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Assessing the Afghanistan Surge

By / 12.16.2010

The Obama administration released its Afghanistan review this morning, and while everyone will be digging through it for truths and obfuscations, it’s worth simply comparing the review’s conclusions to President Obama’s “Terms Sheet” he dictated at the outset of his Afghanistan surge. Obama’s six-page terms sheet, first revealed and released in Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, calls for measuring progress in Afghanistan by answering questions in related to governance, Pakistan, training of Afghan forces, and international support. Let’s look at the new review and compare it to some parts of the old one, shall we?

  1. The new review concludes that “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible.”
    The initial review, however, called for “reversing the Taliban’s momentum” everywhere, not merely arresting it in some places (my italics). Small word change, big difference.
  2. The new review says that “We are also supporting Afghanistan’s efforts to better improve national and sub-national governance, and to build institutions with increased transparency and accountability to reduce corruption – key steps in sustaining the Afghan government.”
    The initial review had specific benchmarks to measure governance progress: Has President Karzai made merit-based appointments in the areas most essential to our mission? Has the Afghan government begun to implement an effective reintegration/reconciliation program?  The new review is silent on these critical matters.
  3. The new review holds that Afghanistan forces “have exceeded ANSF growth targets, implemented an expanded array of programs to improve the quality and institutional capacity of the ANSF, and sharply improved their training effectiveness.”
    The initial review called for “accelerated ANSF growth while improving quality.” On this score, the U.S. is doing quite well, according to what was released today.
  4. The new review argues that “Emphasis must continue to be placed on the development of Afghan-led security and governance within areas that have been a focus of military operations.”
    The initial review insisted that we needed to establish “a program to transfer responsibility from ISAF to ANSF province by province.” No mention in the new document of what has been achieved, only on what must still be done.

Despite the negative balance sheet, on these and other scores, today’s review is cautiously optimistic. We are making progress, however fragile and recent. “Most important, al-Qa’ida’s senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001,” Obama’s new review argues. Reviewing the first assessment, however, reminds us that weakening al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan was not the primary goal. Perhaps it should have been.

Photo Credit: Truthout