Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DEF Program Provides Update on Afghanistan Progress

DEF and the Institute for the Study of  War (ISW) co-sponsored a program on the current security situation in Afghanistan March 16 at the Minuteman Memorial Building.

Featured on the program were LTG (Ret) James Dubik (moderator), Dr. Kim Kagan (President of ISW), Peter Bergen (CNN commentator and author), and LTC Joel Rayburn, who recently returned from service in Afghanistan.

Dr. Kagan noted that a tremendous counterinsurgency campaign had been launched against the Taliban and its allied entities over the past half year with many positive results: the regaining a substantial territory, the capture or killing of numerous enemies, and the degrading of the their resources.

The ultimate goal, panelists explained, is to be sure that Afghanistan will no longer be a platform for international attacks or a source of instability in the area.

It is likely that we will see an increase later in the spring of attacks and offensive operations by the Taliban – but that should not necessarily be the metric to determine success. Most Afghans are not friendly toward the Taliban, but they need a reason to believe in the central government of President Karzai. There is a need to increase the accountability of the central government and to demonstrate that it is a stable, enduring system. This is possible – 60 percent of Afghans support the U.S. effort and two-thirds believe their country is headed on the right path. In fact, it is likely we are moving toward a strategic partnership with Afghanistan much like we have with South Korea.

Afghan National Security Forces have advanced sufficiently that several provinces have now been turned over to their control. If they continue to build in numbers and ability, it will be a reflection of the success of the central government to delivery of the three things the people want most: order, security, and justice. The standards achieved may not reflect Western standards but a system must come into being that is “Afghan right.”

Major challenges to success in Afghanistan include: US domestic politics and support for the war, the political and economic situation in Pakistan (it has high inflation, anti-American feeling, and is the home of many of the leaders/sympathizers of the Taliban movement), and continued stability in relations between India and Pakistan. Should those challenges not be met, the impact on Afghanistan could be devastating.  

It appears the U.S. is on target for troop withdrawals later in the summer.  Afghan security forces are gaining in their ability to provide security, the central government is making some headway in demonstrating it can maintain order, and the enemy has been deprived of personnel and terrain. The overall outcome is the defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but it is also clear from history that staying engaged over the long term is critical to achieving lasting peace and stability in the region.

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