News / Asia

Transformative Year in Afghanistan Leaves Many Challenges for US in 2011

US soldiers inspect the site of suicide attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010.
US soldiers inspect the site of suicide attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010.

Multimedia

Al Pessin

2010 was a transformative year for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, with 30,000 additional troops and thousands more civilians flowing into the country to implement President Barack Obama's revised strategy for winning the now nine-year-old war.  

It has been a difficult and deadly year in the Afghanistan war.  Violence and casualties are up.  And progress has been difficult to measure.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was optimistic during his most recent visit to Afghanistan in December. "The bottom line is that in the last 12 months we have come a long way, frankly progress that even just in the last few months has exceeded my expectations," he said.

But Gates also acknowledged that progress in some areas, where U.S., allied and Afghan efforts have been focused, does not mean there is progress toward stability, security and prosperity elsewhere in the country. "The lesson learned here is that you should not generalize about Afghanistan.  You should not even generalize from regional command to regional command or province to province, that you really have to take it a district at a time, and maybe even more local areas than that," he said.

Announcing the results of the year-end Afghanistan policy review on December 16th, President Obama said progress is being made and the strategy of using the military to pursue hard-core insurgents and train Afghan forces, and using international civilians to help improve governance and promote economic development, is working.

"This continues to be a very difficult endeavor.  But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals," he said.

The president called the progress "fragile and reversible," and his review calls for more efforts to establish local security in key areas, and to press Pakistan to take more action against insurgent bases on its side of the border.

It was not a smooth road for President Obama to get to his year-end review. "Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan," he said.

That was June 23, just a year after the president had appointed General McChrystal to command the U.S. and NATO military effort in Afghanistan, only six months after the president had finalized his strategy, and well before most of the additional troops had even arrived.  He fired McChrystal for critical comments about the president, his policy, and his aides made by the general and members of his staff in a Rolling Stone magazine article.  

Within a fast and wrenching 48 hours, the general who had been built up as the best man to win the war in Afghanistan was gone.  But the president did not have to look far to find a suitable successor. "I am also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership that we need to succeed," he said.

General Petraeus was McChrystal's boss, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the famed former commander of allied troops in Iraq credited with developing the counter-insurgency strategy that turned that war around.

By December, General Petraeus was claiming significant progress. "We believe that we have arrested the momentum of the Taliban in many parts of Afghanistan, but not in all," he said.

The general said allied gains are having a psychological as well as tactical impact, but he also acknowledged the Taliban still has free rein in some areas and there is much more work to do.  Petraeus commands 98,000 U.S. troops and 48,000 from other coalition countries - about triple the number when President Obama took office two years ago.

The president confirmed in the year-end review that he will begin to draw down the U.S. force level in July.  

But he and other NATO leaders, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, acknowledged at their summit in November that Afghanistan will not be able to take full responsibility for its own security until at least the end of 2014.  Even after that, officials expect the country will continue to need some security assistance, as well as more training for its military, police and bureaucrats, and more funding for economic development.

But even with all that effort made and planned by the United States, Afghanistan and their allies, President Obama acknowledged that to achieve real and lasting progress Pakistan must eliminate insurgent safe havens on its side of the border.  He said Pakistan has done a lot, but must do more.

Analysts agree. Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004, said, "We need to do everything we can to support the Pakistani government in stamping out these safe havens, and we have to be willing to put more pressure on them.  And if that includes public pressure, then we have to go there."

Analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution acknowledges Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts were hampered by the devastating floods in July, but he says now it is time to act. "I would have to say 2010 was a disappointing year in regard to that particular aspect of the problem, and I would hope 2011 would be substantially better," he said.

On the broader issues of Afghanistan, both experts say for all the attention the December strategy review received it is too soon to really know whether the strategy is working.  General Barno said, "I think he, in reality, is going to have to wait until sometime mid to late next summer to analyze what the true results are of the so-called 30,000-troop surge."

Michael O'Hanlon agrees, and adds military gains and progress at improving the local security forces may not be the most important developments in Afghanistan in 2010.  He says the NATO decision to continue its commitment at least through 2014 may be more important. "It signals to people in the region that the United States and NATO are not going to be in a hurry to leave next summer.  And that may encourage more people to cooperate with us instead of doubting our staying power and hedging their bets and maintaining ties to the insurgents, for example," he said.

The analysts say the coming year will be crucial in determining whether large numbers of ordinary Afghans decide to reject the insurgents, and that is by no means assured.  But with U.S. casualties reaching an all-time high of nearly 500 in Afghanistan during the past year, with 5,000 injured, experts say the new strategy will have to show significant results by mid-year to maintain the support of President Obama, the American people and an increasingly divided and budget-conscious Congress.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid