Gates: Afghanistan-Pakistan Is Unique, and Success Is Still Possible
Defense Secretary Robert Gates just gave his opening statement at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Afghanistan. The Afghanistan war is “necessary” and “mutually reinforcing” to take on al-Qaeda in Pakistan, he said. He spoke about the “porous border” between Afghanistan and Pakistan that to strengthen the point, but the military strategy is geared primarily toward protecting population centers in Afghanistan, with border strikes being the province of Joint Special Operations Command. “Failure in Afghanistan” would mean “once again, a sanctuary for al-Qaeda.” He added that the Afghanistan-Pakistan area is “unique” — which, between the lines, is meant both to reassure Senators that the administration won’t invade, say, Somalia, and preempt the criticism that its strategy logically opens the door to such a move.
He called setting the July 2011 date for transfer “critical,” and “similar to what we did in Iraq” by “providing overwatch.” (Gee, where’d you read that already?) “We will not repeat the mistakes of 1989, when we abandoned the country,” Gates said, and shifts to reassuring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that the U.S. military will emphasize training Afghan troops. He added the U.S. will emphasize “essential ministries” and work with sub-national and provincial entities. (Again, you read it here first.) This is an “extended surge” (the hat trick!) of 18 to 24 months for U.S. troops, along with 5000 to 7000 troops from NATO allies.
“It does not begin to approach the scale of violence that consumed Iraq” in 2007, Gates said, meaning there is still a chance for “real and meaningful progress over the next 18 to 24 months.”