News / USA

Experts: US Afghan Strategy OK, But It's Still Early

President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the White House on the the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review, 16 Dec 2010
President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the White House on the the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review, 16 Dec 2010

Multimedia

Al Pessin

President Barack Obama's review of his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he made public on Thursday, says the approach he announced a year ago is working.  Still, the president acknowledged that progress is, in his words, "fragile and reversible."

And while officials say the effort is on track to meet key targets in 2011 and 2014, experts say it is still early to make definitive pronouncements about whether the strategy is really working.  

There were no real surprises in the president's strategy review.  He says that a year after he announced it, and fewer than six months after the additional troops he deployed arrived, the strategy is beginning to work.

"We are on track to achieve our goals," said President Obama. "We are making considerable gains toward our military objectives."

But the president also acknowledged that the gains are difficult and fragile, and he said more work is also needed on governance and economic development.  He also said Pakistan must do more to eliminate insurgent safe havens on its side of the border.

As the president spoke, U.S. forces were close to the end of their deadliest year in Afghanistan, with nearly 500 killed and 5,000 wounded.

The president had promised to review his strategy at this juncture, in part to take a different approach from his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who was accused of "staying the course" with his Iraq strategy long after it became clear to many experts that it was not working.

But now some of those same experts say President Obama's review came too early.

Michael O'Hanlon follows defense issues at the Brookings Institution. "It's too soon to expect major results," said O'Hanlon. "So this really is an interim review.  There could be some modest policy changes that come out of it, but nothing fundamental about the strategy is likely to change."

Experts say progress is difficult to make and nearly as hard to measure in Afghanistan, with its harsh terrain, entrenched corruption, complex tribal structure and strong Taliban influence.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that for now, any progress must be measured only at the most local levels, and the job of military units is to expand the new small zones of stability, and improve the Afghan forces' ability to sustain them.

"The whole idea in the military strategy is to halt the momentum of the Taliban, reverse it, degrade their capabilities and deny them control of major population centers," said Gates. "At the same time, you build the capacity of the Afghan national security forces to take on a degraded Taliban."

No one can say at this stage of the process whether that will actually happen, or when.  But President Obama is committed to beginning a U.S. troop drawdown next July, and he and other NATO leaders have set the end of 2014 as the target date for ending their troops' combat role in Afghanistan.

A former foreign policy adviser to Republican Senator John McCain, Richard Fontaine, now an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, is skeptical about the first deadline, and cautious about the second one.

"I don't think that by July, 2011 we're going to be able to see such dramatic successes that we're going to be able to draw down American troops in any significant fashion," said Fontaine. "By 2014, I think we will either know whether we have made very significant progress and can turn this over to the Afghans, or whether progress is simply impossible, in which case we're going to have to make some very tough choices about what comes next."

In fact, officials say if progress stalls and current gains are reversed, they want to know much sooner than 2014. There will be another American review in a few months, to prepare for the initial troop withdrawal, and a more extensive one at the end of next year.

The 2010 White House Afghan strategy review describes a situation pretty much as had been expected at this juncture - progress but still problems. President Obama, the congress and allied governments will be watching carefully for evidence of continuing and less fragile progress as they reevaluate their strategy and their troop levels during the coming year.

You May Like

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs