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Flournoy at AEI: al-Qaeda Has ‘Got To Be Very Worried’

As announced last week, Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon’s policy chief, explained and defended the Obama administration’s Afghanistan strategy this morning at epicenter of neoconservatism in semi-exile, the American Enterprise Institute. Many of the scholars around AEI have overcome their antipathy toward President Obama to applaud the strategy, even if misgivings linger over the July 2011 “strategic inflection point” to begin transferring security responsibilities to the Afghans. Flournoy, reiterating a point made by several cabinet officials on the Sunday shows, took those misgivings head-on in her talk. “We will not walk away from Afghanistan when the combat mission ends,” she said, even repeating the point for emphasis; and the “pace of the drawdown” of U.S. forces after July 2011 will be “determined by events on the ground.”

Flournoy gave some additional details about both the strategy and its implementation, as did her co-panelists, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Paul Jones and Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell. The July 2011 date for beginning the security transition was “not arbitrary,” she said, but the result of “district by district analysis” during the strategy review about what a realistic timeline for that transition was. Asked by TWI to clarify how large the Afghan Army and police ought to grow to take over security responsibilities — a point somewhat obscured in last week’s congressional testimony — Flournoy declined to cite a specific figure, saying instead the Obama administration will measure the Army and police annually to determine progress in “recruitment, retention, reduc[ing] attrition, [and] performance to “set the next year’s targets based on performance, in part, of the last year.” She said that the administration is in ongoing dialogue with Canada and the Netherlands, two allied countries scheduled to remove their troops from Afghanistan in 2010, about possible continued contributions to the war effort. “All options are still on the table in discussion,” Flournoy said. And she said that as happy as the administration was to receive a new NATO troop commitment of 7,000 after last week’s NATO foreign ministerial summit, the administration expects “additional allied troops” to be promised “in the weeks ahead.” (Hey, where’d you read that last week?)

Flournoy stepped back from those details at the conclusion of the event to envision a sort of virtuous circle taking place in terms of the degradation of al-Qaeda and its affiliated insurgent and terrorist groups on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “I think they’ve got to be worried,” she said. Between the “increased forces, increased show of resolve, increased commitment [and] increased investment” by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and greater pressure “from the Pakistani military than ever before,” the insurgent coalition could start to “lose foot soldiers in droves.” She cited the lack of ideological commitment of the Afghan Taliban’s forces in particular, and said that if the U.S. could start “changing the dynamic on the ground” both militarily and economically for Afghan civilians, the insurgent coalition would “have to be very worried.”

Frederick Kagan, an adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s summer strategic review and AEI’s moderator, endorsed at least that sentiment. However odd it might be to see a Democratic administration send representatives to AEI, Kagan said, he hoped that the country could put domestic political disputes aside to support the Obama administration’s strategy for the region.

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