Think tanks go to the Pentagon
I’ve just returned from a small hour-long briefing at the Pentagon for think tankers with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Brig. Gen. Jon Nicholson at the Pentagon, and while I didn’t get a chance to ask my question until the end while folks were meandering out the door, there were some ...
I’ve just returned from a small hour-long briefing at the Pentagon for think tankers with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Brig. Gen. Jon Nicholson at the Pentagon, and while I didn’t get a chance to ask my question until the end while folks were meandering out the door, there were some interesting thoughts and quotes that I’m going to relay here and let the words speak for themselves. Needless to say, though, both stuck to the message very well. I was surprised to hear that this briefing was the first Pentagon-led outreach effort since the Afghanistan speech last night, though I suppose that makes sense given that Secretary Gates has been on the Hill all day.
Flournoy on President Obama’s review process: the president "could not have been more thorough;" she has "never seen or heard of" such in-depth analysis in government. The U.S. "reaffirmed our core goals" of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies during the review. This three-month long process was an "opportunity to refine our goals" and "take the aspirational rhetoric of the March review and boil it down" to the essentials of how to move forward.
Flournoy commented that though the majority of the press attention has drilled in on the military aspects of the review, most of the "internal work has been focused on the civilian side" and the "how" of moving forward. She said that the "bulk" of the 30,000 additional troops will be in Afghanistan by the summer of 2010, and emphasized that July 2011 is not a pullout date but rather the "end of the surge." Where the transition process between international and Afghan forces begins — which districts and provinces in Afghanistan — "will be conditions-based," she reminded us, and that Obama did not define the "pace, scope, or duration" of the transition. "We are not leaving the region," she said. The U.S. will remain engaged politically, economically, and security-wise.
My colleagues around the table, including fellow Foreign Policy blogger and GW professor Marc Lynch, asked probing questions and Flournoy and General Nicholson, deputy commander of Regional Command South in Afghanistan, handled them adeptly and with nuance. General Nicholson acknowledged that the Afghan National Police mentorship program still needs much improvement, citing that just 25 percent of the ANP have mentorship teams in place. Flournoy commented that the U.S. is making a "big ask of our allies" on that front and observed that growing the Afghan police force in both quality and quantity is the "most challenging" issue for the ANSF.
General Nicholson told us that a "real test of Karzai’s seriousness" about reforming governance in Afghanistan will be whether the Afghan president keeps Mohammad Gulab Mangal, formerly of Laghman and Paktika, on as governor of Helmand province. So I’ll be watching for that in the coming months.
In response to a question about how to improve accountability from Pakistan regarding a sustained military effort against extremists, Flournoy tactfully noted that given the reaction in Pakistan to the conditions attached to the $7.5 billion, 5-year Kerry-Lugar aid bill, "Discussion of conditions and metrics is best done in private." When asked about the use of tribal militias as a means of exerting control over Afghan territory, she told us that given the "decentralization" of Afghanistan, there are areas that will "likely never" have a sustained U.S. or ANSF presence, and in those places, community-based defense forces "might" work.
I’ll update here if my colleagues fill in with their own thoughts on today’s briefing; I left assured that this decision, as Obama said last night, was not taken lightly. And like Marc Lynch, now that the strategy has been announced, I really hope it works.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.