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  • Senate Hearing Cautions Administration on Timelines and Taliban Reconciliation

    “Can we improve the Afghanistan Government? Maybe. Can we do it by July 2011? No.”

    This statement came from Dr. David Kilcullen, an expert in counterinsurgency and former advisor to General Petraeus, during rigorous questioning at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing last week titled, “Perspectives on Reconciliation Options in Afghanistan.” Along with Kilcullen, the two other expert witnesses—Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan, and Ms. Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International—echoed concerns about the Obama Administration’s insistence on setting a deadline for the beginning of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    The testimonies by the expert witnesses recommended an all-inclusive strategy toward Afghanistan to win the hearts and minds of the people, fight from a position of strength, assure the civilian population of U.S. long-term commitment, and create an “Afghanistan Reconciliation Committee” in which senior Afghan leaders could come together and focus on realistic and pragmatic steps toward reconciliation in Afghanistan.

    The Heritage Foundation has long advocated revoking the artificial deadline for U.S. troop withdrawals, which was first raised by President  Obama during his speech at the West Point Military Academy last December. In a recent Webmemo, Heritage Foundation analysts noted that one of the biggest impediments to weakening the perception of inevitable Taliban victory is the July 2011 withdrawal date, which has “provided a psychological boost to the enemy by signaling a lack of long-term U.S. commitment to the mission.”

    The participants in last week’s SFRC hearing also agreed that negotiations in Afghanistan can only succeed if the U.S. is bargaining from a position of strength. As Ambassador Crocker noted, “our experience in Iraq demonstrated that in order to take apart an insurgency, you need to change your enemy’s calculations. Reconciliation and reintegration become possible on a large scale when insurgents feel they are no longer winning…You don’t get cracks and fissures in a rock until you bring a hammer down on it.”

    Lisa Curtis highlighted this point last March when she wrote  “Seeking to negotiate with the Taliban leadership (primarily based in Pakistan) before U.S. and NATO forces gain the upper hand on the battlefield in Afghanistan would be a tactical and strategic blunder with potential serious negative consequences for U.S. national security.” She further noted that “Instead of conferring legitimacy on senior Taliban leaders in Pakistan by seeking high-level political negotiations, the U.S. should focus on reconciling with Taliban commanders on the ground in Afghanistan by concentrating on providing jobs, development assistance, addressing local grievances, and reintegrating Taliban leaders into local governing structures.” In last week’s hearing, Dr. Kilcullen echoed this idea in his written testimony which said, “A focus on reconciliation/reintegration at the local level, as distinct from a ‘grand bargain’ with Taliban leadership, is more appropriate at this stage.”

    The Obama Administration must actively counter the perception that the U.S. is war-weary and ready to strike a grand bargain with the Taliban. Such perceptions weaken the U.S. position in the region and dampen prospects for overall success of the new counterinsurgency strategy. The U.S. instead must continue to assert a vision for the region that strengthens those who support democracy, human rights, and religious pluralism and weakens those who adhere to destructive, extremist ideologies. The Obama Administration should recognize that the war against the Taliban cannot be won through half-hearted political gestures of commitment, and pledges to withdraw U.S. troops before they are even fully deployed.

    Tasha Haug also contributed to this post.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Senate Hearing Cautions Administration on Timelines and Taliban Reconciliation

    1. Dave, Coatesville PA says:

      When employing Military Force the rule is that there must be a clearly defined mission in support of American interests; use overwhelming force and violence to meet mission goals and have a clear exit strategy. Nation building is not one of the enumerated rights in the Constitution. If we need to return them to the Stone Age so be it. The days of attempting to develop an American Empire are and should be over. We do have certain responsibilities to Allies such as South Korea, Free China and Israel must be met. Our ability to project power has been significantly degraded. We need a 500 ship Navy with appropriate air ground battle groups; we need increased stealth technology combined with off the shelve technologies. If we withdraw selective ground forces (such as those in Europe) we can meet these needs. Afghanistan and Iraq are the wrong place to expend our wealth of military might. Overwhelming force and violence is the answer, just as it was in World War Two. Do the job and get out.

    2. Dave Aldridge says:

      Dave, Coatesville, is absolutely correct. Had we followed that "prime directive" in RVN, it would now be a free country and a U.S. partner.

    3. neel123 says:

      The Americans want a quick exit from the AfPak conflict, in order to be able to deal with Iran, to restrict and roll back its rise as a regional power. Use of military power against Iran seems likely in the near future.

      Pakistan has always played a crucial role in American strategy for the region, doing the heavy lifting in exchange of tens of billions of dollars worth of economic packages and weapon systems. This symbiotic relationship is flourishing …… ! There are indications that the Americans are now moving towards installing Pakistan at the center of a deal to be brokered with the Taliban.

      However America's national interests in the Afghanistan is not likely to be the last word, as there are other countries in the region that have their own national interests at stake and they are closely watching the developments in Afghanistan

      As far as India is concerned, the above scenario is clearly not in its national interests and therefore it is not likely to sit idle and watch Pakistan take control, and push Afghanistan back to the pre 9/11 days.

      The likely result would be balkanization and civil war in Afghanistan.

      The future of US-India relations would be profoundly affected and shaped by how the AfPak imbroglio unfolds in the coming years.

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