s the one thing that worries me about the concrete nature of a date. It’s got to be believable, on the ground, to magnify the effect of what the forces are. And that’s one of the questions – how much do the people of Afghanistan believe our commitment to success there now?
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. The other question that Christina had was about negotiation, and I’m just going to give you my take on that, Christina. It may not answer your question. And that is – I mean, I’m, by nature, an optimist. I’m always trying to look for something positive. And so, in listening to the president’s speech, I was very struck by his use of a new term. He used the term reintegrate. This is in place of reconciliation, which was the term du jour for some time before the speech.
And I believe that, that can only be possible if there is a willingness and an ability on the part of the Afghan government to take on the people that are willing to reintegrate with the center. Also, from the Pakistan angle, perhaps this is a hopeful sign because it offers an opportunity for the U.S. to work with Pakistan in trying to break the so-called Taliban unified command. Because it is regional, it is ethnic, it is sectarian.
There are all kinds of divisions within there that we’ve forced them together. And if you can separate them somehow and the Pakistanis can use whatever contacts they have and their influence that they still have with any one of these to either go directly or send surrogates to participate in the government in Kabul, you might have a chance at breaking this unity of the Taliban. So I think that, we may see in the background.
But the big ifs are what does President Karzai want to do and what is he capable of? And secondly, what do the Pakistanis want to do and what are they capable of? Do they still have the leverage? So I’m sorry, but that may not be the definitive answer. I do have to apologize. I mean, I’ve been taking down names of people in the order that I saw them, so if I take you out of turn, please excuse me. We have the next question over here. There’s a microphone coming to you, sir.
Q: Good afternoon. My question is for Col. Lemons.
MR. NAWAZ: If you could identify yourself, sir.
Q: Sorry, I’m Patrick Wilson. I’m a recovering platoon leader. My question is about the strategy that you mentioned. The Sons of Iraq was about company-level officers engaging tribal leaders, and that accomplished success.
One of the problems we’ve had in Afghanistan – and I want to put this out to the panel – that in the rotation process, both our European allies spend three months in country – the entire time, our British commanders are worried about how their soldiers are going to go home. They get home for two weeks out of that. At any given time, there’s only one-third of a complement of soldiers from Norway, from England – this is just units that I’m familiar with – from Germany, are constantly going home.
Again, I’m going to betray my service rivalry, colonel, and tell you I’m in the Army. We stay for 12 months. We build those relationships with tribal leaders over time – over 12 months. The Marine Corps – their command’s going to change in six months. They’re doing their left-seat, right-seat rides at four-and-a-half months in. That’s great for the handoff, but as far as, like, the relationships that are so important here, they seem like they’re on their way out the door, too.
And I think this exacerbates this perception on the ground that we are not in there for the long haul. They don’t understand that, oh, well this new commander that replaced the old commander – everything’s going to be the same. That makes no sense to them. I guess I just want to throw that out as an operational problem that gets to the heart of what I think is the key to success, which is building those tribal alliances like we saw in Iraq.
LT. COL. LEMONS: Well, the Marine RCT that’s in there now is there for a year – full-haul year in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps recognizes that as well. And even – you know, I did two tours in Iraq with the Army and I also saw, with the BCTs there, that even though, you know, down at the battalion level or even the company level, you may have the same sector, but you still rotated platoons. We still have – the Army and Marine Corps alike – still had those same internal problems.
When I went back as a battalion commander, I assigned platoons the same sector for eight months to try to alleviate that problem. So – but that is a problem. But then again, let’s go back to the stress on the force. You know, the Army and Marine Corps both have been in these theaters, now, for how long? And that’s why we can’t send three, 400,000 troops over there at one time and eradicate the problem. We’re stressed. So we’re stuck with what we have. I hate to say that. What was the term? We go to war with an Army we have. I hate to say that, but we’ve basically worn our forces out.
MS. KAGAN: Could I jump in on that and just dovetail, because I feel your frustration and it’s evident on the ground. It’s really interesting to be at ISAF headquarters for a month and suddenly discover that you’re there two months less than someone who’s permanently stationed there. So you know, it’s a real phenomenon and I think we’ve encountered it.
One of my hopes is that as we integrate U.S. forces into many areas that had been separate kingdoms or separate fiefdoms for different combat forces from different countries, we can actually take advantage of those forces that stay longer, that have greater capacity to build relationships, to build those relationships and sustain them, and rely less on our allies to build those relationships if, in fact, they are likely to leave.
We put them in a bad situation. We put the Afghans in a bad situation when we do that. And so that’s why, I think, some of the marriage that we’re about to see between the Marines and the U.K. folks – the U.S. and the Canadians – may actually have an impact on the ground. We’ll watch that, though, because that’s an important issue.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Kim. Debra?
Q: So much to talk about. Debra Cagan from NDU, career State Department. A couple of things – I’m sorry David had to leave. I understand, implicitly, why the president had to say the dates he did in that speech, because that speech was for a domestic audience and some of our allies, as well, who were looking for the, quote, “exit strategy.”
I think, however, that it sort of was misleading to a lot of people in the region, not just for the statements said here today, but because there’s probably – and the military people in the audience know this – there’s probably – it numbers in probably the thirties of countries in the world that have a huge military presence on their soil doing training at any given time – in the hundreds, in many of these places.
And none of them have an active war component or anything like that. So to say that the training component would have to go away or border training component would have to go away after large numbers of combat forces leave, I think is a fallacy. But I think for political reasons, no one in the administration is going to come out and say that.
And I think, for years, we did a huge amount of training n lots of parts of the world that I won’t mention here – and Damon knows what I’m talking about – where no one even knew we had 300 or 400 U.S. troops physically in the country at that time. And in fact, over the last two or 3 years, U.S. forces have been doing training of Lebanese armed forces with not a lot of fanfare for obvious reasons. So I think that can go on.
But I want to lead back into, I think, perhaps a more difficult question, which is, I learned, doing coalition operations for a huge, long period of time, that no country ever does anything just because we want it to. They only do things if it’s in their enlightened self-interest. And I have begun to wonder – perhaps I’m hanging around with Christine Fair too much, and I’ve just finished reading your paper that the two of you wrote – I have begun to wonder whether there is enough commonality of what needs to be done between the U.S. and the Pakistani government, whatever that government might be on any given day.
And the numbers of – by the Pakistanis’ own admission about which bad guys they’ve been able to kill in South Waziristan and which numbers they’ve barely made a dent in them – and the ones where they’ve barely made a dent in tend to be the ones where they really didn’t consider them their enemy for a very long time anyway. So the first question is, is it reasonable to expect that we will ever have a common view of who the enemy is with the Pakistanis? And the second question is, does that really matter? Sometimes, you just deal with the hand that you’re dealt and you work through it some other way. So I guess I’m looking at you, Shuja.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Debra. You were looking at me, and so I’m going to try and answer, but if any of my colleagues wants to give an answer, I’d be happy to hand over the mike to them. I agree with you; I don’t think that there is a common view. And I think, in some ways, this is sometimes a dialogue of the deaf; we’re talking past each other. We don’t recognize and we don’t understand each others’ constraints and background in trying to find the best way of collaborating. There isn’t going to be a perfect union between the United States and Pakistan. There never has been. History is running against it; there’s too much history to overcome.
But I think more important on a very practical level, you really have to define those areas where you can collaborate on and try and strengthen the ability of the Pakistanis in those areas where they’re willing to go so that you can get some leverage. But even conceding that Pakistan were to eliminate the sanctuaries, you’re not going to eliminate the fighting inside Afghanistan completely because there are underlying conditions there that will continue to spawn an insurgency. And it will be quite a while before you manage to resolve that.
And so the question really is, to what extent can you get over Pakistan’s insecurities, particularly from the East? To what extent can you equip the Pakistanis, militarily and on the civilian side, to change the environment? And to what extent, other than their being attacked by these insurgents and then retaliating, do you want to help them really make this their own fight? I think these are all the questions to which we still don’t have the answers because, as David was also trying to address, there’s a lot of stuff going on under the table and what we hear on the airwaves is at a variance with what we are told is happening under the table.
I, for one, do not believe the under-the-table discussions are going as well as we would like them to be, or as well as we think they’re going, because if that were the case, by now, we wouldn’t have had this disconnect in the public discourse. Anyone else want to add to that? Okay, I have a question there.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MR. NAWAZ: And then James over there. If you could identify yourself –
Q: Igor Istomen, MGIMO-University, Moscow, now visiting researcher at SAIS. I have two questions – small questions. I hope somebody will take them. First is, the thing which differs Afghanistan very much from Iraq is the drugs factor. What do you think, if there is, just now, already, some strategy within the administration of how dealing with narcotics is part of this new strategic approach to Afghanistan?
And the second one is, while we have this new surge in Afghanistan, what will be the role of the northern road for getting forces into Afghanistan and whether it will need extension of infrastructure in CIS countries? Thank you so much.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. Kim, would you like to talk about the drugs?
MS. KAGAN: Yes, actually, I would. I think it’s a fascinating issue, of course. And obviously one that needs to be addressed. But – and I really want to put a big but here – the size, scope and scale of the narcotics problem in Afghanistan is such that we have to be really careful about how much resource we put into trying to constrain it for achieving the effects that we’re actually likely to achieve.
And I think that there is a role within a counterinsurgency for, I would say, restraining the narcotics trade if we’re seeing to it that the overlap between the narcotics trade and the insurgency is kept to the minimum possible level, that in fact there is some targeting done of individuals who really do link the narcotics trade with the insurgency and the funding of one for the other.
But actually, what strikes me, as I look at the history of NATO operations, particularly in Southern Afghanistan, is that NATO has poured a huge amount of resources into mitigating the effects of narcotics – indeed, trying to turn back the growth of illicit crops – in a way that has, really, almost zero effect on the market overall, because the market is so large. And we don’t really know what part of the market we’re affecting, right? Is it actually insurgent funding that we’re taking away, or are we taking away funds that are just going to regular, ordinary drug dealers? Can you separate the two?
The point is that with all of this force that we’ve had and all of these resources that we’ve had focused on narcotics, we’ve really accomplished very little. And I think we’ve hoped, somehow, that we could use our threat finance approach to diminish the insurgents’ access to cash from the narcotics trade. I think that we need to figure out how to apply our resources much more effectively than we have. And I also think that we have to be aware that the narcotics trade is but one source of income for the insurgency. The insurgency also gains quite a bit of cash from the taxation of licit crops.
The insurgency also gains quite a lot of cash from donations from overseas and, as a result, we mustn’t assume that if we were somehow to cut off the funding from the narcotics trade to the insurgency, that they would not have some other source of funding that would, at least partially, replace the drug trade as a way for them to operate within Afghanistan.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Kim. Damon, perhaps you could talk about the northern distribution network.
MR. WILSON: Sure, just very quickly on that – and I certainly don’t know the plans the CENTCOM is developing for the LOCs into Afghanistan for this surge – but I do know that they better not be depending on the northern LOC.
Obviously, last year, 2008, when the Pakistani LOC – lines of communication – got more difficult with the attacks on the NATO convoys and other supplies going through the region, CENTCOM, and with Gen. Petraeus, were granted more aggressive effort trying to open up two additional lines of communication – a northern LOC through Latvia and Russia and another one cutting from west to east through the Caucasus/Black Sea/Caspian region.
With much fanfare, as part of the Russia reset, Hillary Clinton opened the northern LOC and we’ve had one flight go through for symbolic reasons and now, we’ve been hung up on pricing and taxes and bureaucratic shenanigans. While there was some progress today at NATO in the NATO-Russia council on some of these issues, if I’m sitting at CENTCOM, the last thing I’m going to be doing is depending on that LOC.
So I hope we’re actually making more progress on the western-to-eastern lines of communication and continuing to strengthen and solidify the transit routes through Pakistan as well. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t to try to develop and grow this northern route; as a military planner, I wouldn’t want to be very much dependent on it.
MR. NAWAZ: A very interesting footnote to that, in a meeting with a senior Defense Department official, he said that there was a very positive effect of the announcement of the northern distribution network on Pakistan. Suddenly, there was at least a 30 or 40 percent efficiency improvement in the distribution through Pakistan. (Laughter.)
Not only did the trucks move much faster from Karachi to Turkan and Jamman (sp), but the attacks on them were somehow diminished. So there’s, perhaps, some incentive system at work that we haven’t fully caught onto. So I think we may be surprised by some of these effects, over time.
I have James Joyner over here, and then I do want to let you know, we’ve reached 4:30, which was our promised end of the session, but if my panel members are willing to stay on, I’d like to go through, if quickly, to at least the five questioners that I have on my list so nobody goes home feeling that he or she didn’t get to ask a question.
MR. WILSON : Can we collect the questions, maybe?
MR. NAWAZ: Yes, we may be able to do that. So after James, I’m going to ask the others to give us very short questions and then I’ll ask the panelists to respond to all of your answers. Sir, go ahead.
Q: Hi, James Joyner with the Atlantic Council. The interesting thing that I’ve noticed in the discussion over the last few days is it seems that the people who were the most enthusiastic about the president’s speech are those who don’t believe him, which is to say, all of the discussion seems to be based on the idea that we’re doing a counterinsurgency and we’re going to be there a long time, and yet, the speech is, no, no, we’re just doing counterterrorism and, you know, come summer of 2011, we’re looking for the exit. But nobody seems to believe that, that’s enthusiastic about it and the people who are upset are the ones who are taking him seriously.
MR. NAWAZ: Let me take the other questions, then, and I think then we’ll respond. Ainab, if you could stay in this line and give it to Kawa (ph).
Q: I am Kawa Riswi (ph), and a journalist – just last month came back from Afghanistan. I will elaborate on the question of dialogue gain, and in fact, that may be the most key component no one is talking about. In fact, in the past, there was an effort of, at that time, maybe reintegration or whatever. And those who came forward were either killed or have been jailed. And there are several of them – I can take the names.
If you raised it – and then there is a serious, I think, difference of opinion between not only NATO allies in local government, otherwise with the NATO allies how to proceed in this area. And asked which entity – who is heading the commission, I don’t know. But if you raise that in the past, Pakistan also was engaged in peacetime talks with the insurgents, which was, in fact, extremely counterproductive. Right now, President Karzai announced unconditional dialogue with Mullah Omar. Where NATO stands on this very, in fact, political process?
The second part of it is that the second-largest insurgent group, the group of Hekmatyar, accepts the conditions; if NATO forces give a timeframe, they are ready to come to the table with Karzai. It is not once – several times, they announced it, in writing even. So is there a possibility, if a person like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar comes down and sits together with Karzai, if this process has support from NATO allies, including U.S.?
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. And we’ve lost Jim Moody, so Dana over here was next, and then the young lady behind. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to draw the line there. Go ahead.
Q: You’re a real diplomat, Shuja, thank you. It’s Dana Marshall with Dewey and LeBoeuf. One-and-a-half questions: You made a very interesting point, Shuja, about the role of economics and the sense of competition for transportation. Let me ask an economic-related question in a different context.
Perhaps this is for Greg Lemons as someone who’s really been out there seeing this. The use of economic tools to try to degrade the insurgency – people have observed, many times, that if you can get these guys jobs, they’re not going to take up guns. A lot of them are in the insurgency because it’s a paid position. If you give them something else, they’ll do it. I’d just be interested to get some background on that.
The second, half-question, but a big one: There’s been a tantalizing amount of reporting about this so-called “grand bargain” letter that Gen. Jones took to Zardari. One, does anyone know anything about it, and two, if you were to write it, what would you write?
Q: Yeah, I’m Laura Mandeville from the French daily newspaper, Le Figaro. I just want to come back to the question of the departure – I mean, start of the departure date, 2011. And just, since David Sedney has left, I think it’s going to be easier, maybe, for you to express your opinion. I would like each participant to state clearly, do you think it was a mistake to announce this 2011 start of departure? Doesn’t it neutralize, somehow, the seriousness of the plan that President Obama has announced on Tuesday night? Thanks.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. I’m going to draw the line there. And thank you for your questions – even the half-question, which is more than a half, Dana. But as a lawyer, you know how to phrase it. I’m going to open up the answers, now. Anyone want to take up any of these questions in whatever order you want to? Kim?
MS. KAGAN: Certainly. I’d like to begin with Dana’s question, and then we can move on into the larger issues of going forward. I think that it’s really important to remember, in a counterinsurgency, that although there are many economic tools that our forces and our civilians have at their disposal and that the governments have at their disposal, too, it’s not simply about giving men jobs. It’s about seeing to it that they have jobs with honor. And I think that we tend, ery quickly, mistake the one for the other.
And it’s not that I’m telling you that cash isn’t important in the life of a Taliban foot soldier, but rather that I think that the incentives for which he fights are a little bit more complicated than money or no, and that the incentives by which he does not fight are actually even more complicated than that. And so as we look at the idea of reconciliation or, better yet, reintegration of the Taliban foot soldiers in key areas of Afghanistan, we need to look at seeing to it that we negotiate with them from a position of strength and that we offer them something that it is worth laying down arms for.
And I think that, that poses a special burden on our conceptualization of what it means to pay off potential insurgents, because I really do think that there is a dignity in fighting that we saw was really honored by the concept of Sons of Iraq in uniform that is not really honored by the concept of Sons of Iraq working in public works ministries and so on and so forth. I think that will be doubly so within Afghanistan.
And about reconciliation as a whole, it is not time to reconcile with the enemy groups that exist within Afghanistan because in fact, they are in the position of strength right now vis-à-vis the Karzai government, and they are in a position of strength vis-à-vis the United States and the coalition forces. And I think that we’ve seen, from the experience of the Pakistanis, on the one hand, and many other experiences throughout history, if we negotiate with them from a position of weakness, then that gives them an upper hand in that political settlement and it means that we are going to have to revise that settlement in order to ensure U.S. and regional security in the future.
Why do that now? That’s one of the reasons why, I think, counterinsurgency campaign that undertakes the security of Southern Afghanistan will be really important in leading to the kinds of reintegration processes that we all think have to happen, but we’re really talking about when and how.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Kim.
MR. WILSON: Very briefly, I’ll take James and the correspondent from Le Figaro. Yes, the tension between, “this is about our vital national interests” and then putting limits on it, what’s interesting is, if you look at Sec.-Gen. Rasmussen and how he’s been out speaking very loudly about this, I don’t want to call it damage control, but it almost seems as if his language is about conditions-based, his language is about transition doesn’t equal an exit strategy. He’s got a very, very strong statement, which captures a lot of these things that redefine, or that put in a box, put limits on what this date is supposed to mean.
So in some respects, the date – it does weaken the perception of resolve and it weakens the psychological impact that you need on the ground, and in some degree, makes it a bit harder for the forces that actually have to accomplish the mission. But I think it’s very important how the secretary general has boxed that in. There’s no date in the NATO statement that came out on Afghanistan today. The only language that’s in there is, “as soon as possible.” And then Rasmussen specifies conditions-based and transition doesn’t equal exit.
The NATO statement does formally endorse backing up the Afghans on the reintegration process, but it’s the Afghan-led process that the alliance endorses. And so they’re on the record in terms of the reintegration, but if – I might just read – we have a new policy – let’s see – “and our intention is to transfer lead security responsibility to Afghan forces as soon as possible next year, where conditions allow. Transition doesn’t mean exit. There should be no misunderstanding. We are not going to leave Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of terrorists and the extremists who host them. That will not happen.” That’s clear language. We didn’t quite hear all that same, clear language the day before.
MR. NAWAZ: I would just agree with that. I think people are not going to be reading the NATO statement; they’re going to be reading and rereading the president’s speech. And I personally think it was unfortunate to have these two timetables, even to allow them to slip on the very next day, when Adm. Mullen had to then say that actually, all the troops are not going to be there by next summer; it may slip by another two or three months.
So everyone, in his own or her own way, was calculating the timetable and thinking well, so they have the six-month window during which they’re going to have to produce some results and then they’re going to start seeing when they can start leaving or not, or you know, is this a political decision? Is this a military decision? I think that’s really been the unfortunate part of this, and this is where the clash between the political plan and the military plan became evident, in my humble opinion. Let me turn to Greg, to see if you want to factor any of these –
LT. COL. LEMONS: Yeah, I’ll jump on the one James – you were talking about counterterrorism or counterinsurgency. Well, first of all, I think it is just a misuse of terminology, because terrorism is a tactic. And so – it’s not a strategy. So we use that down at the tactical level; that’s how we fight.
Then, on the economic incentives, you know, in Iraq, it worked well in areas. We had surp. funds; we bought back weapons. But Kim was right – honor – once we understood that process, because honor, in the Arabic culture, was such a high issue, it was the wives who were the ones bringing the weapons in because they needed the money for the basic needs. And in Afghanistan, the basic needs – you know, we go in with our Western mindset and we think, oh, you want electricity – well, maybe not – you know, instead of us asking first what it is they need.
But it is their basic needs, and what we see – how the Taliban coerces a lot is, they take their basic needs away. They take food away to supply themselves. So in that sense, I say yeah, there are economic incentives that do work; it’s the basic needs. One quick story – I wasn’t witness to this; we use it a lot as a scenario that did happen in Afghanistan – was, we did provide some power in a village to power a transmission site with a generator. Well, the insurgents kept knocking the power off.
Well, once we provided the power to the village, that generator got protected. So there are economic incentives. And that’s why I said once the population of Afghanistan gives us the return back in security, then the insurgency will be over. That’s why I’m a firm believer that you have to protect the population, not the central government, because once you get it established in the population, they’ll keep the insurgents out themselves, just like we saw in Iraq. And that’s a lesson learned from many insurgencies and counterinsurgencies throughout history.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Greg. One question that wasn’t addressed was that of Hekmatyar. And I’m sure Kawa Riswi knows the area much better than I do and the history of the area. The gentleman in question, Mr. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who likes to go under the title of engineer, even though he’s not an engineer, will make a deal with anyone, at any point, and if that offers us an opportunity to somehow break that coalition of the Taliban, I think we should be taking it, whatever we can do.
And if President Karzai can make a deal with his arch-rivals in the North and the South and the West, there’s no reason why he can’t make one with some guy who divides his time between Nuristan and Northern Pakistan. And so I would say yes, take that opportunity. And there may be others that one can break away from Mullah Omar and his coterie. So with that, I want to thank the audience for coming and for being patient with us.
I would like to thank Kim Kagan for stepping into the breach, and we wish Fred and his family well. And I want to thank Damon Wilson and David Sedney for having taken the time to join us. I’m sure if he had stayed here, we would have had, probably, a dozen more questions for him, and I’m sure he’d have had a dozen more answers for us. And our own Marine senior fellow Greg Lemons, and most of all, if I could ask my colleagues at the back to please stand up, I want to thank my associate director, Shikha Bhatnagar on the right and Ainab Rahman, who has been working with us to put all of this together for your benefit.
And I hope that, if you haven’t shared your details with us, that you will because we want to make sure we keep sharing with you what’s on the anvil, particularly as we put together new programs. And we also would welcome your feedback and your suggestions for new topics that you would like us to be covering, particularly as a result of today’s discussion.
Just so that you know, we are going to try and get a transcript of this exchange up on the Web, so you can pass your word on to your colleagues that missed it. Or if you were taking notes and you missed some of the things that you needed, too, perhaps that will help you. Thank you again, and we’ll see you next time. (Applause.)
Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.