Afghanistan needs security, stability and an exit strategy

http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=65&articleid=20090305_65_A15_Recent662384&archive=yes

By JOSEPH WIGNARAJAH
Published: 3/5/2009  2:26 AM
Last Modified: 3/5/2009  3:31 AM

Recently a friend of mine returned home safely from Afghanistan, while six other soldiers were killed in action — one of whom was a friend of mine, too. With such conflicting feelings and having just marked one year since my return from Iraq, I’ve been thinking about our strategy in Afghanistan.

Under the Bush administration the goal in Afghanistan was “to help the people defeat the terrorists and establish a stable, moderate, democratic state that respects the rights of its citizens, governs its territory effectively, and is a reliable ally in this war against extremists.” President Bush wanted regional democratization.

On Jan. 27, during his first testimony under the Obama administration, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described the strategic goals for Afghanistan as “an Afghan people who do not provide a safe haven for al-Qaida, reject the Taliban, and support the legitimate government that they elected and in which they have a stake.” Gates’s more modest goal today is a legitimate government.

So it seems that everyone agrees on the what, but what about the how? How do we achieve those goals?

We need a strategy that includes three things — sustainable security, diplomacy and a clear plan for withdrawal.

The 17,000 additional troops authorized by President Obama will go far in securing the country, but we need more than just additional troops. Fortunately, there is wide-spread agreement that a military solution alone cannot win the war. To determine what will, the White House and the Pentagon are conducting a comprehensive strategy review that’s due by the April 3 NATO summit. I find this encouraging.

Here’s what the new strategy should address:

First, it must address how to create lasting security. That is, how we intend to bolster the Afghan and Pakistani security forces’ abilities to combat insurgents that operate within each country and move through their porous border. Our attacks by unmanned aircraft will not be enough to secure the Pakistani government, which has nuclear weapons, against repeated attempts by militants to destabilize it. Additionally, it is imperative that it address winning the war against the drug trade. In 2008, the Afghan drug trade was estimated to be about $4 billion, supplying somewhere between $200 million and $400 million annually to the Taliban.

After we have choked the insurgents’ ability to operate, we must sustain new security by underscoring the importance of reconstruction, restoration of essential services free from corruption, and economic development. When the Afghan people have reliable basic services and the opportunity to provide for themselves, they will reject Taliban rule in favor of a legitimate government.

Second, the strategy must emphasize diplomacy between NATO, other countries in the region and the new government to be elected this year. It must address how we intend to engage Russia, India, China, and even Iran, as hinted by Gen. David Petraeus, which all have a stake in regional stability.

Each of these countries can make significant contributions to the war. Russia recently allowed NATO to resume using supply routes after suspending an earlier agreement in protest of U.S. support for Georgia. Iran can offer additional supply routes. China and India currently invest generously in Afghanistan. Moreover, contributing to regional stability is the only way to support a decreased U.S. presence in the region.

And finally, it must include an exit strategy that delineates milestones that must be reached before we withdraw, and, more importantly, that specifies that we will withdraw once milestones are reached.

When a strategy satisfactorily addresses these three things, I can support sending more of my former colleagues, my friends and even myself to Afghanistan.


Joseph Wignarajah, formerly of Tulsa, is a former Navy officer and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is studying defense policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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