SACEUR: ‘Five Years to Go Before We Can Really Disengage’ from Afghanistan

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From James Stavridis, Atlantic:  In Afghanistan, unlike Syria — where I’m pessimistic about outcomes — I’m cautiously optimistic about outcomes.

Some have called Afghanistan the graveyard of empires, and it probably is the graveyard of empires. The good news is, we aren’t an empire. This isn’t a single nation going into Afghanistan. We are a coalition of 50 nations. This is a real international effort. As a result of that support, we’ve created an Afghan security force of 350,000 people. We’ve trained them to read — literacy training is a big part of it, as well as all the combat training. Today, the Afghans lead 80 percent of all missions — this is moving quite successfully. It’s married to progress in the civil sector — 8 million children are in school, and more than 3 million are girls. Under the Taliban, there were less than one million, and no girls. Today there are more than 17 million people using cell phones, and 85 percent have access to health care. There is vibrant media, dozens of radio stations, and 20 television stations. It’s a society that’s becoming very comfortable with information. In the Asia Foundation’s annual surveys, the Taliban usually poll in popularity at about 8 to 10 percent; the Afghan government polls at about 75 percent. The Taliban is unpopular; their narrative is broken — they say they’re fighting foreign invaders, but we’re decreasing our presence there.

I don’t think the Taliban are going to succeed in a military dimension. If I were the Taliban I would think about coming to the negotiating table, which is how insurgencies typically end. Look at the IRA, what’s happening in Colombia. The FARC is at the bargaining table with the government. Sure, there are a lot of problems — corruption, governance issues. Afghanistan is a mixed picture, but after four years of watching, I’m cautiously optimistic. . . .

When I look at Afghanistan, we still have five years to go before we can really disengage. We’re really good at launching tomahawk missiles. We need to get better at launching ideas. Our ideas are really good — democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of the press.

Excerpts from interview with Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, by Olga Khazan.  (photo: Creative Commons)

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