President Obama’s welcome reversal of his draw-down decision in Afghanistan has given the U.S. and Afghan government a chance to achieve a favorable and durable outcome. Instead of drawing down all forces by the end of 2016, 5,500 will remain indefinitely to train Afghan Security Forces and to conduct Counterterrorism missions.
Now it is time to put someone in charge to deliver a successful outcome. That person should be a civilian.
I have argued extensively that troop presence is necessary but not sufficient for a successful outcome. A new strategy was needed that would put the Afghan government in the best possible position for a peace process. This would require major reforms in the kleptocratic Afghan government, addressing malign activity from regional neighbors (especially Pakistan), and developing a clear and compelling road-map for a peace process.
President Obama thankfully announced the need for each of these steps. I worry, however, that the U.S. and Afghan governments will fail to execute them.
That he was joined in this major announcement by only Department of Defense officials is highly disconcerting. Where was the State Department? They will surely lead US efforts in support of Afghan political reform, peace process, and regional diplomacy. They will need the support of the President and DoD every step of the way.
In fact, a State Department or Senior U.S. Civilian Official should be in change of the effort in Afghanistan going forward, to include executing the major steps outlined by President Obama. The military commander on the ground should be subordinate.
The civilian in charge should be supported by an interagency staff and be given the authority to direct and manage all elements of U.S. national power deployed to Afghanistan. She should be responsible and accountable for delivering a successful outcome.
Failure to take this critical step increases the risk that the U.S. will continue to fall victim to thepoorly integrated and stovepiped efforts that have undermined the mission to date.