In interviews on CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” James L. Jones said current discussions with Obama revolve around an overall strategy that also includes economic development and strengthening the government. Obama’s strategy also will include continued efforts to build up Afghan security forces, Jones said.
“I think the end is much more complex than just about adding ‘X’ number of troops,” the retired Marine Corps general said. “The key in Afghanistan is to have a triad of things happen simultaneously. Security is obviously one reason, one important thing to take care of, but the other two are economic development and good governance in the rule of law, and on that score, we have a lot more work to do.”
Military leaders, such as Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, have called for a larger military footprint in Afghanistan. Despite those concerns, Jones said, it’s important for the public to understand the U.S. and NATO military effort and its role within the overall strategy there.
Jones said he thinks it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the other elements within the strategy.
“Troops are a consideration,” he said. But he added that bringing hope to the Afghan people through economic development and corruption-free governance while reducing crime and helping the Afghan army and police control their own destiny also are parts of the equation.
Violence in Afghanistan is reaching its highest levels of the eight-year war, but the NATO mission there is not in imminent danger of failing, Jones said. And a well-thought-out strategy and more effort from Afghanistan’s government will keep the country’s future bright, he added.
Jones acknowledged that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration is “going to have to pitch in and do much more than they have.”
The good news in Afghanistan, Jones said, is that al-Qaida’s presence there has diminished. He estimated that fewer than 100 al-Qaida members still operate there, with no bases or buildings from which to launch attacks. He added that he doesn’t believe the Taliban will return to power in Afghanistan, and that the threat lies with the safe havens terrorists have in Pakistan.
“The presence of al Qaida in Afghanistan is virtually minimal,” Jones said, “so we have these safe havens to deal with. We’re working very closely with the Pakistani government and the Pakistani army to try to help them get rid of the insurgency problem on their side of the border. If that happens, that’s a strategic shift in the region.”
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is prosperous and growing, Jones said, recognizing recent successes the Pakistani military has made addressing the safe havens there. The eventual strategy will dictate a regional approach and focus on Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, he added.
“It’s Afghanistan for sure, but it’s also Pakistan, and it’s the region, which is why we reshaped ourselves to deal with this issue in that way,” Jones said. “There are things going on in Pakistan that are very encouraging.”
The United States is committed to ridding the world of radical terrorism, Jones said. He added that nuclear proliferation and weapons falling into the hands of terrorists are among his biggest concerns.
“There are a lot of things that keep me up at night, but if I had to pick one that I thought was most alarming, it’s the question of proliferation and weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists,” he said. “We have to do a better job of explaining to our friends and allies how serious this is. And that’s why, I think, the pursuit of organizations like al-Qaida, wherever they are, has to be an international effort, and we have to be successful.
“At the end of the day,” he continued, “the right way to do this is to present the president with a set of options on what he can do. Afghanistan will be the topic, but it won’t be the only topic. It will be Pakistan. It will be the region. And that’s the way we should do it.”