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National Security Advisor General James L. Jones opened an event at the Center for American Progress on Monday by outlining the administration’s broad national security objectives in advance of the president’s upcoming State of the Union address and the international conference on Afghanistan in London on January 28.
Jones underscored three different components in the administration’s effort in Afghanistan. Militarily, the focus is to target insurgents, train local Afghan forces, and transfer security to the Afghans. On the civilian side, efforts continue on the provision of governance and services at the local level. Jones stated that, “security and prosperity in Afghanistan ultimately rests on good governance and investment in people.” The third component is strengthening the U.S. partnership with Pakistan. Jones cast the efforts in the region as part of a broader national security approach on the part of the administration in which “engagement is not an end to itself, [but] it is a means to an end” that requires diplomatic outreach to allies and adversaries alike.
Jones’s speech was followed by a panel of Afghanistan policy experts who assessed United States’ progress on the “civilian surge,” prospects for reconciliation and reintegration programs for insurgent fighters, and the delivery of reconstruction aid to the country. The panelists included Paul O’Brien, vice president of policy and advocacy at Oxfam International; J. Alexander Thier, director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace; and James A. Bever, director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force at USAID. Caroline Wadhams, CAP Senior National Security Policy Analyst, moderated the discussion.
Wadhams presented the panel with three big-picture questions about the U.S. civilian strategy in Afghanistan to start the discussion, focusing on the United States’ own civilian agencies’ capacity to achieve their stated objectives, the degree to which those objectives could be achieved given the Karzai government’s problems, and whether any progress would be possible if Pakistan refrained from cooperating in crackdowns on insurgent actors sheltering on its side of the border.
Bever stressed that the success of the “civilian uplift” will be based on assistance at the local level, reliable leadership at the upper levels, and strenuous oversight. USAID is currently in the process of more than tripling the number of U.S. officers stationed in Afghanistan to 350 by early spring. Bever explained that this increased presence will allow them to focus heavily on job creation, especially in agriculture. Bever said that USAID would support an “Afghan First” initiative by buying products and services from Afghan private enterprise “wherever we can.” Bever also said that USAID would increasingly channel greater portions of aid to the turbulent south and east, but absolute levels for the north and west would remain the same.
Thier described the evolution of the new U.S. civilian strategy of the last 12 months as akin to “watching the U.S. government awaken from a semicatatonic state in regards to Afghanistan.” He expressed support for many elements of the State Department’s newly announced stability strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but nonetheless warned that there are entrenched problems, such as a lack of consensus among American policymakers over strategies for high-level political reconciliation or broader regional initiatives to address the sanctuary in Pakistan and a persistent lack of Afghan political leadership.
Oxfam International’s Paul O’Brien acknowledged how the U.S. strategy strives to tackle some of his biggest concerns through increasing economic development, tackling the presence of corruption, and making a commitment to funnel more money through local systems and less through outside contractors or nongovernmental organizations. But he voiced a serious concern about the power of development officers in negotiations over how to spend aid money on sustainable long-term development as opposed to quick-impact programs designed to garner political support. He warned that if USAID development officers are not given an equal voice in the creation of the Afghan development strategy as representatives from the defense and diplomatic communities, then these efforts could become another “huge promise with no follow through.”
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