The details are out on Barack Obama’s rethink of US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the news today of 4,000 extra US troops to help train and bolster the Afghan National Army and police as well as civilian development. The other main planks of the Obama strategy focus on increased aid to Pakistan, and setting strict standards for measuring progress in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
One Washington Post columnist called Obama’s decision on Afghanistan as “gutsy and correct” as the President resisted the tempting calls from supporters and some of his advisers who favour a rapid exit or a “minimal” counterterrorist strategy in Afghanistan. Gutsy sounds about right to me. It is I thought also refreshing after the hard slog and lost ground over the last couple of years as Afghanistan went onto the back burner in favour of sorting out Iraq.
The dual emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan is also welcome as it is absolutely apparent that sorting out Pakistan is the key to sorting out its neighbour.
In his speech Obama said: “the future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan … For the American people, this border region (in Pakistan) has become the most dangerous place in the world”.
This was echoed by the Afghan government which said it welcomed “all [Mr Obama’s] major conclusions” and in particular the regional aspect of the problem in Afghanistan and specifically recognition that the al-Qaeda threat is mainly emanating from Pakistan”, according to Reuters .
The troop number increases are not large, but the hope obviously is that the ANA will step up faster if there is a larger emphasis on getting it trained and out into the field.
Interesting, this morning that Obama seems to have persuaded Gordon Brown to commit another 2,000 troops despite much Ministry of Defence muttering that no more than a couple of hundred extra would be sent. This would take the UK to 10,000.
That commitment is likely to be confirmed at the Nato 60th anniverary meeting, according to the Times, next week where Obama will ask for more troops from other members of the “alliance” .
In his speech Obama did not sugar coat the what needs to be done and he reminded people that it is these people, al-Qaeda and its allies, tucked away in the mountains and the lawless out of control areas of Pakistan/Talibstan, who were behind the 9/11 attacks.
“This is not simply an American problem. Far from it,” Obama said. “It is instead an international security challenge of the highest order.”
In its story the BBC was also saying that in an interview before Obama’s speech, with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was “ready to participate in the efforts directed at putting things in order” in Afghanistan.
“It is impossible to rule Afghanistan with the aid of the alliance; it is impossible to rule Afghanistan from abroad. Afghanistan should find its own path to democracy,” Medvedev said. He should know. How that will pan out is anyone’s guess. Although in his speech Obama did reference Russia as part of a larger contact group.
“And finally, together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region — our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China.”
Obama also issued a coded warning to Afghan president Hamid Karzai who is mired in corruption charges (which he, of course denies) to clean up his act and that of his allies.
“I want to be clear: We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable.”
However, while saying the US will not blindly stay the course, what he didn’t do as the Washington Post pointed out “meet his own standards. As he said in a CBS News interview just a few days ago, “There’s gotta be an exit strategy”. As it did not come up. Let’s hope there is one.