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The New Af-Pak Strategy

Not that I’m at the White House, but let’s do this liveblog style. I’m watching the rollout of the Af-Pak strategy on MSNBC, where Chris Matthews, commenting on the idea of increased NATO efforts to rollback Afghanistan’s narcotics trade, just said that “we can’t do that in Philly.” Special guest-star of this rollout is Gen. David Petraeus, the Central Command chief, whose own Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review was delivered to the White House around February 17 to inform Obama’s.

9:25. Waiting for Obama. Someone who was briefed by the administration on the plan recently tells me that Obama will “re-focus on countering al-Qaeda more vigorously in a regional context,” but will keep the “long-term stability” of Afghanistan in focus. Meaning the U.S. will “remain engaged in the country until it stands on its own,” although it’s not clear with what commitment. That sounds like Obama will disaggregate the counterterrorism goal from a state-building commitment, but won’t abrogate that commitment. Let’s hear what he says.

9:37. The U.S. military command in Afghanistan, USFOR-A, just emailed reporters with the White House strategy paper. Here are the objectives of the war that the paper spells out:

  • 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.

9:40. Here we go. On stage: former CIA officer and Chairman of the Af-Pak Strategy Review Bruce Reidel, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obama acknowledges Petraeus and his “outstanding job at CENTCOM” and the new U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan-designate, Karl Eikenberry, who’s smiling.

9:41. Consulted widely, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congress. “The situation is increasingly perilous.” Insurgents “control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Admirable recognition of that. “Simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, why do our men and women fight and die there?” Al-Qaeda and their allies “are in Pakistan and Afghanistan… actively planning attacks…in Pakistan” and if Afghanistan falls “to the Taliban… it will once again be a” staging ground for attacks. “For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” And it’s an “international security challenge,” citing attacks worldwide that have emanated from there.

9:44. Mention of the costs for the Afghan people of a return to Taliban rule, including “international isolation” and human rights abuses, “especially [to] women and girls.” We are not in Afghanistan ‘to control that country or dictate its future.”

9:45. The goal: “To disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan.” And its adjunct in Afghanistan. “This cause could not be more just.” What does “defeat” mean?

9:46. The way forward in Pakistan, a people with a “rich history.” Highlights the “rule of law” — a clear play to get the broad middle class revolt, predicated on the rule of law, on board with the strategy. al-Qaeda “and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within.” Pledges the “tools, training” to help the Pakistanis root them out, but not “a blank check.” Obama reiterates his caveat that he “expects action,” which is his oft-repeated way of subtly reserving the right for unilateral U.S. attacks. Pledges diplomacy with India to lessen tensions threatening Pakistan — and get the Pakistani military focusing on its western frontier, not its eastern one.

9:49. Calls for the passage of new bills pledging development in Pakistan. “I don’t ask for this support lightly.” But the American people will be paying “a downpayment on their own future.” We “must isolate al_Qaeda from the Pakistani people.” Security demands “a new sense of responsibility,” which include tripartite U.S.-Afghanistan-Pakistan talks.

9:51. Must “reverse the Taliban’s gains and promote a more capable and [confident?] Afghan government.” New resources on the way: 17,000 soldiers and Marines to “take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east.” Provide security in “advance of the important presidential elections in August.” But there will be a “shift” in emphasis to training Afghan security forces. Commanders have been “denied resources” for training because of the war in Iraq. Now there will be, in the spring, 4000 US troops for trainers. “Every U.S. unit will be partnered with an Afghan unit,” and will “accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 by 2011.”

9:54. “To advance security, opportunity” for the Afghan people, we need a “substantial increase in civilians on the ground.” Here comes the interagency effort at counterinsurgency — the agronomists and diplomats and legal experts. “Make no mistake: our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don’t invest in their future.” Spoken like a COINdinista. “It’s far cheaper to… help a farmer seed a crop than to send U.S. forces” to fight. There will be a “strong inspector general” at the State Department and at USAID.

9:56. Can’t “turn a blind eye” to corruption in the Afghan government. There will be “clear benchmarks” to U.S. aid.

9:57. “No peace without reconciliation with former enemies.” References the Anbar Awakening. “We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan while understanding it is a much different country.” The “hardcore of the Taliban” must be confronted “with force.” But there will be a U.S.-Afghan process of reconciliation for the foot soldiers “in every province.”

9:58. No blind eye to human rights abuses. “And we will not blindly stay the course.” There will be benchmarks for reviewing the strategy.

9:58. “This was the founding cause of NATO six days ago,” collective security for free nations. “This must be our path today.” Asking partner nations for “a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people.” With the U.N., seeks greater involvement — a new contact group for all “who should have a stake” in Afghanistan. He says Iran by name. “All have a stake in lasting peace and security and development.” Central Asian states, Russia, Iran, the Gulf, China.

10:00. Lots of praise for the troops, in their own favored terms. They “embody the principle of selfless sacrifice.”

10:00. We didn’t choose this war. References 9/11. “Also the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims, who al-Qaeda have killed and maimed in far greater numbers than any other people.” Says al-Qaeda will deny them “justice” — again, a term resonant among Muslims. “The United States stands for peace and justice and opportunity.” The road ahead will be difficult. And we’re out.

TWI is on Twitter. Follow Spencer Ackerman’s ongoing coverage of President Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy here.

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