After the Surge: The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Lt. Gen. David Barno (Ret.), Center for a New American Security

Peter Bergen, New America Foundation

Daniel Markey, Council on Foreign Relations

Moderated by Gordon Lubold, POLITICO

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The FPI Forum’s first speaker, Lt. Gen. David Barno began his remarks by highlighting the significance of the differences regarding the outlook in Afghanistan that existed two years ago since President Obama’s inauguration and today’s realities, notably following the recent shift in Congress. He stated that first, from a political perspective, the dynamic has shifted drastically as we move towards a 2012 election and currently, we are in a new “national outlook.” From the military perspective, Afghanistan looks much different than it did two years ago. American troop levels were once in the mid 30,000 in numbers but today numbers have tripled to over 100,000 and we have greater ownership of the COIN strategy.

The July 2011 draw down deadline in Afghanistan dominated the national debate last December. Now, a year later, that date has become less important. More realistically, December 2014 should be the target date for a drawdown of forces. Lt. Gen. Barno stressed four particular challenges: 1) Defeat the Taliban strategy (run out the clock) 2) Work with President Karzai (build more ties) 3) Address Pakistan (we have achieved some progress but there is more than needs to be done. Pakistanis must be in control of their own territory) and finally, 4) The case must be made for continuing the war effort and resist calls to prematurely withdraw from Afghanistan. 

The second panelist, Mr. Peter Bergin, opened his remarks  by denouncing the July 2011 drawdown and concurring with Lt. Gen. Barno that 2014 is the realistic timeline. Afghanistan has a rich history and a potential for prosperity. To this point, Bergin emphasized the pre-war period in the 1970s, when  Afghanistan was a tourist attraction and at peace. Bergin stressed that violence in Afghanistan indeed is a reality, but it is nowhere near what existed in Iraq. He continued that a common criticism is that Karzai is incompetent and corrupt (an assessment that Bergin concurred with), but also noted that Karzai is not as bad as he could be in light of Afghanistan’s history. He also said that although troop withdrawals are another criticism, he said most are actually staying. Mr. Bergin addressed the criticism questioning whether the US can afford this effort, but noted that the war in Afghanistan costs 1% of our GDP while Vietnam cost 10% of GDP. Mr. Bergin further acknowledged a few positive trends in Pakistan, including waning support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The third panelist, Mr. Daniel Markey, addressed the useful substance in the CFR report regarding the objectives for Pakistan and Afghanistan. He first stated that what we are trying to accomplish is unclear to those in the region as well as the American public. The main objectives in the region include the targeting the networks in where terrorists are active and preventing those networks from accessing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. To achieve those objectives, the US must work collaboratively with Pakistani partners. Regarding Afghanistan, the report identifies terrorism as the reason why we remain in the state, but said the US must also recognize that the manner in which we leave Afghanistan will leave an impression in the region, including nations like Iran and China. He noted that how we leave Afghanistan is as important as how we entered. Our exit must not be too rapid and he advised that it cannot be left less stable than when we found it. The report also discusses alternative strategies, including a containment strategy (sticks, fewer carrots), which may be necessary if Pakistan is not responsive to the current diplomatic efforts. Mr. Markey also said that unless we understand the costs of a coercive effort, we have every chance of undermining ourselves and making the problem harder. The “light footprint approach” with counterterrorism and attacking threats where they lay may be appealing, but the risks to national security are most likely greater.

Mr. Markey offered two recommendations for America’s overall regional strategy. 1) Pakistan: the US needs to provide Pakistan better clarity about our objectives. One of the greatest challenges is their collaboration with others. The Haqanni network appears to still be prevalent and fully capable of creating instability. 2) Pakistan has done too little to combat the existing networks, and has failed to understand the US red line. On the Afghanistan point, Markey noted that there is no US leadership in the role of fostering a sense of national unity. The Karzai question (corruption, competency) has been raised far too often. Instead, Markey said that emphasis should be placed on having the vast majority of Afghans understand that they can work with the US rather than only being against the Karzai central government. It is not enough of a foundation to base a COIN strategy on whether Karzai favors us or not.

Following the conclusion of opening remarks, the panel moved into a Q&A discussion. The video of the entire panel can be viewed above.



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