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In March 2009, President Obama laid out the foundation for a comprehensive policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, tailored to the mission of defeating al Qaeda and its allies in the region. As part of this policy revamp, the president also replaced General David D. McKiernan as the commander of U.S.
Download Audio as MP3 and NATO forces, appointing General Stanley A. McChrystal to lead the coalition effort. A summer 2009 assessment of the war conducted by General McChrystal reinforced the need for a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy to achieve the president's stated objectives. Since then, a series of White House strategy reviews have brought the administration to a critical decision point that will shape the conduct and outcome of the mission in 2010 and beyond. The culmination of this process will be watched closely by all stakeholders--allies and enemies alike. Confronted by a hardening insurgency that is poised to regroup in the coming winter, the United States now faces choices certain to impact the prospects for success in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the broader struggle against extremist forces.
Join us for a timely discussion on the next steps in Afghanistan and their implications for the interests at stake. AEI resident scholars Frederick W. Kagan and Thomas Donnelly will be joined at this event by Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Stephen Biddle and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior associate Ashley J. Tellis. AEI vice president for foreign and defense policy studies Danielle Pletka will moderate the discussion.
|4:00||Panelists:||Stephen Biddle, Council on Foreign Relations|
|Thomas Donnelly, AEI|
|Frederick W. Kagan, AEI|
|Ashley J. Tellis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace|
|Moderator:||Danielle Pletka, AEI|
WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 4--As the Obama administration continues a series of Afghanistan strategy reviews, several defense scholars and South Asia experts gathered at an AEI event focused on the next steps for the United States in Afghanistan and the implications of the administration's forthcoming decision. The scholars and experts strongly cautioned against the adoption of a middling, under-resourced strategy that would bring about disastrous consequences for American interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as for America's broader struggle against Islamist militants.
Eight years after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, insurgent forces are challenging the writ of the government in Kabul. The deteriorating security environment and the Afghan government's inability to govern the country sufficiently have combined to form a direct threat to the stated objective of the United States: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in the region, and prevent the group's return to either country.
Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at AEI, opined that the debate over potential strategies for Afghanistan is grossly removed from the reality on the ground: "We are now losing in Afghanistan. It is not a stalemate. We are not going sideways. We are not accepting greater risk. We are losing; the enemy is winning." Kagan argued that without this context it is difficult to assess objectively the way forward.
Kagan also spoke critically of reports that administration officials are reevaluating the recommendations produced by the command on the ground in order to justify a compromise strategy. "I don't think that the White House really has an operational military basis for taking Afghanistan apart district by district. . . and saying 'well, we don't think we need troops here, and we don't think we need troops there' and in short, really doing the 10,000-mile screwdriver as a way of trying to get troop numbers down," said Kagan. Kagan urged the administration to ". . . make the call on the troops, and focus the intellectual horsepower that there is on what actually needs to be done and has not been addressed" politically.
Thomas Donnelly, a resident scholar at AEI, described the force requirements necessary to secure key areas in Afghanistan. The risks of spreading thin an inadequate number of troops, he posited, would overwhelm the effort to regain momentum from the insurgents. "Even to stave off defeat in the near-term," Donnelly said, "you've got to [add] at least something like six to eight to ten brigades." A swift decision to address the strategic and resource shortcomings, Donnelly urged, is important for the war on the ground as well as the domestic case for building confidence in the mission.
Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the most important U.S. interest in Afghanistan is preventing the country from being used as a base for launching attacks against the United States. Biddle also linked Afghanistan to another U.S. interest, saying "One of the more important ways in which we could make things considerably worse in Pakistan is by failing in the counterinsurgency undertaking in Afghanistan." He argued that given the costs and benefits of the various options, the United States must be willing to pay the price of a fully-resourced counterinsurgency strategy in order to have the highest probability of success in the mission.
Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warned that a middle-of-the-road U.S. approach could reproduce the very conditions in Afghanistan that led to 9/11. Tellis also pointed out that the decision-making process since the president's announcement of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March has been detrimental to the mission. Tellis said a drawn-out reassessment of the initial objectives, for instance, appears to be a subjective attempt to reframe the situation in order to justify denying additional resources for the mission. Tellis also warned of the dangerous impact of a short-term strategy on Afghanistan's neighbors: "People can smell the strategy a million miles away, and anything that looks like a temporizing strategy to improve things only to provide ourselves with the requisite political cover to minimize our involvement in the region is going to reinforce their own propensity to hedge for the day when the United States finally gets out of Afghanistan and Pakistan."
In conclusion, the AEI event illustrated that more than two months removed from the initial submission of General Stanley McChrystal's assessment, Afghanistan security is becoming more precarious as various stakeholders await the president's response. The perils of a half-measure in Afghanistan are starkly clear, and the impending decision will undoubtedly affect the future of numerous American security interests.
-- MASEH ZARIF
Stephen Biddle is a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Before joining CFR in January 2006, he held the Elihu Root Chair in Military Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, and he has held teaching and research posts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Institute for Defense Analyses, Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Harvard's Kennedy School. His book Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton University Press, 2004) has won four prizes, including CFR's Arthur Ross Award Silver Medal for 2005 and the 2005 Huntington Prize from the Harvard University Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. He has published extensively in defense and foreign policy publications. Mr. Biddle is a member of the Defense Policy Board and has presented testimony before congressional committees on issues relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, force planning, conventional net assessment, and European arms control. He served on General Stanley McChrystal's Initial Strategic Assessment Team in Kabul in 2009, on General David Petraeus's Joint Strategic Assessment Team in Baghdad in 2007, and as a senior adviser to General Petraeus's Central Command Assessment Team in Washington in 2008-2009.
Thomas Donnelly is a resident fellow in defense and security policy studies and the director of the Center for Defense Studies at AEI. He is the author, with Frederick W. Kagan, of Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power (AEI Press, May 2008); the coeditor, with Gary J. Schmitt, of Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources (AEI Press, 2007); and the author of The Military We Need (AEI Press, 2005), Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Strategic Assessment (AEI Press, 2004), and several other books. From 1995 to 1999, he was policy group director and a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Donnelly also served as a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is a former editor of Armed Forces Journal, Army Times, and Defense News.
Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar and the director of the Critical Threats Project at AEI. He served as an adviser to General Stanley A. McChrystal this summer, and his most recent reports, based on multiple trips to Afghanistan, focus on force requirements and analyses of how various stakeholders in Afghanistan and Pakistan would respond to different U.S. policy scenarios. He is the author of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, the first of four reports by the Iraq Planning Group at AEI. His most recent book, Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power, coauthored with Thomas Donnelly, was released in 2008 by the AEI Press. In 2006, he also published End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805 (De Capo Books) and Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy (Encounter Books). Mr. Kagan was previously an associate professor of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A contributing editor at The Weekly Standard, he has written numerous articles on defense and foreign policy issues for Foreign Affairs, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times, among other periodicals.
Danielle Pletka served for ten years as a senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Since coming to AEI, Ms. Pletka has developed a conference series on rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq, directed a project on democracy in the Arab world, and designed a project to track global business in Iran. She recently edited a publication on dissent and reform in the Arab World and coauthored a report on Iranian influence in the Levant, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Ms. Pletka comments frequently on foreign and defense policy issues on television and in major American newspapers.
Ashley J. Tellis is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, specializing in international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues. While on assignment with the U.S. Department of State as senior adviser to the under secretary of state for political affairs, he was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India. Previously, Mr. Tellis was commissioned into the Foreign Service and served as a senior adviser to the ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. He also served on the National Security Council staff as a special assistant to the president and senior director for strategic planning and Southwest Asia. Prior to his government service, Mr. Tellis was a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and a professor of policy analysis at the RAND Graduate School. He is the author of India's Emerging Nuclear Posture (Rand Corporation, 2001) and coauthor of Interpreting China's Grand Strategy: Past, Present, and Future (Rand Corporation, 2000). He is the research director of the Strategic Asia Program at the National Bureau of Asian Research and coeditor of the five most recent annual volumes, including this year's Strategic Asia 2008–09: Challenges and Choices.