Jones: July '11 a 'guide slope,' not 'a cliff'
By John Amick and T. Rees Shapiro
Updated at 1:25 p.m. ET with entire Sunday talk show roundup
CNN: STATE OF THE UNION - Jones: July 2011 a guide, not 'a cliff'
The July 2011 date is not "a cliff" for withdrawing troops in Afghanistan, but rather a "guide slope" or "ramp" in transitioning security responsibilities to Afghans, President Obama's national security adviser James L. Jones said Sunday.
"2011 is not a cliff, it's a ramp," Jones said on CNN's "State of the Union." "And it's when the effects of this increase will be, by all accounts, according to our military commanders and our senior civilians, where we will be able to see very, very visible progress and we'll be able to make a shift."
Despite reports that the White House says the date is "locked in" as the beginning of troop withdrawal, Jones, along with other officials including Defense secretary Robert M. Gates, are communicating a fluid strategy depending on the success of the initial blast of troops.
"We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times," Jones said. "We have -- we're going to be in the region for a long time. We want it to be -- we want this relationship to be, as we have with all struggling democracies, we want to be helpful. We want to transition from more of a purely military relationship to a civilian relationship."
Jones praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai's stated goal of Afghans taking complete control of their country within five years.
"The important thing is that after eight years now, we get on with this," Jones said. "We've had five years in his first administration. We can do much better, and I think there's more focus and more sense of purpose now than ever before. The status quo is clearly not working."
Jones said that the addition of at least 7,000 more NATO troops in Afghanistan, as well as 4,000 to 5,000 Afghans, will allow U.S. forces to concentrate on the crucial border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We have other forces that are working in other parts of the country," Jones explained. "And that will allow us to move our forces back towards the border regions, where really the most important struggle that we're going to have is to make sure that on the Pakistani side of the border, that we eliminate the safe havens."
Jones answered critics that question committing more than 100,000 troops to an Afghanistan that, according to reports, holds fewer than 100 al-Qaeda members and around 20,000 members of the Taliban.
"When you're talking about the number of troops that we're trying to put in there, some of them are support personnel, some of them are training, some of them are mentors. It's not all combat troops," Jones said, repeating the goal of ensuring that al-Qaeda had no safe haven in Afghanistan.
One comparison Jones said the administration hopes to see between this surge in Afghanistan and that of Iraq in early 2007 is that of citizens taking control of their own communities, as Iraqis in the Anbar province did at the time of the Iraq surge.
"We are looking for Afghans, as a result of this renewed commitment for the next two years, to also understand that this is their moment, this is their time to coalesce around an opportunity that they have to make their country what they wish it to be," he said.
Jones also expressed hope that Iran will bend on negotiations over their nuclear capabilities before the end of the year.
"The door is still open, but, unfortunately, the picture Iran is painting is not a good one," Jones said. "But we are still open to negotiations. The IAEA is still working feverishly to try to bring this about. What's on the table is very logical, very fair, very reasonable. And if Iran wanted to signal to the world that it wishes to participate more fully in the family of nations, this is a very, very good way for them to do this."
Feinstein, Kyl see careful way forward in Afghanistan
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) stated their support for President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, yet they disagreed on how committed the president is in staying vigilant beyond July 2011, the stated goal for U.S. troops to begin a drawdown.
"The president has said we're there to win," Feinstein said. "And so if we're there to win, let's have a strategy and the tactics to go with the strategy to win. This surge enables that. It has worked before; it has a chance of working now."
Feinstein went on to highlight the many factors that will determine a workable transition to Afghan control, such as cooperation from the Afghan government, economic development and successful training of Afghan military forces.
Kyl said any stated date is a clear communication of wavering support for the effort and a depleted will, which is important to Afghans and Pakistanis alike.
"They (Pakistan) have sided with us ... I believe, on the assumption that we're going to be there to stay," he said. "So our commitment to support them and to support the Afghanis really needs to be a firm one that they believe in. And, of course, that's important for our NATO allies, as well."
The pace of training the Afghan army may be the most important plank of the next 18 months, Feinstein said.
"The precise amount of time is hard," the senator said. "It took us a long time to train up the Iraq army and police, and a lot of lessons were learned in so doing. I think if those lessons can be applied to Afghanistan, yes, we have a chance of doing it."
Kyl agreed, adding trust in President Karzai to the mix of tenuous factors in Afghanistan.
"He's a very charismatic and very capable leader," Kyl said. "If he commits himself to the goals that both he and the president have talked about here, I -- I believe he can be successful, but he's got to commit himself to those goals, and there's no question that there is corruption within his administration and, some assert, within his family."
FOX NEWS SUNDAY - Petraeus: Afghani leadership is crucial
General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command, said there are two developments necessary for measurable success in Afghanistan: the secured independence of Afghan security forces and the legitimization of government structures.
He said the July 2011 draw down date will be based on district by district recommendations from commanders on the ground and is not a "deadline."Petraeus said President Obama's plan is logical, and applies a message of "urgency" to the Afghan government and U.S. leaders in uniform. The July 2011 date triggers a transition of tasks to Afghan forces, and is not "a rush to the exit," Petraeus said.
Petraeus said Obama acknowledged during national security meetings aspects of the 2007 Iraq surge strategy had been successful, despite never previously acknowledging so in public.
Petraeus said all of those involved in the new surge strategy were careful not to emphasize the similarities of the Iraq campaign and the battlefield in Afghanistan, which Petraeus described as "enormously different."
Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and John Cornyn (R-Ariz.) disagreed about the role of private sector insurers in the wake of health care reform discussions on Capitol Hill. Durbin said an alternative choice must be made available to the American public in order to create competition against what he said were the overly powerful private insurance companies. Cornyn said it is not the role of congress to "demonize" the private sector, and warned federal interference in the insurance field could result in a single payer system that would be detrimental to the American public.
ABC: THIS WEEK - Gates, Clinton defend Obama's Afghan strategy
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense secretary Robert M. Gates started their Sunday talk show blitz with ABC's "This Week" by emphasizing the July 2011 goal for withdrawing some U.S. troops from Afghanistan is part of a transition, not an exit strategy.
"This is a transition that's going to take place," Gates said. "And it's not an arbitrary date. It will be two years since the Marines went into southern Helmand, and that two years that our military leaders believe would give us time to know that our strategy is working. They believe that in that time General McChrystal will have the opportunity to demonstrate decisively in certain areas of Afghanistan that the approach we're taking is working. Obviously, the transition will begin in the less contested areas of the country."
Gates also invoked the surge in Iraq as a type of model for Afghanistan.
"We will do the same thing we did in Iraq, when we transitioned to Afghan security responsibility, we will withdraw first into tactical overwatch, and then a strategic overwatch; if you will, the cavalry over the hill, in case they run into trouble," Gates said.
The complication to any solid plan in Afghanistan lies in the Afghan government, Clinton recognized.
"I can't predict everything that's going to happen with President Karzai," the secretary of state said. "I came away from my meeting with him around the inauguration heartened by a lot of what he was saying. But, you know, the proof is in the pudding. We're going to have to wait to see how it unfolds."
Gates explained that the large of amount of troops is needed -- compared to the low number of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan -- because of what is at stake on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the resolve of extremist forces.
"This is the place where the jihadists defeated the Soviet Union, one superpower," Gates said. "And they believe -- their narrative is that it helped create the collapse of the Soviet Union. If they believe that, if they can defeat us in Afghanistan, that they then have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower ... it creates huge opportunities for them in that area, as well as around the world."
Gates also said "it's been years" since the U.S. has had solid intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.
"I think it's because, if, as we suspect, he is in North Waziristan, it is an area that the Pakistani government has not had a presence in, in quite some time," Gates said, though he is optimistic about Pakistan's progress in the area.
Feingold skeptical of troop surge
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), a critic of a troop escalation in Afghanistan, said adding more troops where the president's strategy has directed them "defies common sense" if the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is the key battleground.
"Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border?" Feingold asked. "You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That's not next door to Waziristan. So I'm wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan?"
Feingold sees a broad approach of blanketing Afghanistan with U.S. troops as counterproductive to stated goals, which are mainly to drive al-Qaeda away from the Taliban and leave extremists without power in the region.
"This boots-on-the-ground approach alienates the Afghan population and specifically encourages the Taliban to further coalesce with al-Qaeda, which is the complete opposite of our national security interest," he said.
The president's strategy will end up pleasing no one, Afghans or Americans, in the end, Feingold said, and a flexibe "rational" timetable is the only way to solve our problems in the region.
"It is certainly not the top priority for the people of the United States, given our economic problems," he said. "So from neither an international nor a national level, does it make sense to put so many resources into a place that doesn't even involve our basic national security needs."
C-SPAN: NEWSMAKERS - Reed: All eyes are on Afghan government
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I) said there is a definite lack of government capacity in Afghanistan. He said in the history of the country, power has never been held from a central government, and has instead been allocated between provincial governments and tribal leaders.
Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, and chairman of the sub-committee on Emerging Threats, said military operations buy time for civilian capacity, and that reforms should be made to acknowledge Afghanistan's cultural tendency toward the provincial government system that has been successful in the past.
He said past Afghan military strategy reviews have been conducted under more favorable economic conditions. Reed said the future of the war, and it's price tag, would be contingent upon raising some revenue, possibly through taxes, and cuts in other arms of defense spending.
He said in making future Afghan strategy decisions the Obama administration should be wary of the tolls eight years of war have had on troop families suffering high divorce rates and mental health issues post-deployment.
CBS: FACE THE NATION - Gates: July '11 'not a deadline'
Defense secretary Robert M. Gates repeated his assertion that the July 2011 date President Obama set was not a rapid withdrawal plan or a deadline, but a conditions-based goal in the transition of power from the U.S. to Afghanistan.
"There isn't a deadline," Gates said. "That we have is a specific date on which we will begin transferring responsibility for security, district by district, province by province, in Afghanistan to the Afghans."
Sec. of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expanded on the July 2011 goal, saying that while "it's very hard for any of us to be armchair generals," the fact that a coordinated strategy is in place is key in meeting any troop-level goals.
"What we have done and what the president's direction to the commanders on the ground is very clearly, we want this to move," Clinton said. "We want it to move quickly. We want to show urgency about our aims here. And we do expect to start this transition in July 2011. And I think everybody is very clear about that. All of the generals are. We certainly are. But it's hard to sit here today in Washington and predict exactly what that pace will be."
Gates wanted to make clear that come a transition, Afghanis should not feel abandoned as they did in 1989 after fending off the Soviet Union.
"As the security component comes down, the economic development, and the political relationship will become a bigger part of the relationship," Gates said of a responsibility shift. "We're not going to abandon Afghanistan like we did in 1989. But the nature of the relationship will change."
The Afghan government's role in curbing corruption is key in the process, but Gates asserted that America will only concern itself with areas of the government that impact U.S. strategy.
"One of the refinements in this strategy is we are not doing full-scale nation building," he said. "What we are going to do is focus on the ministries that matter to our success and that contribute to the success of our strategy both with respect to Al Qaeda and stabilizing the security situation."
NBC: MEET THE PRESS - Casualties, progress to come
Defense secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged there would be a rise in American casualties following the implementation of the troop surge in Afghanistan, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said with support from NATO allies, in the next 12 to 18 months it will be possible to see progress toward a successful long term outcome.
Gates said in July 2011 U.S. Forces would begin to thin out but that the pace and from where the drawn down would occur is to be determined after a strategy review at that time.
Clinton said Pakistan has made a significant effort in the past year to help the U.S. battle Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces hiding out in the Pakistan-Afghan border region.
December 6, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , National Security , Sunday Talkies | Tags: afghanistan, gates, jones
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