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Nov 19, 2010 | Events

Deep into Afghanistan – An Admiral, a General, an Ambassador and a Sceptic:

Adm. Jim Stavridis, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)

“I agree with President Obama that NATO is the most successful alliance in the history of the world.”

“I believe in the critical value of languages.  In the US only 8% of DOD [Department of Defence] staff speak a second language…By studying them [languages] and studying each other we can learn a great deal.”

“We can have progress in Afghanistan like we had in the Balkans….We will not deliver success in Afghanistan from the barrel of a gun…[We are] hitting our metrics on the way to 300,000 [Afghan national security forces] next year..their quality is rising rapidly…we’ve made tremendous progress in training the Afghan forces…We will not kill our way to success, we can train our way to success.”

On Russia: “there are zones of cooperation for us.  Piracy. Counter-narcotics. Counter-terrorism.  Missile defence.  Arms controls.  Afghanistan.  Today we are talking about purchasing Mi-17 helis [from Russia] to help transition Afghan forces.”

Gen. David Petraeus, Commanding General of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan

Petraeus went to great pains to extol President Karzai, mentioning him no less than eight times over the course of a 45 minute presentation and question and answer session.  In response to recent criticism about special forces and night raids, Petraeus conceded raids “in themselves were not enough.” Initially only cursorily mentioning the ANA and ANP, he moved directly to talking about the value and difference made by Karzai’s Afghan Local Police initiative, calling them “community watch  with AK-47s.”  Later he remarked that in terms of the ANA and ANP, “we are focused quite intensely on attrition…attrition has come down quite substantially but not where we want to see it.  Enlistment and re-enlistment is way up.”  Getting to the 300,000 mark was a “very aggressive goal that seems attainable by next year,” but the issue of quality versus quantity of troops and police was largely bypassed in favour of raw numbers of recruits.

Still, “Kabul is a likely candidate for transition [to Afghan security management, in the next year], which is significant as one sixth of the population lives in Kabul province.”  However, “conditions for transition can’t be driven by [foreign] capitals.  We have to consider mission geometrics.”

On torture and the reintroduction of enhanced integration techniques (EIT): “I would say don’t go there [EIT].  Don’t go there girlfriend, as we say in the US. A) it is not necessary.  B) it is wrong…we must live our values…expedient behaviour will backfire…[It] undermines your cause by waterboarding and other so called enhancements.  At the end of the day they don’t work.”

On criticism of counter-insurgency techniques: “what would they [critics] propose instead?”

“This is a war of ideas and we have to compete in that war.”

Ambassador Mark Sedwill, NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is “a kaleidoscope of insurgencies….90% of insurgents are fighting less than 20 miles from where they were born.  75% within 5 miles.”

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Chairman of the Institute of State Effectiveness, former Minister of Finance of Afghanistan

“There is a series of insurgencies.  The implications are that there will be many agreements, many attempts at peace….As long as we have bad governance we will not have peace.”

“What has changed in the last 9 years.  In NATO in general, and with the US Forces in particular, they have become a learning and listening organization…There is a gap between military and civilian [work]…One of the things we need is a political imagination.”

“UN agencies should shut down in Afghanistan, it’s the best thing they can do. They are not transparent, not accountable…They spent $1 billon on elections and we still don’t have a voter roll, and after 3 elections still indelible ink that does not work…The difference between the UN and NATO is that NATO is hearing, willing to respond….We would love to see reform of the UN in Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan is not about Afghanistan.  It is about the state of the world…This war was not resourced for years…it was a choice to go to Iraq…[Now we need] strategic patience to get it right.”