By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
April 22, 2009 - The United States cannot afford to ignore the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and success or failure in one country likely means the same for the other, a senior Defense Department official told a foreign policy think tank here yesterday. Security in the region is inextricably linked between the two countries and, until now, the United States has viewed them as two separate fights, said Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.
But, to move ahead, she said, an overarching strategy must aim at stopping al-Qaida and other extremists' activities in both countries.
"Instability in Pakistan threatens our efforts in Afghanistan," Flournoy said. "Failure in Afghanistan would increase the risk of failure in Pakistan. And recognizing this interaction must be central to every dimension of our strategy."
Flournoy, who recently co-chaired a review that helped to guide President Barack Obama's strategy in the region, made the comments at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She offered a stark warning that failure in the region would have far-reaching impacts, well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We will all be at risk," she said. "We simply cannot choose to ignore the growth and professionalization of violent extremist groups. And in a nuclear Pakistan, the stakes are as high as they can get.
"Countering al-Qaida and its affiliated groups and preventing catastrophic instability in a nuclear-armed state are absolutely critical, crucial to our security and to international security," she said.
To move forward in Afghanistan, the United States must adequately resource troops on the ground, she said, who have, since the start of the war there, been fighting in an "economy of force" mode as U.S. troops surged to quell violence in Iraq.
"Our troops can do astonishing things with ... even minimal resources, but they can't do magic," Flournoy said. "We need to give our people on the ground, military and civilian, the resources they need to succeed in this mission."
A civil-military counterinsurgency strategy needs to be resourced that can reverse Taliban gains and protect the population, Flournoy said, while at the same time provide Afghan forces with more training and mentoring.
More trainers are needed, she said, and U.S. units deploying to Afghanistan should be given the mission of not only securing the population, but also partnering with local Afghan units to build their capacity. Strengthening and integrating civilian assistance efforts also is critical, she added.
"We plan to significantly increase our civilian expertise and resources, both U.S. and international, in Afghanistan," Flournoy said. "That will involve not only drawing on U.S. government resources, which are too few, but also from the private sector, from think-tanks, from [nongovernmental organizations].
The new strategy also will show a slight shift from solely concentrating on building the Afghan national government, to focusing more resources on building Afghanistan's municipalities, she said. In some remote parts of Afghanistan, she noted, people rarely see their national leaders, and tribal alliances often are stronger than district government ties. The Afghanistan strategy also calls for a more robust counternarcotics effort, Flournoy added.
Eventually, she said, reconciliation efforts will have to include bringing those who once fought on the side of the insurgency back to the side of the Afghan government, and corruption must be culled from the Afghan government.
In Pakistan, efforts must be placed on building Pakistani counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capabilities so that the country's legitimate government can more effectively combat militants at home, she said.
"Pakistan has been both a victim of terrorism and a safe haven for terrorists for too long," she said. "Pakistani democracy needs our support.... We share an enemy."
Greater international support is needed in the region, Flournoy said, and the United States is reaching out to other countries for help.