and Myanmar in the
map are not members
in Afghanistan 'Fragile and Reversible'
ERNEST COREA (IDN)
national poll showing diminished American support for the U.S. war in
Afghanistan served as a backdrop to the Obama Administration's rollout
of a report outlining progress on the war front. The report recorded
gains but was laced with cautionary caveats.
A new ABC-Washington Poll found that 60 percent of Americans consider
the war not worth waging, up 7 points from July. Only 34 percent believe
that the war has been worth fighting. The 60 point disapproval rating
coincides with American attitudes to the war in Iraq during the second
term of President George W. Bush.
The drop in support could reflect public disquiet over an increase in
American losses. Four hundred and eighty-nine U.S. soldiers died and
4,481 were wounded in 2010. The figures for 2009 were 317 dead and 2114
wounded. Details of past and recent casualties in the Afghan war are
available at http://www.icasualties.org.
Complementing diminished American support for the war, Afghan support
for the U.S. troop surge has dropped from 61 percent one year ago to 49
percent. Over half support the withdrawal of foreign troops beginning
Asked specifically at a media briefing how the U.S. could continue to
fight a war with public support eroding, Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton replied: "I'm well aware of the popular concern and I
understand it. But I don't think leaders, and certainly this President,
will make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future
security of our nation based on polling. That would not be something
that you will see him or any of us deciding."
The White House report on December 16, meanwhile, said that notable
gains were made on all fronts "although these gains remain fragile
and reversible." The challenge that the U.S. faced, therefore, was
to make the gains "durable and sustainable."
The Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review, on which the report is
based, was undertaken in response to a directive from President Barack
Obama in December 2009 requesting his national security staff to lead a
"diagnostic" study of U.S. strategy.
Contributions were drawn from across the U.S. government, and
consultations were held with U.S. allies and partners in the region as
well. The full review remains classified at this time.
The rollout involved the release of a five-page summary of the review
(for full text, please see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/12/16/overview-afghanistan-and-pakistan-annual-review)
and a series of interactions between senior administration
representatives and the media. Obama himself, as well as Vice President
Biden, Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, and the staff of the
office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP)
Obama was emphatic about the "core goal" of the war in
Afghanistan. He said: "It's not to defeat every last threat to the
security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must
secure their country.
"And it's not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build
their nation. Rather, we are focused on disrupting, dismantling and
defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and preventing its
capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future."
Reporting that significant progress had been made towards reaching the
"core goal," he explained: "Today, al Qaeda's senior
leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under
more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years
ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It's harder for them to recruit;
it's harder for them to travel; it's harder for them to train; it's
harder for them to plot and launch attacks.
"In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to
ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient
enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake -- we are going
to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist
Acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero, summarizing the findings of the review,
said: "in the core objectives in Afghanistan -- or in Pakistan --
the primary objective was to prevent the core al-Qaeda from being a
threat to the United States homeland. I think there's been significant
progress in taking out the command and control apparatus of core al
Qaeda in Pakistan.
"There has been significant activity on the part of the Pakistani
military in terms of going after the sanctuaries that are used by al
Qaeda and related extremists groups in the FATA (Federally Administered
Tribal Areas) and the North-West Frontier Provinces. And in Afghanistan,
I think we've made significant progress in stemming the momentum of the
Taliban, which was one of the core objectives of the President's
strategy, and in some areas, arresting that -- or reversing that
"So on those two core objectives, we have made progress over the
past year, and we've done it in both cases in a civ-mil cooperative
fashion with the Department of Defense, specifically in Afghanistan,
where over 1,100 American civilians are now deployed to work
hand-in-hand at the most basic level in Afghanistan with our military
"And in Pakistan, we've done this through really an enhanced
strategic partnership that every member of this team has been actively
involved in. We've done three of them (partnership meetings) this year,
but that has really moved the relationship with Pakistan from one that
was transactional in nature to one that is strategic in nature that
allows us to achieve greater cooperation with the Government of Pakistan
on our shared common strategic objectives."
All those entrusted with carrying out U.S. strategy would probably have
preferred going into print without caveats, but that sense of caution
strengthened the report's credibility. It covers a number of
"positive" developments but it is by no means an essay in
cock-a-hoop triumphalism. Nevertheless, reactions that are less upbeat
are in circulation as well.
Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post's award-winning columnist,
commented: "The good news is that President Obama's strategy in
Afghanistan is on track. The bad news is that the track runs in a
On the eve of the White House report's release, the New York Times said
that classified intelligence estimates are even less optimistic, and
hold out the possibility of mission failure unless insurgents working
out of havens on the Afghan border are hunted down.
This view coincides with unconfirmed speculation in the region that al
Qaeda and Taliban operatives carry out ambushes and attacks in
Afghanistan and quickly slip back into Pakistan for rest, recreation,
Perhaps more chilling than reports from intelligence sources is the
assessment of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that
.civilian casualties, internal displacement, and insufficient access to
medical care, which were all experienced in 2010, will continue well
Afghanistan, where the ICRC has been working since 1979, is the site of
the organization's largest operation worldwide with over 1,750 staff
based in 15 offices, and a budget for 2011 of $89 million.
"In a growing number of areas in the country, we are entering a
new, rather murky phase in the conflict in which the proliferation of
armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organizations to
reach the people who need their help," says Reto Stocker, head of
the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan.
"One armed group may demand food and shelter in the evening, then,
the next morning, another may demand to know why its enemy was given
sanctuary." The emerging groups, which also include criminals,
remain difficult to identify.
"Many people see fleeing as their only solution and many end up in
camps for the displaced or with relatives in neighbouring
districts," said Stocker.
ICRC reported as well that as the conflict intensified and expanded
geographically, so have civilian casualties once again increased in
comparison with previous years. Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar,
serving around four million people, has admitted over 2,650
weapon-wounded patients so far in 2010, compared with just over 2,100 in
Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan but he cannot now disown it. In
fact, during the presidential campaign he implied that it was not a
"dumb war" -- unlike the war in Iraq -- and indicated that if
elected he would provide U.S. forces with what was needed for them to
actually accomplish the mission of "disrupting, dismantling and
Was he snookered into taking that position in public? His opponents
constantly suggested that he was ignorant, inept, and unprepared,
perhaps unwilling as well, to protect the country from its enemies.
Taking a tough stance on Afghanistan was reassuring to many. His liberal
supporters who now would prefer that the U.S. cuts and runs from
Afghanistan did not overtly oppose his sentiments, presumably supposing
that this was "just politics."
Now, it turns out, bringing the war in Afghanistan to a successful
conclusion is more than a military matter. It includes, for instance,
engaging with a wobbly partner in Kabul, and coping with Pakistan's
fractured polity. As well, it involves continuously maintaining the
support of 49 partners many of whose publics would prefer not to be part
of the war at all. The war also consumes horrendous expenditure while
the U.S. and others grapple with a recession that won't quite go away.
| Analysis That Matters]
served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA.
He was Chairman of the Commonwealth's Select Committee on the media and