The Path to Victory in Afghanistan

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A Conversation with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) - Member of the Senate Armed Committee on Appropriations

and Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) - Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce

Moderated by Ambassador Eric Edelman - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies & Foreign Policy Initiative

Photographs  | Summary  |  Transcript  |  Video

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Summary

Senator Kirk emphasized the importance of maintaining present troop levels in Afghanistan through this summer’s fighting season in order to keep the maximum fighting force against the Taliban.  He further urged the United States to “think outside the box” in its long-term approach to the country, and raised the prospect of increasing cooperation with India, a status-quo power, to help secure the country.  Later, in response to an audience question, Kirk added that if terror attacks against India were only emanating from Pakistan, they would carry a strong political price for Islamabad.  If, however, terror networks based in Afghanistan targeted India, the Pakistanis would have plausible deniability as it continues to pressure Delhi.  This situation, he believes, would provide incentive for India to increase its cooperation to help secure Afghanistan as the United States and NATO forces transition to Afghan control in 2014.

Congressman Kinzinger acknowledged that it is difficult for politicians to publically support continuing the fight in Afghanistan, but emphasized that there are real-life, human consequences for American withdrawal.  The threat to Afghans’ livelihood by the Taliban helps to make clear the need for Washington to continue our efforts there.

Kirk said that the United States should not be prepared to indefinitely maintain front-line fighting forces in Afghanistan, but should be prepared to help fund Afghan forces that will continue fighting to secure their country.  

Kinzinger noted that the United States has only deployed sufficient forces to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign since 2010, and that the President must heed the advice of his military commanders on the troop levels necessary to achieve their mission and keep the United States safe.  While he initially believed that the United States would be incapable of maintaining sufficient troops and resources in the country for the period of time needed to achieve its mission, he admitted that he was surprised that America had kept its force there for over a decade.

On Pakistan, Kirk noted that Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) foolishly believed that Haqqani Network fighters deployed to front-lines would all be killed.  Upon being captured, those operatives detailed their training by the Pakistani government.  Moving forward, Kirk said the United States should alter its approach to Pakistan by tailoring or withdrawing its aid, and encouraging India to take a more active role in Afghanistan. 

Kinzinger remarked that the situation in Afghanistan was similar to the Vietnam War, in which the United States fought a domestic insurgency supported by a bordering state, and allowed that support to continue.  While adopting the sticks-over-carrots approach would likely lead to increased tension with Pakistan, doing so was necessary in order to ultimately address the country’s continued support of terror networks.

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Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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