Three independent reports have concluded this month that a major new effort is needed to succeed in Afghanistan. These reports – by the Afghanistan Study Group, established by the Center for the Study of the Presidency following the Iraq Study Group; the Strategic Advisors Group of the Atlantic Council of the United States; and the National Defense University – concur that without prompt actions by the U.S. and its allies, the mission in Afghanistan may fail – causing severe consequences to U.S. strategic interests worldwide, including the war on terrorism and the future of NATO. The U.S. cannot afford to let Afghanistan continue to be the neglected, or forgotten, war.(Only the ASG report seems to be available on the web -- I would be grateful for pointers to the other reports.)
This morning (Thursday January 31, 2008) the co-chairs of the ASG, General James Jones and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, will be testifying at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They will be preceded by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and joined by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
Readers of this blog will not find anything new or surprising in the ASG report. They will just find many of the same judgments echoed in a more considered establishmentarian tone of voice.
On the Ashdown smash down: a more considered view will follow. Just a note from Kabul (where I am currently defrosting slightly after a cold snap): Zalmay Khalilzad did not plot to undermine Ashdown to clear the way for a presidential bid. According to quite good reports (not from Khalilzad), he did his best to convince President Karzai to accept the proposal.
(As Khalilzad is the only member of the entire Bush/Cheney foreign policy and security team who still has a chance of escaping the sinking ship with his reputation afloat, some nuts in the White House are now attacking him for sitting next to the Foreign Minister of Iran on a panel at Davos, where Khalilzad faithfully reiterated the administration's position and never spoke to or greeted Minister Manouchehr Motakki.)
The super-envoy position may not have been defined as needed to be effective; Ashdown may or may not have been the right person for the job, and he may or may not have focused too much on pressuring the Afghan government rather than disciplining the internationals; but the way in which President Karzai handled this decision has damaged his relations with the US, UN, and UK at a time when he needs to conserve his political capital to resist pressures for some major unwise policy decisions.
Besides the well-known dispute over aerial poppy eradication and eradication in areas where farmers have no alternative livelihoods (but are said to be "greedy and corrupt"), the US is now pressing the Afghan government to use the Afghan National Army to provide security for eradication operations. Sources in the Afghan government who do not wish to be named state that this will make the ANA fight the people and destroy its morale. Morale is already falling, since mullahs who conduct funeral services for fallen ANA soldiers risk assassination. But the Bush administration is apparently determined to wreck its one partial success story in Afghanistan before leaving office.