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Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal Go to Washington December 9, 2009

Posted by Trice Kabundi in Briefing.
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Underreported in the news yesterday, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal presented their testimony before the House and Senate Armed Services committee.  This hearing came just one week after President Obama presented the Administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This testimony is significant because as Ambassador, Mr. Eikenberry is the Chief of Mission or country team leader in Afghanistan and all US government agencies are under the leadership and direction of the ambassador while in country.  Moreover, General McChrystal, the current commander of US forces in Afghanistan, received some but not all that he asked for in last month’s leaked report.  Below is a summary of their testimony.

Ambassador Eikenberry

The ambassador presented a direct but overall cautiously optimistic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, detailing the civilian side of the President’s strategy for the region.  On the down side, Ambassador Eikenberry explicitly stated that despite US efforts, Afghanistan may struggle to take over the essential tasks of government, will remain dependent on international aid for years to come, and that ‘success’ in Afghanistan is linked to the US partnership with Pakistan.  The ambassador also concedes that “Afghanistan remains a disconnected society, divided by factionalism, plagued by corruption and illegal narcotics and challenged by insecurity.”

The ambassador’s optimism, if you want to call it that, stems from the fact that a mission that was once poorly defined and under resourced is now clearer and better provided for. According to the Ambassador, by early 2010 there will be almost 1,000 civilians from various department and agencies on the ground in Afghanistan, tripling the total from the beginning of 2009.  The Ambassador described the civilian component of the three main pillars of the US effort in Afghanistan: security, governance, and development.

Security
The Ambassador described the civilian role in improving security in Afghanistan as one of support to military efforts.  The Afghan government is in the process of building law enforcement institutions to fight corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking.  Many US federal departments are involved in such efforts, such as the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which provide special training to the Afghan Counternarcotics Police and help to improve law enforcement capabilities.  DOD’s US Central Command and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also assist the Afghan Border Police and the Customs Department.

Governance
The civilian role in improving Afghan governance, on the national level, seeks to improve key ministries, increase the number of civilian technical advisers and provide additional development assistance.  On the local level, increased numbers of civilians (nearly 400) will be working with the military on Provincial Reconstruction teams, District Development Working Groups and District Support Teams.  Other efforts include training Afghan government employees in public administration and supporting efforts to create provincial and district councils and build citizen involvement.

Development
US development efforts focus on building Afghanistan’s private sector economy, improving the agriculture industry and rebuilding the farm sector, long-term investment in water management, large-scale irrigation, mining and light industry, among numerous other projects.

General McChrystal

General McChrsytal’s testimony reiterated the President’s strategy and also bolstered many of the statements made by Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen during last week’s hearings.

McChrystal emphasized how the Afghan government and people are a strong determinant in US success in Afghanistan, and listed the following factors that have increased his confidence in the US’s success in Afghanistan:

  • The strong resolve of the Afghans, which is the major factor in determining their actions in ending the war
  • The unpopularity of the insurgency with the Afghan population, and the insurgency’s lacking widespread support
  • Success in helping the Afghan government and population achieve increased security and government credibility that is beginning to show in areas where such strategy has been applied
  • The US not being viewed as occupier by the Afghan population, and general understanding that US support is necessary in order to “reach future security and stability”

McChrystal expects that by this time next year it will be clear to US policymakers that security gains will have been made in Afghanistan, and that the insurgency will have lost its momentum. Furthermore, he believes that by the summer of 2011 the Afghan people will clearly see that the insurgency will not win, thus providing the Afghan government more public support.

General McChrystal stressed that the commitment of the US will face constant scrutiny by both allies and enemies. Furthermore, all the complex factors involved in US successes in Afghanistan have created a situation where “there are no silver bullets.”  However, the quality and commitment of US and NATO forces as well as a sound strategy increases his certainty that the US will succeed.

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