The AfPak Reader

September 24, 2009

The Karen DeYoung File – Summer 2009 Update

The Karen DeYoung File – Summer 2009 Update
Obama Says He Won’t Rush Troop Decision
Senators Displeased Over Lack of Details
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009
President Obama pushed back Wednesday against pressure to make a decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan, saying he will resist any attempt to rush him until he has “absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be.”
Obama said he is still considering an assessment he received this month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and will await reviews from civilian and diplomatic officials and the results of the disputed Afghan election before making “further decisions moving forward.”
His comments, made to reporters after a White House meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came amid calls from myriad directions for decisions sooner rather than later.
Lawmakers have voiced increasing anxiety over the administration’s war strategy, demanding more information about McChrystal’s recommendations, including the need for additional forces. Some have called for a significant troop increase, while others have asked for a withdrawal timetable. Public opinion polls have indicated diminished support for the war, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Tuesday that more troops will probably be needed.
Administration briefings for lawmakers Wednesday appeared to do little to assuage their concerns, with many members expressing irritation at what they described as scant information.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said a closed-door briefing for senators was insufficient and reminiscent of the way the Bush administration’s military leaders handled Congress. “We thought we were going to have a real discussion of the strategy, and we didn’t,” McCain said. “I didn’t like it, but I’m not outraged. I saw this with other administrations.”
McCain has said he supports sending additional combat troops to Afghanistan.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), one of the administration’s most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, said he was unsatisfied. “We need more briefings,” Reid said.
The administration plans to make McChrystal’s classified report available to the chairman and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees on Thursday. But senior administration officials who discussed the ongoing Afghanistan strategy deliberations on the condition of anonymity said they expected internal discussions of the issue to continue for some time. Obama has held only one meeting, on Sunday, with his national security team since receiving McChrystal’s assessment.

Decision-making has been significantly complicated by charges of large-scale fraud in Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election. Although the country’s electoral commission declared Wednesday that full preliminary results indicated a victory for President Hamid Karzai, international authorities have said that at least 10 percent of the results may be fraudulent.
“If it is illegitimate, no kidding . . . there are some hard questions that have to be answered there,” Mullen said in remarks Wednesday night at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Nobody is more impatient for progress in Afghanistan than the president,” one official said of the internal talks. “It is a mistake to suggest that ensuring that we have the strategy right and ensuring that we have the right policy in place to protect the American people is inconsistent with urgently addressing the challenge we face in that country.”
The purpose of Wednesday’s separate Capitol Hill briefings for Senate and House members was not to discuss McChrystal’s report but rather to outline a new set of metrics the administration has assembled to measure progress in achieving its objectives in the war.
An administration official provided a similar briefing to reporters on the condition of anonymity, and echoed Obama’s statement about the timing of any troop decision. The president, he said, was “taking a very deliberate, rational approach, starting at the top of the logic chain,” which begins with setting goals and then assessing progress toward meeting them. That process is ongoing, he said, and no determination of whether additional resources are needed will be made until it is completed.
The metrics list, the official said, will allow the administration to assess progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan — and on the overall counterterrorism goal of defeating al-Qaeda — on a quarterly basis, with the first assessment due in December.
Lawmakers expressed impatience Wednesday with the extent of information the administration has provided. “You’ve got to give the president the opportunity to make his case,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “But I think there are significant concerns: Where’s this leading to? When do we bring our troops home? The fundamental issues have yet to be presented to Congress.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), who returned from a visit to Afghanistan last week, has recommended that Obama delay any decisions on increasing the number of U.S. combat troops there but move quickly on expanding Afghan forces.
“It could be weeks or months before we get a presidential recommendation” on the overall strategy, Levin said. In the meantime, he said, there are certain basic requests that everyone knows are coming, including funding for equipment and training of Afghan forces, that Congress should proceed with in advance of the larger plan as it considers the 2010 defense budget.
“We ought to get on now with what we know we need,” Levin said.

Several lawmakers have demanded an appearance by McChrystal himself, along with Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates “does not believe now is the time to bring General McChrystal back to testify,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.
For its part, a senior administration official said, the White House is reluctant to put McChrystal in the lead to explain its policy, fearing a comparison with the Bush administration’s approach. President George W. Bush sent Petraeus — then the U.S. commander in Iraq — before Congress numerous times to explain the administration’s policies in that war, and publicly said his decision to change strategy in early 2007 was based on Petraeus’s advice.
The list of measurements unveiled for Congress on Wednesday included nearly 60 metrics under eight broad categories. One calls for measuring Afghan government institutions “at the national, provincial, and local level, including the ability to hold credible elections.”
Staff writers Paul Kane, Ann Scott Tyson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran contributed to this report.
U.S. Gives New Rights To Afghan Prisoners
Indefinite Detention Can Be Challenged
By Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Hundreds of prisoners held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan will for the first time have the right to challenge their indefinite detention and call witnesses in their defense under a new review system being put in place this week, according to administration officials.
The new system will be applied to the more than 600 Afghans held at the Bagram military base, and will mark the first substantive change in the overseas detention policies that President Obama inherited from the Bush administration.
International human rights organizations have long criticized conditions at the Bagram facility, where detainees have been held — many of them for years — without access to lawyers or even the right to know the reason for their imprisonment. Afghans have cited Bagram, where virtually all prisoners in U.S. custody are held, as a major source of resentment toward coalition forces, a senior administration official said.
As part of a prison-wide protest that began in July, detainees at Bagram, located north of Kabul, have refused visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross and have declined video teleconferences with their families. The goal of the new procedures, the official said, is to create a “more robust” system that would “allow detainees to tell their story.”
Under the new rules, each detainee will be assigned a U.S. military official, not a lawyer, to represent his interests and examine evidence against him. In proceedings before a board composed of military officers, detainees will have the right to call witnesses and present evidence when it is “reasonably available,” the official said. The boards will determine whether detainees should be held by the United States, turned over to Afghan authorities or released. For those ordered held longer, the process will be repeated at six-month intervals.
The Bagram system is similar to the annual Administrative Review Boards used for suspected terrorists at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Officials said the review proceedings at Bagram will mark an improvement in part because they will be held in detainees’ home countries — where witnesses and evidence are close at hand.
“This process is about doing the right thing — only holding those we have to,” said the administration official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about policy.
Human rights organizations briefed by the Pentagon described the new system as a step in the right direction but inadequate. “Any reforms in U.S. detentions in Afghanistan is an improvement, but it remains to be seen whether the new procedures will cure the ills of arbitrary and indefinite detention that have been the hallmark of detentions in Bagram,” said Sahr Muhammed Ally of the New York-based group Human Rights First.
Any new procedure, she said, “must provide detainees a legal representative to ensure a meaningful mechanism . . . to challenge their detention, which these procedures do not provide.”
Stacy Sullivan, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch, also said the procedures have to be “meaningful — not window dressing as we saw at Guantanamo Bay, where the military created a sham review process that looked good on paper but in reality resulted in prolonged detention for men who didn’t commit any crimes.”
Obama has pledged to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year. An inter-agency panel, led by the Justice Department, is conducting a case-by-case review of some of the 226 remaining detainees there to determine which should be released and which should be subject to legal proceedings. The panel is scheduled to finish its reviews next month and report to the president.
The president has said a small but undetermined number of Guantanamo detainees who are deemed too dangerous to release — because evidence against them is legally insufficient, cannot be presented in open court or was obtained through what he has called torture — could be held indefinitely without trial.
An order creating the Detainee Review Boards was signed in July by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and was transmitted to Congress for a required 60-day review period, which ends this week. Pentagon officials have been laying the groundwork to implement the system for the past several weeks, and the first review panels will be held this week.
The Defense Department has said approximately 600 detainees are being held at Bagram, but it has rejected requests by civil and human rights groups to make public the exact number, the detainees’ names, or any information about their cases. Although some have been there since the early days of the Afghan war, which began in September 2001, there is considerable turnover with new arrivals and releases. In some cases, U.S. authorities have transferred to Afghan custody those deemed “low-value” insurgents or those arrested for reasons not connected with counterterrorism.
According to human rights organizations, about 500 detainees have been transferred to Afghan authorities since 2007. About 200 have been convicted in Afghan courts, all based on evidence the United States provided. The military is constructing a new prison at Bagram, designed to hold up to 1,000 detainees.

Before 2007, when an “Unlawful Enemy Combatant Review Board” was established at Bagram, there was no formal process to review prisoner status. Until April 2008, detainees were not allowed to attend the reviews. Under the current system, they are given no representation and no opportunity to examine the charges against them or review evidence, and cannot call witnesses.
Most Bagram detainees are Afghans, considered battlefield prisoners taken in a war zone. An unspecified number, said to be fewer than 30, are non-Afghans, many of them captured in other countries. A federal judge ruled this year that three non-Afghan detainees captured elsewhere and held at Bagram were entitled to habeas corpus rights, a decision the administration has appealed.
U.S. courts in general have shown no inclination to interfere with operations in Afghanistan. “Habeas is inappropriate for the battlefield,” the administration official said.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


European Leaders Call for Conference to Assess Progress in Afghanistan
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009
The leaders of France, Britain and Germany have called for a high-level international conference on Afghanistan, saying it is time to “take stock of progress . . . and to evaluate the challenges that lie ahead.”
In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the leaders said the conference, which they suggested take place outside Afghanistan under U.N. and Afghan sponsorship, would facilitate agreement on “new benchmarks and timelines” for gradually turning responsibility for the country over to Afghans.
The letter, dated Tuesday and released Wednesday by the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, coincides with growing European concern about the direction and objectives of the international enterprise in Afghanistan. It clearly suggested that decisions should not be left solely to the United States, which fields about two-thirds of the nearly 100,000 foreign troops there.
Antiwar sentiment is strongest in Britain, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week delivered a major speech designed “to take head-on the arguments that suggest our strategy in Afghanistan is wrong and to answer those who question whether we should be in Afghanistan at all.” In addition to Brown and Sarkozy, the letter was signed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, where opposition has been fueled by an airstrike in northern Afghanistan last week that was initiated by German troops and that killed an unknown number of civilians.
In remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday at a military ceremony in Norfolk, Va., NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed concern “that the public discourse on the effort in Afghanistan has started to go in the wrong direction,” the Associated Press reported from Brussels.
No date was set for the proposed meeting of foreign ministers, although the leaders’ letter said it should take place “before the end of this year right after the inauguration of the new Afghan government.”
The inauguration has been indefinitely postponed while the results of the Aug. 20 presidential election remain in dispute. Although Afghan electoral officials said Tuesday that President Hamid Karzai has amassed more than 54 percent of the vote, with nearly all ballots counted — enough to avoid a runoff with his nearest challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah — an international commission is investigating complaints of ballot-box stuffing and other extensive fraud, and a final tally could take months. Most of the fraud complaints have been directed at Karzai’s campaign.
A delayed result poses a dilemma for the Obama administration and NATO governments with troops in Afghanistan. None of them is satisfied with Karzai’s performance as chief executive over the past five years, and all are concerned about election irregularities, but none wants to offend him in anticipation of his likely reelection.
In an interview published Wednesday by the French newspaper Le Figaro, Karzai said that the British and U.S. news media, which have reported widely on the fraud allegations, have tried to “delegitimize the future Afghan government,” and he suggested that their governments were manipulating them in order to install a “puppet” government.
“In Afghanistan, the puppets have never brought luck to their foreign masters,” he said, mentioning past military occupations by Britain and what was then the Soviet Union. “I hope the Americans will not try the same thing because they would face the same fate.”
Karzai noted that he had won Afghanistan’s last presidential election, in 2004, with 54.5 percent of the vote and that he expected to do better this time. But he said he would respect the official outcome.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “would look forward to participating” in the proposed international conference. Although Clinton has remained largely silent on the Afghanistan issue, Kelly said that “it’s moved to the top of her agenda, really, in the last few days.”
He said that Clinton had spoken “several times” with Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, and met Wednesday with the administration’s special representative to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke. Kelly said Clinton would also meet with Democratic Sens. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Ted Kaufman (Del.), who returned this week from Afghanistan.
Clinton has also attended meetings at the White House, he said. President Obama’s national security team has begun discussions on a new assessment of the situation in Afghanistan by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in the country.
Correspondents Edward Cody in Paris and Pamela Constable in Kabul contributed to this report.
U.N.-Backed Panel Finds Fraud in Afghan Vote
Partial Recount Ordered on Same Day That Results Show Likely Karzai Victory
By Pamela Constable and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
KABUL, Sept. 8 — Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election was thrown into further turmoil Tuesday when a U.N.-backed complaints panel charged widespread fraud and ordered a partial recount, just as election officials announced that President Hamid Karzai appeared to have gained enough votes to win.
The growing political crisis threatens to set off a direct confrontation between Karzai and his Western backers, who have been increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities, much of it reportedly benefiting Karzai’s campaign.
In the days immediately following the Aug. 20 vote, U.S. officials were uniform in praising what President Obama called “a successful election.” Obama said he looked forward “to renewing our partnership with the Afghan people as they move ahead under a new government.”
But the widening fraud issue now seems likely to further prolong the slow election process, leaving the country without a clear leader for weeks or even months while tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are battling the Taliban alongside Afghan forces. Obama’s strategy also includes major economic development initiatives, improved delivery of services and a crackdown on corruption — all of which will be difficult to implement without a valid Afghan government.
The unresolved political contest raises the prospect of street protests by angry opponents of Karzai or a belated runoff that could be volatile, costly and difficult to carry out once cold weather sets in. Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s top challenger in the presidential race, has charged that the entire vote was a “state-engineered fraud” and has hinted that he may not be able to control his emotional supporters if the government steals the election.
The Obama administration — which had hoped the election would quickly produce a credible partner in the faltering battle against Taliban insurgents — urged “all the different actors out there” to show patience. “A legitimate electoral process is vital to us and vital to any kind of partnership that we would have with the government going forward,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
In a strongly worded statement issued Tuesday, the internationally led Electoral Complaints Commission said it had found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” at many polling stations, especially across the southern provinces that form Karzai’s ethnic support base. The panel said it was ordering Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission to conduct a recount of votes from all polling places where turnout appeared to be more than 100 percent or where a single candidate received 95 percent or more of the votes. The complaints commission is continuing separate investigations into more than 2,000 specific fraud complaints.
Just hours later, the Afghan election commission said Karzai had won 54 percent of 5.4 million valid votes tallied — 91 percent of the total. The results indicate that he probably has enough votes to avoid a runoff with Abdullah, who has 28 percent. Afghan law requires a runoff only if no candidate wins more than 50 percent.
At a contentious news conference, election commission spokesman Daoud Ali Najafi said officials had “quarantined” about 600 suspicious ballot boxes, but he offered no response to the written recount order. He said a recount could take two to three months.
After the new results were announced, a spokesman for Karzai’s campaign said that the president would wait until the fraud investigations and any recount were complete but that he expected to win. “We are obviously very happy,” spokesman Waheed Omer said. “We will definitely respect the process, but we don’t think there will be any [runoff]. We have enough of a lead, and we don’t think the fraud was so wide as to make a difference for any candidate.”
An aide to Abdullah said the announcement of the results was “by no means final or valid.”
Kai Eide, the U.N. secretary general’s special envoy for Afghanistan, released a statement calling on members of both the election and complaints commissions “to redouble their efforts to ensure full rigour in their work at every stage. This includes excluding from the preliminary count results from ballot boxes where there is evidence of irregularities.”
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, meeting with reporters Tuesday evening, read a statement urging both commissions to “rigorously carry out their legal mandates.” He called upon all candidates and their supporters to “show patience as the process continues.”
Eikenberry declined to comment on reports that he met with Karzai late Monday. U.S. officials have regularly expressed concern about corruption and incompetence in Karzai’s government and about alliances he formed with former warlords during the campaign.
During a tense exchange over dinner the day after the vote, Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, refused to congratulate Karzai on his claimed victory. Karzai aides accused Holbrooke of lecturing the Afghan president and demanding a runoff.
The U.S. dilemma is that Karzai could end up returning to office even more hostile toward the administration than before, and under a cloud of domestic suspicion, just when Obama most needs a strong and legitimate partner to sell and prosecute the deepening battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Although the complaints commission did not specify who benefited from the alleged fraud, its statement and the recount order seemed to reinforce Abdullah’s charges, describing abuses across the south that sounded similar to those Abdullah had raised. There are separate complaints of fraud benefiting Abdullah in his northern strongholds.
Late Tuesday, rumors swept through Kabul that Abdullah partisans, including thousands of former militiamen from the ethnic Tajik minority, might use Wednesday’s national holiday as an excuse to run riot in the capital. The annual holiday marks the death of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the famed anti-Soviet guerrilla leader who was assassinated two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Abdullah, a physician, was a senior aide to Massoud.
A powerful suicide car bombing during the morning rush hour at the entrance to the NATO airfield next to Kabul’s civilian airport also contributed to nervousness in the capital Tuesday. The blast, which killed three civilians, could be heard across the city and engulfed the vehicle in shooting flames and secondary explosions as hundreds of bystanders watched.
DeYoung reported from Washington.
For Obama, A Pivotal Moment in Afghanistan
White House Debates Sending More Troops
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
President Obama must decide in the coming weeks whether a greater investment of troops and resources in Afghanistan is worth the political risk if Americans do not soon perceive better results on the ground.
Obama’s national security team will debate recommendations from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for a continuation, with some adjustments, of the aggressive security and nation-building effort the administration has put in place. McChrystal has provided a range of options for expansion, each offering the possibility of a better eventual outcome.
“Whenever you have to have a debate” over how much more investment may be needed, “you’re implicitly saying you’re failing,” said Michael O’Hanlon, senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution. “But if you’re failing, how do you give people hope that you will succeed?”
With Taliban insurgents gaining ground and U.S. combat deaths increasing, an unusual and still small mix of liberal Democrats and conservative pundits has called for Obama to cut U.S. losses in Afghanistan and concentrate more directly on his stated objective of destroying al-Qaeda, which is based in neighboring Pakistan.
The more indirect goals of defeating the Taliban and preventing Afghanistan from ever again serving as an operational base for global terrorists, some argue, are distractions that are both too costly and too difficult. Although the administration has said it needs 12 to 18 months to show that its strategy is working, recent opinion polls indicate that a growing number of Americans agree that the ground war may not be worth fighting.
“It is time we discuss a flexible timetable for withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan,” Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said in a statement issued late last month. The conservative writer George Will, in a widely discussed column last week, called for a substantial reduction in U.S. troops.
Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who accompanied Obama on a trip to Iraq during last year’s political campaign, publicly advised Obama last week to listen to recordings of conversations that President Lyndon B. Johnson had with then-Sen. Richard Russell (D-Ga.) about Vietnam. Obama, Hagel said, should focus on “those in which LBJ told Russell that we would not win in Vietnam but that he did not want to pull out and be the first American president to lose a war.”
Asked whether the administration would consider reversing its strategy in the direction of withdrawal, a senior official said: “The president’s view is that there are a lot of good ideas out there and we should hear them all. When you come down to the question of governance, we’ve seen what happens when one viewpoint is not particularly debated or challenged or reviewed or measured.”
The reference is to the administration of George W. Bush, in which questions raised internally about the invasion of Iraq and detention policies for terrorism suspects were discouraged and quickly discounted.
“I don’t anticipate that the briefing books for the principals on these debates over the next weeks and months will be filled with submissions from opinion columnists,” the senior official said. “I do anticipate they will be filled with vigorous discussion . . . of how successful we’ve been to date.”
But this official and others, who agreed to speak about the upcoming national security discussions on the condition of anonymity, gave no indication that withdrawal would be seriously considered. “There’s not a lot of rethinking that the strategy we have pretty much worked on to go forward with needs some drastic or dramatic revision,” a second official said.
“We can’t deny that they’ve had their successes,” the second official said of the Taliban. But McChrystal’s recommendations are “all in the scope of how do you refine your tactics, not your strategy.”
The administration has compiled a list of about 50 measurements to use in gauging progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to be given to lawmakers by late September.
Congress mandated the measurements, which Obama promised in his Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy announcement in March, when it approved a supplemental war spending bill. He has also pledged to end the Bush administration’s practice of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with such emergency measures outside the regular defense budget.
The pending 2010 budget legislation for the first time requests more money for Afghanistan-Pakistan operations than for Operation Iraqi Freedom — $68 billion compared with $61 billion. Administration officials said they expected congressional debate on the larger Defense Department appropriation of more than half a trillion dollars to focus on Afghanistan spending.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who spent the weekend in Afghanistan with Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), told the Providence Journal last week that he anticipated “a very vigorous debate” over the way forward. Reed, the Rhode Island paper reported, said he thinks that U.S. strategy is on the right track but that there is an urgent need for more Afghan forces.
Even before receiving McChrystal’s report, Obama offered a prelude to the public case he is likely to make. “There will be more difficult days ahead,” he said in a mid-August speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight, and we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.
“Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again,” Obama said. “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
Obama’s strategy is based on classic counterinsurgency principles designed to win over Afghans while fighting the Taliban. It includes a civilian “surge” of hundreds of new diplomatic, economic, agricultural and legal specialists this year to help develop the Afghan economy and government and the addition of 21,000 troops, bringing the total U.S. force to 68,000 by the end of this year. When it was initially discussed during Obama’s first two months in office, Vice President Biden reportedly argued that the focus should be limited to counterterrorism — direct attacks on al-Qaeda sanctuaries along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Although that discussion is ongoing in some military and administration circles, a senior defense official said, there is widespread recognition that falling back to pure counterterrorism “just can’t be done” because of the stakes involved and the investment already made.
McChrystal’s report, which is not yet public, is known to outline the need for a massive increase in Afghanistan’s security forces, far beyond existing plans to double them. That will require more U.S. and NATO troops to train and mentor them. Senior defense officials said he has also proposed increasing intelligence and other assets and changing the geographic deployment of combat troops to increase their presence in the southern city of Kandahar, and in northern and western areas where the Taliban has shown new strength. A formal request for resources will follow the report, depending on which of McChrystal’s options Obama accepts.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has long expressed concern about an oversize American military “footprint” in Afghanistan, indicated last week that he was open to increased forces, saying he took seriously McChrystal’s point that U.S. troops could improve interaction with Afghans as partners and “mitigate” the risk that they would come to be seen as enemy occupiers.
U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy announced in March promised increased resources and coordination in a war Obama described as shortchanged by the Bush administration. He authorized deployment of an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a surge of hundreds of civilian officials and a significant boost in military and aid funding for both countries.
The results so far have been uncertain. The Pakistani military has rousted the local Taliban from the Swat Valley area, and missiles launched from unmanned U.S. aircraft have killed a number of insurgent leaders in the Pakistan tribal areas along the Afghan border. But no progress has been reported on Obama’s main goal of destroying al-Qaeda’s sanctuary in the border area.
The stepped-up U.S. effort in Afghanistan has shown few results over a summer marked by an expanding Taliban presence and the highest U.S. casualty rate of the eight-year war. Obama appointed a new commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who has assessed the situation as “serious” and is expected to ask for more troops. As Congress has grown increasingly restive and opinion polls show falling public support, the administration has said real progress must be visible within 12 to 18 months.

— Karen DeYoung
Afghanistan: Suicide Bomber Attack; Taliban Exhibits Improved Tactics
Obama Facing Major Strategy Decisions
Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009 12:15 PM
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a mosque Wednesday near the Afghan capital, killing the country’s second-highest ranking intelligence official along with at least 22 other people, Afghan officials said. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Taliban has become a much more potent adversary in Afghanistan by improving its own tactics and finding gaps in the U.S. military playbook, according to senior American military officials who acknowledged that the enemy’s resurgence this year has taken them by surprise.
Washington Post staff writer Karen DeYoung was online Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 12:15 p.m. ET to discuss the attack and the revitalized Taliban.
Fahim: What do you know about this Fahim character in Afghanistan and why Karzai picked him to be defense chief and then his VP running mate? I read an article by a former NSC staffer that seriously questioned his loyalties and our reliance upon him for building up Afghan forces to take over for us?
The Real Winner of Afghanistan’s Election (Foreign Policy, Aug. 31)
Karen DeYoung: Fahim is a Tajik, former military commander of the Northern Alliance–the alliance of militias that fought against the Taliban and worked with U.S. forces in 2001 to drive them from power. He was Karzai’s first vice president before becoming defense minister. U.S. and NATO officials refer to him as a warlord–probably the most powerful in the country–because his original militia remains largely intact, and he has balked at efforts to disarm the militias.
Karen DeYoung: Hello everybody. Glad to be here on short notice. We have few questions in the queue; don’t know if that’s because of the short notice, or everyone is riveted on health care debate or still at the beach. But will forge ahead and hope that some interest in the ongoing Afghan war surfaces.

Boston, Mass.: A few simple questions: What are our national interests in Afghanistan? (Keeping it from becoming an al-Qaeda base against us again?) Do we need to try protect the population to achieve our national interests? If we are defining success and supporting tactics beyond what is needed for our national interests and beyond what is likely achievable aren’t we setting ourselves up for strategic failure? By adding even more troops (and doubling down this strategic path) are we increasing the scope of that strategic failure?
Karen DeYoung: A few questions, yes. But not so simple. Our national interest, as defined by President Obama, is to defeat and dismantle al Qaeda, and to prevent Afghanistan ever again becoming a place from which terrorists can plan and launch attacks against U.S. and its allies. The president’s policy holds that this requires a three-pronged policy in Afghanistan: defeating the al-Qaeda-allied Taliban and building a viable Afghan economy and infrastructure so that Taliban blandishments of security and sustenance don’t appeal to the population, and developing a functional and honest Afghan government. More troops would be to support the first leg, which as seen as a prerequisite for the second two.

Bridgewater, Mass.: We’ve been training an Afghan army for eight years now, and still they can’t defend their own country? What are the problems — people basically agree with the Taliban, they don’t want to be associated with the occupiers, it’s just going to take more money to train and equip more of them, …?
Karen DeYoung: I don’t think anyone would argue that the training program for Afghan National Security Forces (army and police) has gone swimmingly over the past years. Gen. James Jones, now Obama’s national security advisor, authored a report on the ANSF early last year, published by the Atlantic Council, saying that it was largely a failure. One part of the new strategy is for the U.S. to take more responsibility for training–sending at least 4,000 troops of the 82nd Airborne to do it–and vastly increasing the size of the Afghan force (which was already scheduled to double in the next two years). But it’s a long and difficult slog.

Boston, Mass.: When did this stop being the “good war”? I thought catching bin Laden was a big deal? Are people just fed up with war in general?
Karen DeYoung: I think the Obama administration is in a race against time. It was the “good war,” compared to Iraq, and he could argue it wasn’t going well because the Bush administration had starved it of resources and manpower. Now, he’s increased both but the results aren’t apparent. Question is whether he can get support to carry out his strategy, or whether impatience for results (and more bad news) substantially shift public and legislative support against him. But it’s unquestionably “Obama’s war” now, for better or worse.

Arlington, Va.: So what do you think? Any chance State cancels Armor Group’s contract after the latest “security guys gone wild” incident?
Karen DeYoung: I think chances are excellent they’re outta there. But doesn’t solve the problem of massive use of contractors for what many in Congress call “inherently governmental” tasks. Another contractor will get the job–there just aren’t enough government people to go around.

Cameron, N.C.: Are the comparisons to Viet Nam warranted or just scare tactics?
Karen DeYoung: Without going into it too deeply, the Vietnam comparison , I think, is more valid than the Iraq one. Largely rural country that we know little to nothing about, difficult terrain, indigenous enemy, hearts and mind struggle, etc. etc.

Silver Spring, Md.: “But will forge ahead and hope that some interest in the ongoing Afghan war surfaces.” Interesting that you should phrase it this way. It seems a year ago many Americans (perhaps even a majority?) were calling for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan — “War is not the Answer!”. Now, nine months after “the Peace President” took office, troop levels in the region are INCREASING. Troop levels in Iraq are supposed to start declining next year. But of course, that is subject to change. And there’s no clear exit strategy in Afghanistan. Strangely, there seems to be no opposition?
Karen DeYoung: The public support was there when Obama took office, and for his strategy when he announced it in March. But it’s hard to ask for more time and resources when things aren’t going well. People are looking for results and aren’t interested in hearing that it will take more.

Washington, D.C.: I have never been a big believer in the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” theory. Has the Taliban changed its stripes? It seems that before 9/11 the Taliban was at least a tolerable force in Afghanistan, what has changed so that now we must defeat them? They are not al-Qaeda in their anti-U.S. threat status. Just not liking us is one thing but actively acting on that is another. Wouldn’t a weak Afghanistan without the Taliban be a better environment for al-Qaeda than a stronger Afghanistan with the Taliban?
Karen DeYoung: That is definitely an argument some are making now: that if our objective is to defeat and dismantle al-Qaeda, why should we be devoting so much effort and so many lives to Afghanistan? Why should we care if the Taliban run the place, as long as we can get rid of al-Qaeda…which, in any case, is mostly in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

Napoleon, Ohio: Is there any way to tell how much disagreement there is within the military in regards to the current policies of the White House?
Karen DeYoung: The military was pretty unhappy with the Bush administration vis a vis Afghanistan: no real strategy, scant resources, etc. There is always some level of disagreement between individuals and service branches, and there is ongoing discussion about how many troops are needed, where they should go, what they should do, and how much may be too much. But there’s a fairly high level of confidence in Gen. McChrystal, the commander, and everybody is waiting to see what Obama is going to do.

Seattle, Wash.: Why are we in Iraq and Afghanistan when al Qaeda still gets 95 percent of its funding and volunteers from Saudi Arabia and is based in Pakistan?
Couldn’t we just drop four neutron bombs on Saudi Arabia instead?
Karen DeYoung: Not sure I agree with your numbers. Central Asia seems to be the growth patch for al Qaeda volunteers at the moment, and there are still lots of Arabs and others besides Saudis. Money also comes from various places, although predominately from individuals in Gulf states (not only Saudis). Having said that, your point is valid and has not escaped many experts and even internal policy discussions. The so-called “financial war on terror” is ongoing through the Treasury Department, but there has always been trouble getting the Saudis to cough up culprits and take action.

Wodbridge, Va: In the first 30 – 90 days after 9/11, the U.S. gave the Taliban the opportunity to continue their control of Afghanistan if they would only turn over bin Laden and his top lieutenants. The war started when they refused this offer. What would be the reaction to putting it back on the table? I.E. Gives us bin Laden and we will leave. The Afghan people would then be free to make their own choices regarding the Taliban.
Karen DeYoung: An attractive option to some, perhaps, but political and foreign policy suicide.

Bethesda, Md.: RE: – When did this stop being the “good war”? –
Almost the minute after Obama was elected.
Oh sure, some on the left — mostly the anti-war pacifist fringe — opposed the U.S. ever going into Afghanistan. The Cindy Sheehans and Michael Moores have been consistent to their credit. But I always suspected Obama campaigning on the theme of promising to remove our forces out of Iraq to instead go “get the people who really attacked us” and to snuff out the backward Taliban was all phony, rhetorical posturing from many liberals. Good campaign battering ram and diversionary tactic. Never something they ever really meant to do with any seriousness. I am MORE surprised the Obama administration went through all of the motions so far to actually pretend to do it. We’ll start drawing down by the end of this year there. Care to comment?
Karen DeYoung: Most of the opposition was to Iraq. I don’t see a drawdown this year. On the contrary.

Omaha, Neb.: How is Afghanistan today not like Vietnam in the early 60s? A corrupt central gov’t, locals who hated the invaders, civil strife is rampant. Seriously, have we learned NOTHING from Vietnam?
Karen DeYoung: See above. There are some valid comparisons.

Karen DeYoung: Questions were slow in coming, and now that there are some remaining, it’s time to go. Sorry for what I didn’t get to, but hope to be back soon. The subject certainly isn’t going to go away.
Editor’s Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.
U.S. Sets Metrics to Assess War Success
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009
The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.
Administration officials are conducting what one called a “test run” of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories — including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources — with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to Congress by Sept. 24.
Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of “clear benchmarks” and no “blank check.”
Since then, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan has intensified along with the rising U.S. and NATO casualty rates, now at the highest level of the eight-year-old conflict. An upcoming assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new military commander in Afghanistan, is expected to lay the groundwork for requests for additional U.S. troop deployments in 2010.
The administration’s concern about waning public support and the war’s direction has been compounded by strains in the U.S. relationship with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Facing their own public opinion problems, both appear increasingly resentful of U.S. demands for improved performance in the face of what they see as insufficient American support.
At a dinner in Kabul with Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for the region, and retired Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, after the Aug. 20 presidential election, President Hamid Karzai made clear his displeasure that the administration did not endorse his candidacy or his claimed victory, according to one U.S. participant.
The participant denied media reports that the dinner had erupted into a shouting match but acknowledged that Karzai “may have been unhappy with the fact that the United States did not immediately congratulate him on his victory.” Amid widespread reports of fraud, and with only a fraction of the vote tallied, Holbrooke told Karzai that the administration would wait for official results confirming that a candidate had won a majority or whether a runoff was needed before commenting.
“There is a pretty intense atmosphere in Kabul right now,” said the participant, one of several senior officials who agreed to discuss the deteriorating war situation, and the evolving administration strategy, only on the condition of anonymity.
Relations with Pakistan have grown similarly tense, with complaints from Islamabad about the pace of deliveries of U.S. military equipment and rising resentment over congressional attempts to impose restrictions on its supply and use.
“We are fighting this war today,” a senior Pakistani military official said in describing U.S. assistance as slow and stingy. “What good is it two years from now?”
That official and others said there have been long delays in the delivery of helicopters, night-vision equipment and other supplies requested for the army’s ongoing offensive against Pakistan-based insurgents.
In recent interviews, civil and military officials in Pakistan drew a sharp contrast between the billions of dollars in assistance that George W. Bush’s administration gave, with few strings attached, to then-President Pervez Musharraf — a general who came to power in a military coup — and what they see as efforts to condition assistance to the democratically elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
“Our soldiers wear less armor, their vehicles are less armored, and they have suffered more casualties” in the fight against the Taliban than the United States and NATO combined, the official said. Pakistani combat deaths since 2003 surpassed 2,000 this month as the military engaged Taliban forces in the Swat Valley.
“The only area where there is a tangible improvement is in training,” the Pakistani military official said. Training aid has increased from $2 million to $4 million over the past year, he said, along with a doubling to 200 of the number of Pakistani army officers brought to the United States for courses.
Several Pakistani officials cited as particularly galling Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent visit to neighboring India — where she reached agreement on a defense pact that will provide major quantities of sophisticated U.S. arms to Pakistan’s traditional South Asian adversary. Clinton has scheduled a visit to Pakistan in October.
U.S. defense officials, anxious to repair what they have repeatedly acknowledged is a “trust deficit” with Pakistan, bite their tongues in response to the criticism. But they insist that Pakistan is getting everything it has asked for, at unprecedented speed.
“What you have is, frankly, an effort by the Pakistanis . . . to generate all the resources, all the assistance that is possible, and we would do the same thing if we were in their shoes,” a senior U.S. defense official said. “But to make a statement that folks aren’t moving rapidly, or that they’re not getting more than they used to get, is just contrary to the facts.”
The administration has asked for $2.5 billion in direct security assistance funds for Pakistan in 2010 — 25 percent more than what has been approved for this year.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, “personally gets a daily update — daily, mind you,” on supplies shipped to Pakistan, the U.S. defense official said. “That should give you some sense of how riveted we are on this.”
Although some Republican leaders in Congress have said that they would support adding troops to the 68,000 the United States will have in Afghanistan by the end of this year, many leading Democrats have questioned whether the administration’s strategy of expanded economic and military support for both countries is working, and whether the likely increased toll in U.S. lives is justified.
Opposition to congressional efforts to legislate conditions on war funding and aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan is one area of agreement among the three governments. Iraq’s failure to achieve benchmarks mandated by Congress provided an easy target for opponents of that war and contributed to the loss of public support in the United States.
Both the House and Senate versions of the pending 2010 defense spending bill include metrics and reporting requirements for the administration. Obama’s strategy is “still a work in progress,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who co-sponsored an amendment in the legislation setting conditions on aid to Pakistan.
In the absence of strict guidelines from the administration, Menendez said in an interview, “we are definitely moving to a set of metrics that can give us benchmarks as to how we are proceeding” and whether Obama’s strategy “is pursuing our national security interests.”
The White House hopes to preempt Congress with its own metrics. The document currently being fine-tuned, called the Strategic Implementation Plan, will include separate “indicators” of progress under nine broad “objectives” to be measured quarterly, according to an administration official involved in the process. Some of the about 50 indicators will apply to U.S. performance, but most will measure Afghan and Pakistani efforts.
The White House briefed staff members of key congressional committees this month on an initial draft of the plan and invited comments. The “test run” will indicate whether final “tweaks” are needed, the administration official said.
“Ideally, it’s a combination of objective and subjective” measurements, he said. “Obviously, not everything is 100 percent quantifiable, and we don’t want to just get sold on the number. If you train 100 troops, that doesn’t necessarily tell you how effective they are.”
He added: “We don’t want to hold ourselves to indicators that aren’t going to show us anything. We want to make sure this is not just a paper exercise.”


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