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What We Still Don’t Know After the McChrystal/Eikenberry/Petraeus Hearings on Afghanistan

Three days and four hearings on the ground views of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy have just ended. And there are still a number of questions that have gone answered. Here are a few.

  • **What’s the relationship between Operation Cobra’s Anger And Population Security? **Matthew Yglesias tweeted this question to me and it occurred to me I didn’t know the answer. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s entire strategy is based on securing population areas. Cobra’s Anger is the current Marine offensive in the volatile southern province of Helmand. Helmand, as this somewhat outdated map shows, is anything but a population-dense area — but the province does, however, account for 50 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy production. So is Cobra’s Anger the exception from the population-security rule? And for that matter:
  • Which population areas will be secured? No one so much as asked McChrystal to answer this one. I couldn’t tell you what the criteria are.
  • **Will U.S. forces transition security to Afghans while Pakistani safe havens for al-Qaeda still exist? **Signs point to yes. But no one directly asked this question, and accordingly, neither McChrystal nor Ambassador Karl Eikenberry nor Gen. David Petraeus answered. McChrystal ducked a cousin of this question, though.
  • How long will this war last; and how much will it cost? What, you thought you’d get answers to those questions? At least Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) tried.
  • **What will stop the Community Defense Initiative from yielding militias and warlords? **McChrystal professed, a lot, to awareness of the hazards of partnering with local militias outside the bounds of the Afghan army and police. But he didn’t explain how he’d mitigate those risks.
  • What is happening in Bagram’s “Black Jail”? No one even came within 100 yards of asking this question. McChrystal said his ultimate goal was to transition his detention facilities to Afghan control. But what’s happening inside them in the meantime went unaddressed, particularly when it comes to these credible concerns — not proof, but credible reasons for further investigation — of ongoing detainee abuse.

I’m probably forgetting some, so remind me in comments.

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