Afghanistan — Kandahar Will Be Big Political Test for NATO, Sedwill Says

WASHINGTON — Progress in Kan­da­har is going to be the big polit­i­cal test for the NATO mis­sion in Afghanistan, the NATO senior civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Afghanistan said recent­ly.

Ambas­sador Mark Sed­will said the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force must show progress by the alliance’s Novem­ber sum­mit in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal. Progress in Kan­da­har is a must.

“We’re not seek­ing to have trans­for­ma­tion­al progress on the ground – that’s not going to hap­pen – but we are seek­ing to have deci­sive progress,” Sed­will said in the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul last week.

In oth­er words, he said, NATO needs to have the momen­tum in Kan­da­har to be mov­ing in the right direc­tion. The for­mer British ambas­sador to Afghanistan said that offi­cials real­ize that progress will include set­backs, and that there will be ups and downs as the insur­gents push back as ISAF and Afghan forces make progress. But the net effect, he said, will be that the peo­ple of the area will become con­fi­dent in the out­come, and their own behav­ior will start to change.

“We’re see­ing that in parts of Hel­mand [province] where we have been for more than a year,” Sed­will said. “We’re see­ing this in Region­al Com­mand East, where the U.S. forces have been doing this with the right lev­el of resources for two or three years.” He said the change is begin­ning in Mar­ja, but it is too ear­ly to see the changes yet in Kan­da­har.

Sed­will said the new ISAF com­man­der, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has­n’t made major changes to the Kan­da­har plan. “It’s a delib­er­ate effort there, and it always has been,” the ambas­sador said. “He will look at the details of course, to see if the tac­tics and the resources are right, but the broad plan … is basi­cal­ly the same one that [British Maj. Gen.] Nick Carter (pro­posed.” Carter com­mands ISAF forces in south­ern Afghanistan.

Petraeus’ style is very dif­fer­ent from that of the for­mer com­man­der, Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, Sed­will said, but the whole NATO effort in Afghanistan breathed a sigh of relief when Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma chose Petraeus for the job. Petraeus already has a strong rela­tion­ship with Gen. Ash­faq Kayani, the Pak­istani army’s chief of staff. He knows Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and is build­ing a bet­ter rela­tion­ship with the Afghan leader.

“He is a very strate­gic thinker,” the ambas­sador said. “Those of us deal­ing in the polit­i­cal space know that we have to be at the top of our game, because he is very com­fort­able deal­ing there as well.”

This year is the deci­sive year in Afghanistan, Sed­will said. NATO must demon­strate the com­pre­hen­sive plan the alliance has built upon the Oba­ma strat­e­gy will work.

In 2009, the Tal­iban and its allies took the momen­tum. NATO lead­ers had to admit that “secu­ri­ty had got worse year after year, gov­er­nance had flat-lined and the only bright spot was the econ­o­my and social progress, because we’re good at that,” he said. By the end of the year, he added, he hopes to demon­strate that the dete­ri­o­ra­tion is arrest­ed and the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion is begin­ning to improve.

“It was a fair­ly pre­cip­i­tous decline, so just arrest­ing the decline and begin­ning to turn it around will be fair­ly deci­sive,” he said.

The alliance and the Afghan gov­ern­ment need to work on improv­ing the deliv­ery of ser­vices to the pop­u­la­tion and they must do some­thing to address gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, he said. Pol­i­tics is about momen­tum and per­cep­tions, Sed­will said. “Look at Iraq. We’re nowhere near as bad as we were in Iraq in terms of vio­lence, and yet because the momen­tum was head­ed the wrong way, peo­ple have start­ed to lose con­fi­dence,” he said. “If we turn the momen­tum around, peo­ple will start to regain it.”

Per­cep­tion will always lag real­i­ty, the ambas­sador said, but if the alliance lead­ers in Afghanistan can demon­strate to the NATO lead­ers in Lis­bon that there is mea­sur­able progress, that will cre­ate a “psy­cho­log­i­cal state among heads of state and for­eign min­is­ters” that will trans­late in turn to pop­u­lar sup­port, Sed­will said. That back­ing is cru­cial to con­tin­u­ing the mis­sion to the ambi­tious 2014 dead­line Karzai has for Afghan forces tak­ing over the secu­ri­ty mis­sion in the coun­try.

If lead­ers can show “a decent end state is in sight, if not with­in reach; there is less a chance for coun­tries div­ing for the emer­gency exits,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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