Selling the Afghan Plan - Clinton Heads to Brussels

Secretary of State Clinton headed to Brussels to attend a meeting of NATO's main political council in an effort to secure more troop commitments for the US-led NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The Secretary of State is also to meet with representatives of the 18 non-NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan or are expected to send troops in 2010.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier in the week that the NATO alliance will contribute at least 5,000 more troops to the war effort "and probably a few thousand more." I suspect that the Administration is probably looking to secure a total of 10,000 troops from our NATO allies. So far here are the announced commitments: Britain has pledged extra 500; Italy "about 1,000"; Poland 600; Portugal 150; Spain 200; Solvakia 250; Macedonia 80. Non-NATO countries include Georgia which is sending 900 and South Korea which will contribute 500. More on the troop level expectations from the BBC.

During her visit, Secretary Clinton is also scheduled to meet separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks on a follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires at midnight Friday. While the President had set a deadline to seal an agreement before the expiration of the SAR Treaty back in July when he visited Moscow, both sides have now said they don't expect to complete a draft agreement before the existing treaty expires. Still both the US and Russia expect to have an agreement in place by the end of the year and in the interim will make arrangements for monitoring each other's nuclear arsenals.

Before Secretary Clinton embarked on her diplomatic mission to sell the Obama Afghan plan, she recorded two separate video messages for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The video messages were intended to "echo the themes and messages" from the President's West Point speech on his Afghan war plan.

From Poppies to Pomegranates

Below are the transcribed remarks of Secretary Clinton to the people of Afghanistan. A link to the video is here.

On Tuesday, President Obama presented an overview of our country's strategy for engagement in Afghanistan and with Pakistan. This strategy is the product of broad consultation, including with many of our partners in Afghanistan. As President Obama described, the United States is committed to Afghanistan's long-term security and stability. Together with our allies, we will pursue a coordinated military and civilian approach to strengthening Afghanistan's government, promoting economic growth, and defeating the insurgents who threaten the stability of your country and the region.

As President Karzai begins his second term, we have a window of opportunity to work together as partners to improve Afghanistan's government to make it more capable, accountable, and effective so it better serves you, the Afghan people. We seek to improve access to education and justice, to strengthen the rule of law and improve governance, and most importantly, to widen economic opportunity and increase jobs so people have the chance to support their families.

We want to help the Afghan people make the move from poppies to pomegranates so Afghanistan can regain its place as an agricultural leader in South Asia. We want to support Afghanistan's efforts to provide for your own security. And we want to help Afghans disrupt, dismantle, and defeat the violent extremist groups that seek to transform Afghanistan into a safe haven for insurgents and terrorists.

We know that the Afghan people are the only ones who can defeat the insurgency once and for all, and you're the only ones who can build a successful democracy that lasts. So the United States is committed to partnering with you, the people of Afghanistan, over the long term as you seek to achieve these goals and build a country that is safe and secure, where your children can live in peace, where families can plan for a better future, and where all people have the opportunity to make the most of your potential. We look forward to working with you for that better future.

Thank you very much.

A Broad Partnership

Below are the transcribed remarks of Secretary Clinton to the people of Pakistan. A link to the video is here.

On Tuesday, President Obama presented an overview of our country’s strategy for engagement in Afghanistan and with Pakistan. This strategy is the product of broad consultation, including with many of our partners in Pakistan.

We join the people of Pakistan in our deep concern about the threat posed by al-Qaida and its extremist allies. We condemn the violence that has been inflicted on innocent Pakistani people in recent months with bombings and other brutal assaults targeting civilians, your military, and other important aspects of your country and society. We are committed to Pakistan’s security, stability, and sovereignty for the long term.

President Obama’s strategy reflects our nation’s commitment to building a broad partnership with the Pakistani people, one based on common values and a shared commitment to democratic rule, robust economic development, the defeat of militants and terrorists who hide along your western border, and the safety and security of all Pakistanis.

We’ve already begun to implement elements of President Obama’s strategy. We have requested a significant increase in economic development assistance, including through the landmark Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. We are launching initiatives to help strengthen Pakistan’s infrastructure, especially in energy and water, which is what the Pakistani people have told us you need, so you can have the resources you require in your homes, schools, and businesses.

And we are committed to strengthening Pakistan’s public institutions so that all people have access to security, education, justice, and most importantly, economic opportunity. As President Obama discussed, the United States has a strong and steadfast interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability. We are determined to work with you as partners in helping you build a stronger nation to make sure your country is not a safe haven for al-Qaida and other violent extremists who threaten your very state.

We know that this is a goal that is important to you as well. We look forward to strengthening and continuing the partnership not only between our governments, but between our people in the months and years to come. Thank you all very much.

Numbers Now and Then

The US now has about 71,000 troops in Afghanistan, while 42 other NATO and non-NATO nations have a total of 38,000 troops in the country. Adding another 40,000 troops will bring the total number close to 150,000 troops. At the height of the Soviet occupation, most experts believe that the Soviets had 118,000 troops of which some 10,000 were special forces.

CIA Authorized to Expand Drone Strikes

Lastly, according to the New York Times the White House has authorized an expansion of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan’s tribal areas in conjunction with the President’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Furthermore US officials are broaching the subject with Pakistani authorities about the possibility of using drones in Baluchistan for the first time. Quetta, the provincial capital, has long been a refuge of the Afghani Taliban leadership.

By increasing covert pressure on Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, while ground forces push back the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan, American officials hope to eliminate any haven for militants in the region.

One of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, the drone program is quietly hailed by counterterrorism officials as a resounding success, eliminating key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray. But despite close cooperation from Pakistani intelligence, the program has generated public anger in Pakistan, and some counterinsurgency experts wonder whether it does more harm than good.

Assessments of the drone campaign have relied largely on sketchy reports in the Pakistani press, and some have estimated several hundred civilian casualties. Saying that such numbers are wrong, one government official agreed to speak about the program on the condition of anonymity. About 80 missile attacks from drones in less than two years have killed “more than 400” enemy fighters, the official said, offering a number lower than most estimates but in the same range. His account of collateral damage, however, was strikingly lower than many unofficial counts: “We believe the number of civilian casualties is just over 20, and those were people who were either at the side of major terrorists or were at facilities used by terrorists.”

That claim, which the official said reflected the Predators’ ability to loiter over a target feeding video images for hours before and after a strike, is likely to come under scrutiny from human rights advocates. Tom Parker, policy director for counterterrorism at Amnesty International, said he found the estimate “unlikely,” noting that reassessments of strikes in past wars had usually found civilian deaths undercounted. Mr. Parker said his group was uneasy about drone attacks anyway: “Anything that dehumanizes the process makes it easier to pull the trigger.”

Yet with few other tools to use against Al Qaeda, the drone program has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and was escalated by the Obama administration in January. More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted under President Obama than under President George W. Bush. The political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.

Tags: Afghanistan, NATO, pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary (all tags)

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