Afghanistan — Policy Chief ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2010 — The Pentagon’s top pol­i­cy offi­cial told Con­gress today she’s “cau­tious­ly opti­mistic” about progress in Afghanistan as the new strat­e­gy there begins to show signs of suc­cess.

“I believe we are achiev­ing suc­cess. We are on the right road for the first time in a long time in Afghanistan,” Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Pol­i­cy Michele Flournoy told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. “I would argue for the first time, we final­ly have the right mis­sion, the right strat­e­gy, the right lead­er­ship team in place. And we have mar­shaled both the inter­na­tion­al and Afghan resources, civil­ian and mil­i­tary, to sup­port this mis­sion.

“Are we done yet? Absolute­ly not. Are there more chal­lenges to be dealt with? Yes,” Flournoy con­tin­ued. “But we are on the right path, and things are start­ing to move in the right direc­tion.”

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Pax­ton Jr., oper­a­tions direc­tor for the Joint Staff, echoed Flournoy’s appraisal.

“We are start­ing to see con­di­tions that we believe are nec­es­sary for suc­cess in Afghanistan,” he said. “Among the most impor­tant of these con­di­tions is hav­ing the right lead­er­ship and strat­e­gy in place.”

Flournoy cit­ed progress in the troop surge to sup­port that strat­e­gy. Near­ly half of the 30,000 addi­tion­al U.S. forces com­mit­ted to the mis­sion are on the ground, with the rest to arrive by late August. In addi­tion, NATO and oth­er coali­tion part­ners have pledged 9,000 addi­tion­al troops to sup­port the mis­sion.

Flournoy not­ed oth­er fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the turn­around. These include changes in coali­tion tac­tics to reduce civil­ian casu­al­ties, inten­si­fied part­ner­ships to pro­mote the devel­op­ment of Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, and more non­mil­i­tary assets on the ground focused on eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal devel­op­ment.

“The administration’s core goal in the region is to dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and defeat al-Qai­da and ensure the elim­i­na­tion of al-Qai­da safe havens,” she said. “A crit­i­cal com­po­nent of our strat­e­gy is a sta­ble Afghanistan with the gov­er­nance and capac­i­ty to ensure that Afghanistan can no longer be a safe haven for al-Qai­da and insur­gents.”

She cit­ed shared inter­ests between the Unit­ed States and Afghanistan that extend beyond com­bat­ing vio­lent extrem­ism. “We are work­ing to devel­op an endur­ing part­ner­ship that will serve both our nations for many years to come,” she said.

The sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan was “pret­ty bleak” before Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma sent 38,000 addi­tion­al troops there last spring, then ordered Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrystal’s assess­ment last sum­mer, she con­ced­ed.

Pax­ton told the com­mit­tee that McChrystal’s cam­paign plan, based on that assess­ment, is built on four require­ments. It aims to pro­tect the Afghan peo­ple, enable Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, neu­tral­ize malign influ­ences and sup­port the exten­sion of gov­ern­ments, he said.

“Gen­er­al McChrys­tal has gone to great lengths to ensure that all of our oper­a­tions in Afghanistan … are direct­ly tied to achiev­ing these aims,” Pax­ton said.

Flournoy point­ed to the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force part­ner­ship dur­ing oper­a­tions in Hel­mand – “the first large-scale effort to fun­da­men­tal­ly change how we are doing busi­ness togeth­er — as a sign of how much things have changed under this strat­e­gy.

“Prepa­ra­tions for the Hel­mand oper­a­tion includ­ed extra­or­di­nary lev­els of civ­il-mil­i­tary plan­ning and engage­ment with the Afghan part­ners at every lev­el,” she said. “And we feel that the col­lab­o­ra­tive oper­a­tional plan­ning process was crit­i­cal to giv­ing Afghans a sense of own­er­ship and invest­ment in the suc­cess of our joint efforts.”

Oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har will present fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent chal­lenges, she said, and will require coali­tion forces to adapt to chang­ing con­di­tions.

“I don’t want to sug­gest that achiev­ing suc­cess in Afghanistan will be sim­ple or easy. Far from it,” Flournoy empha­sized. “Inevitably we’ll face chal­lenges, pos­si­bly set­backs, even as we achieve suc­cess. We need to rec­og­nize that things may get hard­er before they get bet­ter.”

As the coali­tion con­fronts the insur­gency in new ways, the ene­my can be expect­ed to find new ways to respond. “To main­tain our momen­tum, we will need to con­tin­u­ous­ly refine and adapt our own tac­tics,” she said.

Flournoy expressed con­fi­dence that the ele­ments required for them to suc­ceed are in place and tak­ing shape.

“Afghanistan is our No. 1 pri­or­i­ty,” she said. “Gen­er­al McChrys­tal knows that he can ask for what he needs. The pres­i­dent has giv­en the sec­re­tary of defense [author­i­ty] to pro­vide for addi­tion­al forces, par­tic­u­lar­ly for force pro­tec­tion as need­ed. And as we move for­ward, we will con­tin­ue to refine our approach, and I believe we will con­tin­ue to make progress.”

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