Afghanistan Effort at Critical Juncture in 2010

Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Hamid Karzai

President Obama’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan reflects the critical juncture reached by NATO and its partners, including the Afghan Government, in this eight-year engagement.   The international community has rallied to the cause with increased troop commitments.  This January in London, seventy-five nations agreed to help support the Afghan government’s development and governance goals. In Afghanistan, Afghan security forces demonstrated their growing capacity by handling—without ISAF assistance—a recent series of insurgent attacks in Kabul and in planning a major offensive in Helmand with their ISAF partners.  This coalescing of international community and Afghan commitment represents the strongest joint front yet assembled to turn the corner in Afghanistan.  It’s why we must deploy our military and civilian resources as quickly as possible and make 2010 a year of maximum effort in Afghanistan.

What does maximum effort look like?  For starters, it’s means significantly expanding the presence of ISAF troops in Afghanistan.  President Obama committed 30,000 troops who are moving into theater at the fastest pace our military planners can support.  NATO allies and partners have come through with an additional 9,000 troops to answer ISAF Commander General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more international forces, and we’d like to see those men and women enter the fight as soon as possible.

Changing the momentum in 2010 also means increasing and improving the coordination between our civilian and military efforts.  The United Nations has appointed Staffan di Mistura to oversee the civilian efforts, while NATO has named Mark Sedwill as its new Senior Civilian Representative.  Our resolve is matched by a renewed and serious commitment on the part of the Afghan government to reduce corruption and strengthen good governance, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai laid out in his inaugural address and reaffirmed in London.  In 2010, we need to continue our focus on the Afghan people.  General McChrystal established this as our number one priority last year. His directive has changed our battle rhythm and it has changed perceptions among Afghans.  We are truly operating as partners. 

This has been a long and hard effort that has cost money and lives, and it won’t end this year.  Our commitment must be long-term.  But we’re at a point now that has eluded us in the past, a point where our strategy, our political commitment, and our resources have come together in a powerful way.   For that reason, we can’t turn our backs on the improvements we have only recently begun to realize.  Our full investment now hastens the day when the Afghans can ultimately take the lead for their own security, economic prosperity, and governance – their goal and ours.

In the coming months we need to see NATO and its partners rise to the occasion, turn the corner, and keep Afghanistan on the path to security and development.  It’s not going to be easy, and we don’t have unlimited time.  President Obama has said that U.S. forces will begin drawing down in July 2011.  We need to use the time until then to build Afghan capacity so that the Afghan authorities can take on ever greater responsibility for the security of their own country.   Training Afghan policemen, mentoring the Afghan National Army, and partnering with organizations and countries from around the world are all vital to this effort.  Graduating more policemen from training centers in Helmand, Jalalabad, and elsewhere means intensified recruiting and providing more qualified instructors.  Conducting effective patrols within local communities means more international mentors.  And having ISAF and Afghan soldiers plan and conduct joint patrols that help keep the peace means making our forces increasingly flexible in support of a national Afghan strategy.

We must seize the moment and ensure the July 2011 timeline can be met by taking on the hard tasks while we have these additional troops on the ground, the momentum of a new strategy, and the backing of a committed international community.

Ivo H. Daalder is the United States Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Photo: Reuters Pictures.

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