Washington, D.C.–Commander, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan General David McKiernan argued today that, even though “we aren’t achieving all of our objectives”, polling data show that the vast majority of Afghans accept the presence of foreign forces.  Afghans define “winning”, he noted to an audience at the Atlantic Council, as 1) the security to move around; 2) a government they can trust and will defend; and 3) expectations of economic and social progress.  Even as the Taliban forces are active in some parts of the country, other parts have improved in recent years.

McKiernan thought that the Afghan army was “on the right path”, but the police had a “longer way to go.”  He said Afghan leaders at the national and local levels “must be held accountable.”

Ultimately, a political solution will be needed, according to McKiernan, that can best be attained via community outreach to local leaders and backing of committees they form.  He warned against making deals on a tribal basis, however, because that would inevitably become a grievance for rival tribes.

The general repeatedly stressed the lack of unity within the Taliban and between the Taliban and other insurgent groups.  In response to a question about whether he was concerned that the current Pakistani offensive against the Taliban in Bajaur would lead some Afghan Taliban to remain to fight in Afghanistan this winter, he said that his troops would conduct operations throughout the winter to deal with Taliban in “kinetic or non-kinetic ways.” 

McKiernan pointed out that coordination with the Pakistani army and intelligence had improved.  ISAF/U.S. forces were coordinating tactical operations along the border.  Sharing frequencies and intelligence included providing “Predator feed” to the Pakistanis.  In contrast, there was a “lot of work to do with Pakistani civilians”, he commented.  In a recent meeting with elite Pakistanis in Islamabad, he was asked why the U.S. had sent forces to a peaceful country like Afghanistan and why the U.S. had requested 1,000 Indian troops for Afghanistan (not true, he said). 

More contributions from the European countries in ISAF were needed, said McKiernan.  Their failure to provide more support kept ISAF from exploiting NATO’s natural tactical advantages, and their caveats regarding engagement placed their soldiers at greater risk.  The additional brigades of American troops he was seeking would be used against the Taliban in the south and west, where they now operate with relative impunity.

Remarking that that he did not believe in the “downward spiral” analysis of the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, McKiernan repeated several times:  the glass is half-full.

Kenneth J. Dillon


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