The situation in Afghanistan is “extremely serious,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis wrote, but he expressed confidence that “the coalition, working with the Afghan people, will ultimately win.”
“The stakes are high, [and] the situation is extremely challenging,” Stavridis conceded.
The admiral echoed NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s assessment that success will require an international team effort that brings both military and civilian assets to bear and more effort from the Afghans as well.
“NATO — by which I mean both sides of the Atlantic — will do its full part, but we can’t do it alone,” Rasmussen said.
After two visits to Afghanistan since assuming his dual commands earlier this summer, Stavridis said he agrees that the situation in Afghanistan, although serious, “is far from hopeless.”
“What we do over the next year or so will set the course,” he said.
Stavridis said much of the way forward will hinge on recommendations Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, makes in an assessment expected soon. But pending that assessment, Stavridis noted four fundamental keys to a successful outcome:
— Putting the Afghan people at the center of gravity. Simply killing Taliban forces isn’t enough, Stavridis said. It’s also vital to reduce collateral damage, an effort he said is at the heart of McChrystal’s approach.
— Achieving an effective balance between civil and military activities. Security in Afghanistan requires a combination of economic, political, governance, medical, infrastructure and other deliverables, not just military might, Stavridis said. He cited a “3-D” approach — diplomacy, development and defense — promoted through interagency, international and private sector partners.
— Effective strategic communication. Messages must be well defined and communicated to the citizens of Afghanistan as well as to the 42 nations that make up the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force there, Stavridis said. Meanwhile, he cited the need for a truthful, realistic antidote to negative Taliban messaging.
— Training Afghan security forces. An effective number of trained, equipped and organized Afghan military and police forces is critical to long-term security, Stavridis said. Just how big this force should be will be addressed in McChrystal’s assessment, but Stavridis said ultimately success will boil down to the Afghans’ ability to defend and police their own nation.
Other elements are important, too: potential discussions with the so-called “reconcilable” Taliban, relations with Pakistan and other neighboring states, and counternarcotics work, Stavridis said.
“The needs and challenges are great, but the international community — working together — has sufficient resources,” he said. “The key is partnership, transparency between all actors and timely action.”