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Seizing the Opportunity for Progress

July 21, 2009

Ambassador Said T. Jawad

"If we continue to implement the new strategy and invest in building the capacity of the Afghan security forces, we will see significant changes and results within six to nine months. We understand in Afghanistan, we are aware of the pressure that exists in public opinion and other institutions to show results in Afghanistan. We are on the right track."How has the Afghan government been involved in the reformulation of the new U.S. strategy towards the war?

When the new strategy was formulated for the first time, the U.S. government did involve both the military officials and government officials of Afghanistan through a series of meetings in Kabul and here in Washington, including the minister of defense, the minister of finance, officials from the office of the president and the embassy of Afghanistan. They were all involved in developing the new strategy and extensive consultation took place.

What kind of coordination has there been between the U.S. and Afghan governments in terms of the new influx of U.S. troops?

The influx of the additional troops is something the Afghan government and Afghan people have been demanding for a long time. Under the current security threat, we do need to increase the strength and capabilities of the troops in Afghanistan. Of course, the more sustainable and long-term solution is to build this capacity in Afghanistan by building a more capable Afghan army and national police force. However, it takes time to bring the Afghan security forces to the level that is desired and is needed. Therefore, temporary influxes of additional troops by the U.S. and NATO are necessary to provide security for the Afghan people.

How is the training of the Afghan army and police force proceeding at this point?

The training of the Afghan National Army is going well. There has been, from the very beginning, a lot more focus, attention and resources allocated to the training of the Afghan National Army. The initial ceiling that was set for 70,000 was very low. Now, there is a better degree of understanding of the challenges that we are facing and therefore this number has been increased to 134,000. However we think that under the current security threat Afghanistan needs an army of 250,000 strong. This will be the most sustainable, cost-effective way of ensuring security in Afghanistan. There is a national police force, but training and equipment for the national police force was neglected for a long time. Now, there is attention and focus by all our partners, especially the United States, which has once again taken the lead role in building the Afghan police force. Progress has been made, but we have a long way to go in order to improve the training, professionalism and equipment of the Afghan national police force.

As more soldiers are trained, is there a plan to increase Afghan presence alongside U.S. and British soldiers?

Certainly, that’s what is desired by our partners, that’s what the intention is, for the Afghans to fight alongside the British, American and other NATO forces. They are doing it already, right now, but because of the shortage of the Afghan troops, we don’t have an adequate number of the Afghan army serving everywhere. But since they are serving and performing very well, there is a huge demand by all of our partners for additional Afghan national troops to serve alongside them. And we think that this is the best way for our troops to learn more, by fighting alongside American and British forces and gradually taking the responsibility for fighting and securing Afghanistan.

What role can the international community play in Afghanistan, going forward?

We are very grateful for the role that the international community has been playing so far in Afghanistan, both in terms of providing us with military assistance and with providing us with soldiers that provide safety and security in Afghanistan, the region and the world, as well as their financial assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. There is more focus today by all of our partners, especially by the United States of America, to make the safety and security of the Afghan people the first priority of this mission. We welcome this development. The primary focus of the new U.S. strategy is the safety and security of the Afghan people.

In terms of Afghanistan’s regional neighbors, what role do you think they can help play in improving the situation in Afghanistan?

There is a history of our relations with some of our neighbors, which is unfortunately complicated, but today’s reality is that Afghanistan, Pakistan and many countries around Afghanistan are suffering from the same threat, which is terrorism and extremism. So we are asking our friends and neighbors in the region not to use terrorism and extremism as a tool of foreign policy and to realize that these are the real enemy of Afghanistan and the region, and work with the Afghan government, the United States and NATO countries in a more sincere way to fight extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan and the region. There are also other threats that are binding Afghanistan with other neighbors, such as Iran, for instance—mainly narcotics and lawlessness. So there are many other opportunities and threats that force Afghanistan and its neighbors to work closely, to capitalize on the opportunities and to fight against the threat collectively.

As the Pakistanis carry out their recent wave of counter-terrorism efforts in Swat and elsewhere, how has the coordination been with Afghanistan and has there also been an impact on the Afghan side of the border?

Relations with the civilian government has improved drastically within the last year, and there have been frequent visits and close cooperation between the civilian leadership of the Pakistani government and the Afghan government, but there is a lot of room for improvement as far as cooperation in the area of intelligence, border crossings and transits are concerned. So we are hoping that we will be able to improve and have a better degree of cooperation in the areas of security and intelligence sharing, as much as we have in the areas of political cooperation between the two countries.

In terms of the recent ministerial level trilaterals between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan have any of the things that have been committed to been institutionalized in the ministries?

We have made significant progress in the area of trade and transit after these meetings. There is a better degree of cooperation and mutual trust traded between the line ministries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a very good beginning and we are really looking forward to expand on what’s been accomplished here in Washington, and there are frequent visits now taking place between Kabul and Islamabad, at the operational level, at the cabinet level, that are helpful in bringing the two countries together to fight the same enemy.

Has there been any improvement on channeling aid through ministries rather than the donor countries retaining control of different projects and has this impacted the government’s ability to govern?

Very, very good point. We have been asking for more support for the national budget of Afghanistan. In certain areas, especially in areas of health care and education, there has been a lot of improvement and more funding and money has been allocated to the ministries of health and education. We are also seeing a better degree of willingness on the part of the donor community to support our ministry of agriculture which is an important sector for the economy of Afghanistan. The movements are on the right track. Fortunately, we have also a very solid track record of proving that we get a lot more out of every dollar being spent through the budget of the Afghan government, the health sector being a prime example. The ministry of health of Afghanistan took the leadership, and USAID and other donor communities have supported the ministry directly, and we have very significant accomplishments as far as deliveries of basic health care throughout the country.

Along that same track, what kind of commitments have you seen in response to the request for the 600 technical experts to shadow the agencies?

First, we really welcome another aspect of the new U.S. strategy, which is to have more experts being sent to Afghanistan from line ministries, or departments here in the U.S. For instance, the fact that more people from the Department of Agriculture or HHS or Drug Enforcement Agency are going to Afghanistan is a welcome step. We think these people are true experts and are truly committed and they will perform much better than some of the contractors who are doing these kinds of assignments because of the commercial interests that they have. We think that the infusion of the civilian experts to Afghanistan should take place in a gradual manner; they should be paired with Afghans; they should stay in Afghanistan for a year or longer to learn more about the culture in the country; and their role should be regarded as technical assistance.

How has the cooperation been between Afghan and U.S. troops on reducing civilian casualties since the arrival of General McChrystal?

The reason that we were seeing an unacceptable level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan was not so much lack of cooperation between the Afghan National Army and the U.S. forces; it was mostly due to either faulty intelligence or inadequate numbers of troops and equipment. There has been improvement in the number of the troops and the equipment has been improved, there are more helicopters on the ground. So in the past, when there were reports of terrorist activities, in a small village for instance, instead of going to that village with a commando unit to carry out a surgical operation and either kill the terrorist or capture them alive—which is more important, and has more value—more U.S. forces and NATO forces were relying on high-altitude bombing, which caused collateral damage and killed civilians. So we do see an improvement in this regard and General McChrystal has clearly made a priority to ensure the safety and security of the Afghans who are the real asset to us, if we want to win this war in the long run.

What kind of security and other preparations are being made for the elections in August?

The security arrangement for the elections follows the same pattern that we used in the previous presidential and parliamentary elections. There are three circles of security around each polling station. The first one, and the closest one, is manned by the Afghan police force. The second, the largest circle, is controlled by the Afghan National Army. The larger responsibility in case they are needed will be carried by the international NATO and U.S. security forces. So while no security forces, Afghan or international, will be allowed to enter into the polling station, by Afghan law, the primary belt around those polling stations will be manned by Afghans, the second by the Afghan National Army and the third by international forces.

Secretary Gates made a comment yesterday about the United States needing to show success within one year to maintain support for the war. What are your thoughts on that comment?

If we continue to implement the new strategy and invest in building the capacity of the Afghan security forces, we will see significant changes and results within six to nine months. We understand in Afghanistan, we are aware of the pressure that exists in public opinion and other institutions to show results in Afghanistan. We are on the right track, and I think we will see significant change within six to nine months in the area of security and military operations in Afghanistan.