Flournoy: U.S.-Pakistan Relations ‘Central’ to Fight

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)

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