WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2010 — The relationship with Pakistan is central to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, where coalition troops will continue to focus on al-Qaida safe havens along the countries’ shared border, the Pentagon’s top policy official said today.
“Pakistan is central to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida and prevent its regeneration in the region,” Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said during a Pentagon news briefing on the findings of a one-year review of President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan. She was joined by Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We remain relentlessly focused on Pakistan-based al-Qaida because of the strategic nature of the threat they pose, and in particular, the group’s continued pursuit of large-scale attacks against the West and its influence on global terrorism,” Flournoy said. “Our posture and efforts to counter these threats will continue unabated.”
The United States finally is in a good position to meets its goals in the region, Flournoy said. “In Afghanistan, for the first time ever, we have assembled the necessary resources and put in place an integrated civil-military approach, partnered with the Afghan government,” she said.
Flournoy echoed the president, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other leaders who said today that the review shows the U.S. and NATO effort in Afghanistan is on track to begin passing security responsibilities to Afghan forces early next year, with a total transition in 2014.
“We have stopped Taliban momentum in much of Afghanistan and reversed it in key areas,” Flournoy said. “In particular, we are pushing the Taliban out of their strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar.”
Increasingly partnered operations with Afghan soldiers and the growth of the local police program are helping the international coalition meet counterinsurgency goals, she added. Flournoy noted findings that coalition gains in Afghanistan are “fragile and reversible,” and said leaders expect the Taliban to continue to fight back. “This was a clear-eyed assessment, and we are realistic about the challenges going forward,” she said.
For the next six months — until July, when Obama plans to start drawing down troops –- the U.S. approach will be how to solidify its gains, Flournoy said. Officials expect no significant changes to the strategy, she said.
Moving forward, Cartwright said, success will depend on commanders’ continued ability to strike the right balance between counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations –- those that focus on winning over the local population and those that focus on removing terrorists from the fight. “Are there going to be Marines in Helmand province probably for an extended period? I’m sure,” he said. “But it will be, hopefully and measurably, less than what it is today and in a very different role than it is today.”
Cartwright says he views terrorist safe havens near the border in Pakistan as an ongoing challenge. “I see this sanctuary issue and the extremists groups associated with it as one of the strategic vulnerabilities, one of the key issues we have to address,” he said. “There are any number of ways to address it,” the general said. The preferred way, he said, is through partnership with the Pakistani military, which already is happening. “Is it enough? Not yet, … but it is definitely starting to have an effect,” Cartwright said.
The United States must continue to prove its commitment to lasting relations with Pakistan, both with its military and civilian needs, Flournoy said. “Given the ups and downs of our historical relationship with Pakistan, they fear our abandonment,” she said. “Their calculus is very much affected by the long-term commitment they feel from us and in working in a strategic partnership.”
Such a partnership needs to be broad-ranging, Flournoy said.
“Committing to helping the Pakistani government meet the needs of the Pakistani people is part of that partnership,” she added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)