Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Afghan people must win the fight against the Taliban themselves

Source: The News Journal

By Sen. Ted Kaufman

December 7, 2009

The dilemma facing President Barack Obama and our national security team in Afghanistan is one of the most complex I have seen in more than three decades of public service. The president's speech laid out a bold plan. At the same time, I share the concerns of many Americans about the myriad challenges ahead. Indeed, the chances for success in Afghanistan remain unclear.

I visited Afghanistan in April and September and had the opportunity to speak with our military and civilian leaders, President Hamid Karzai and members of his cabinet. I have traveled to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces and met with numerous Afghan government officials and tribal elders. The Afghan people are frustrated by their government's inability to provide security, administer justice and deliver basic services. They welcomed international assistance in the short-term, but sought improved security and governance, a transfer of control to Afghan security forces and eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Since returning from Afghanistan, my No. 1 concern is the ability of the Karzai government to be an effective and trusted partner. In his second term, Karzai must eliminate corruption, strengthen rule of law and deliver essential services in all 34 provinces to win his people's trust. Ultimately, the battle is not between the U.S. and the Taliban. It is between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The fight must be won by the Afghans themselves.

For me, the key point in President Obama's strategy is that our military commitment is not open-ended. In July 2011, we will begin our troop drawdown. This has created an 18-month deadline for progress, injecting a sense of urgency to our mission that has been missing for the past eight years. It sends a message that the clock is ticking for the Afghan government to eliminate corruption, because we will no longer provide it with a "blank check." On the security front, the Afghan National Army and Police have no choice but to assume greater responsibility, given the certainty of a U.S. withdrawal.

Several other factors will be critical. First, as President Obama outlined, Pakistan is central to this fight. We cannot succeed without its cooperation, because developments in the region are tied to both sides of the border.

Since my visit in April, I have been impressed by the Pakistani military's decision to go after elements of the Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. At the same time, Pakistan must take action against the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, which continue to enjoy safe haven in Pakistani tribal areas. If extremists continue to operate freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will undermine security gains made on the Afghan side of the border.

Second, we must break the momentum of the Taliban by improving security and strengthening our ability to partner with the Afghans. That is why I support efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan National Security Forces. I am concerned that the president's goal of increasing the Afghan Army to 134,000 in 2010 does not go far enough in building the capacity of the ANSF. By comparison, Iraq -- a geographically smaller country with the same-d population -- has 600,000 trained security forces. We must accelerate our targets and improve the capability of the police, which has faced even greater challenges in terms of corruption, incompetence and attrition.

Finally, our success in Afghanistan depends on more than troops -- we need an integrated civilian-military strategy to sustain progress. Many dedicated U.S. civilians continue to serve in Afghanistan, and we must further augment these numbers and ensure they can directly interact with Afghans "in the field." Given their role as a force multiplier for the military and international non-governmental organizations, this is an area where we must channel even more resources and people.

Over the coming months, I will closely monitor our progress in Afghan governance, partnering with Pakistan, building the Afghan National Security Forces and increasing the U.S. civilian surge. Improvements in these areas will be critical to our overall success in Afghanistan.

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