President Obama gave a speech this morning outlining his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which served as the unveiling of a (slightly) more detailed white paper [PDF].

The plan outlined what it terms “realistic and achievable objectives.”

  • Disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.
  • Promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.
  • Developing increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.
  • Assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of Pakistan.
  • Involving the international community to actively assist in addressing these objectives for Afghanistan and Pakistan, with an important leadership role for the UN.

Given that these have been, more or less, the goals for most of the war, the degree to which they are “new” is subject to discussion.  There is, however, talk of “benchmarks” — as yet largely unrevealed — that will be used to measure progress and upon which continued assistance will purportedly depend. 

Denis McDonough, deputy assistant to the president in charge of strategic communications for the National Security Council, and Caitlin Hayden, director of communications at NSC, held a conference call this afternoon, organized by the White House, to discuss the plan with invited bloggers.

In a very short opening statement,  McDonough noted that they consulted with Capitol Hill, outside experts, our European allies, and friends in the region. National Security Advisor Jim Jones a major part of the process.

What follows is a summary, not a transcription of the questions and answers that follows.  Quotation marks are used for direct quotes; otherwise, this is just shorthand taken live.

JAMES JOYNER (Atlantic Council): “What’s the exit strategy? How will we know when we’ve won and can go home?”

MCDONOUGH: Afghans take the lead role. We’ve seen “fundamental strategic drift” and now have a “clear goal” to have “key metrics” to measure success.

JOYNER: “What’s the timeframe? Ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years? Or simply however long it takes to achieve metrics?”

MCDONOUGH: We’ll have regular reporting to assess metrics.

JOYNER: “But we’re willing to stay indefinitely so long as we’re achieving process?”

MCDONOUGH: So long as we can achieve support of American people.

NOAH SHACHTMAN (Wired): Since comprehensive strategy, will we see additional forces in Pakistan?

MCDONOUGH: “No comment” on specifics. But president “made very clear” that we want to “collaborate closely with our friends in Pakistan” on achieving goals and “shutting down safe havens.” This is “a very robust call for an alliance” with Pakistan.

SHACHTMAN: “Yeah, but don’t ISI support guys we’re trying to root out? And will AQ face militants on one side of the border but not the other side.”

MCDONOUGH: Not going to say but “you’re intelligent enough to figure that out.” Just want to say “we’re in this together.”

SPENCER ACKERMAN (Washington Independent): “No call for training Pakistani troops in counterinsurgency? Can you define what ‘disrupting and defeating al Qaeda’ actually is?”

MCDONOUGH: Strategy lays out “pretty significant investments.” See white paper.  The safe havens in the border regions are a serious threat that must be dealt with.

ACKERMAN: “So, goal is ‘no safe haven’?”

MCDONOUGH:  Yes, we must shut it down.

FAIZ SHAKIR (Think Progress): “Any sense of how Afghani people will receive this plan?”

MCDONOUGH:  President had “good conversations” with both counterparts. We’ll “work as hard as we can” to make sure people “hear directly from president,” including “social networking” and other “non-traditional” methods.

SHAKIR: Can you reveal tactics so we can help get word out? Are you concerned about undermining outreach to Muslim world?

MCDONOUGH:  No, we’re not. These efforts are “totally in sync.”

ALEX THURSTON (The Seminal): “Is their a historical model for success in this type of counterinsurgency operation?”

MCDONOUGH:  We’re looking at this in an operational sense, as to what will work in this particular case. “There’s a very robust consideration of all the factors.”

THURSTON: “Would you say you’ve applied lessons from the Surge in Iraq? The Soviet experience?”

MCDONOUGH:  We’ve tried to look at all the availble information.

ILAN GOLDENBERG (National Security Network): Glad to see benchmarks. Can you give us more detail and examples of metrics looking at? Rolling basis or will there be cutoffs for monitoring progress?

MCDONOUGH:  President called for enacting Lugar-Kerry bill for dedicated assistance to Pakistan over next five years? Everything will be “fact-based” and aimed at achieving goals.

BRANDON FRIEDMAN (Vet Voice): Numbers on civilian reconstruction and military side. Where does the staffing come from? State? USAID? Contractors? With 4000 troops added, will we have enough military troops to do the job?

MCDONOUGH:  State will send “hundreds” that will “deploy this year.” We’ll have “very coordinated and concerted effort” and “reach out to NGOs currently in the field and maybe those considering going into the field” for resources. The numbers will be “constantly reviewed” by the president.

DAVID AXE (War is Boring):  Surprised president didn’t mention air strikes and damage civilian casualties have done to our cause?  Any intention of changing policy?

HAYDEN:  Very anxious to “avoid use whenever possible” and “get out the information” when tragedy occurs. We’re “very aware”

AXE:  Corruption is a lynchpin problem upon which popular support hinges.  Will there be renewed emphasis on this?

MCDONOUGH: President has been “quite explicit” on how important this challenge is and we understand “importance of getting our hands around this.”

LAURA ROSEN (Foreign Policy):  Amb Dobbins this morning was very cautious on what can be achieved in Pakistan.

MCDONOUGH: The number of Pakistanis killed by extremist violence “unsettling and heartbreaking,” so confident we can get cooperation.  Certainly no sense that this will be easy but “the stakes are very high.”

HAYDEN: We’ve spent a lot of time consulting outside and inside and that process will continue.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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