Senate Democrats

President Obama Outlined a Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan To Deny al Qaeda Safe Haven and Reverse Taliban Momentum

Last week, President Obama announced a new way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The revised approach emerged out of a deliberate and disciplined review process, in which the President consulted a wide range of military and civilian leaders, as well as key allies and partners, to reverse the dangerous strategic drift inherited from the previous Administration and to determine the best strategy for protecting our nation and enhancing our security interests in the region.  The President outlined a comprehensive plan to integrate military, civilian, and intelligence resources toward a clear and narrowly defined goal: defeating al Qaeda and reversing Taliban momentum.  While many have focused on the decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops, the strategy contains numerous fundamental shifts from previous approaches, including major enhancements to civilian efforts and a significant redefinition of our relationship with Pakistan.  This fact sheet highlights key elements of this new approach. 

A clear, focused mission.  The President reaffirmed the core goal of our mission in Afghanistan, which he first enumerated in March 2009: “Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” 

The President emphasized the necessity of this effort to ensuring regional stability and our national security:

·         Critical national security interests are at stake in the region: al Qaeda and the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 continue to threaten our homeland, our allies, and interests around the world.  President Obama asserted that “I am convinced our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda.  It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.  This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.  In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror.  This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.  We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.”

·         The current situation is unsustainable.  President Obama stated that “There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum.  Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border.  And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population.  Our new Commander in Afghanistan – General McChrystal – has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated.  In short: the status quo is not sustainable.”

A comprehensive civil and military strategy – employing all elements of our national power – to achieve this mission.  President Obama outlined “three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”

·         Military strategy to reverse the momentum of the Taliban, deny al Qaeda a safe haven, and speed the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan forces.  The President announced the accelerated deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in support of “a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.”  He stated that these forces “will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest possible pace – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.  They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight.  And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.” 

·         Civilian strategy to combat corruption, build the capacity of the Afghan government, and rebuild the Afghan economy.  President Obama pledged that we will “work with our partners, the UN, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security… We will support Afghan Ministries, Governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people.  We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable.  And we will also focus our assistance in areas – such as agriculture – that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.”

·         Effective partnership with Pakistan.  “Recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan,” the President stated that, “Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust.  We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear.  America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development.  We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting.  And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.”

Accelerated training of the Afghan security forces.  As President Obama detailed, a central purpose for the deployment of additional U.S. and international forces into Afghanistan in the coming months is to significantly speed the training of the Afghan army and police, so that they can increasingly assume lead security responsibility.  In the President’s words, “these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.  Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.  We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.  But it will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.” 

Greater international involvement.  President Obama emphasized that “this burden [in Afghanistan] is not ours alone to bear.  This is not just America’s war.”  He underscored that the mission has and must continue to be an “international effort” stating that, “I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.  Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan.  Now, we must come together to end this war successfully.  For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world.”

Accountability and good governance.  The President called for increased focus on efforts to combat corruption, promote good governance, and ensure that the Afghan government is a viable partner.  In the speech, he said, “The days of providing a blank check are over.  President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction.  And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance.”

No open-ended commitment. While reaffirming our long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan, the President made clear that we will not maintain an increased combat force level there indefinitely.  The President set a timeframe for beginning to transfer lead security responsibility to the Afghans, stating that we would begin to transition our combat forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.  He pledged that we will “execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.  We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.” 

No endless escalation, no nation building.  In his speech, the President explicitly opposed calls “for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade.  I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.  Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government.  It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

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