Courting disaster in Afghanistan

Julianne M. Showalter

U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Glenn Niematalo and Lt. j.g. Anthony Delgadillo, Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team engineers, talk to the construction site engineer about some of the villagers concerns, April 5 in the Khost Province of Afghanistan.

Article Highlights

  • Announcing that the new Afghanistan timeline is fixed would not only be foolish, but irresponsible

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  • Our mission in #Afghanistan is not done while Haqqani safe havens persist inside its borders

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  • Leaving it to Afghan forces to clear safe havens south of Kabul is a recipe for failure

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced a new timeline for American combat operations in Afghanistan—or did he? He said, “Hopefully, by mid- to the latter part of 2013, we’ll be able to make, you know, to make a transition from a combat role to a training advice, and assist role…” Pressed once, he added, “The hope was, that hopefully, we could reach a point in the latter part of 2013 that we could make the same kind of transition we made in Iraq, from a combat role to a train-and-assist role.” Pressed again about whether this timeline was a new departure, he answered, “No, not really,” repeating that such a transition was envisioned at the 2010 Lisbon Conference and that “we always looked at, you know, what exactly…are the pieces we would have to have in place in order to be able to make that transition.” Let us hope, hopefully, that this comment was a malapropism rather than the leaking of a new strategy, because, if it is a new strategy, it’s a bad one.

Everything Secretary Panetta said about the transition approach envisioned at Lisbon is true—that process, excessively binding and bureaucratic in our opinion, does foresee the gradual and conditions-based transition of the task of securing all of Afghanistan to the Afghan security forces. At some point—not specified at Lisbon or in any public statement or document before this one—the mission of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), would change from defeating the insurgency alongside the Afghans to assisting the Afghans in securing their own state. Could that point come in late 2013? Perhaps. But there is no way to be sure now. Announcing it as a fixed timeline now, therefore, would be not only foolish but irresponsible.

Please read the full text at the Critical Threats Project.

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