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Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2009 – While the increase of 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan has garnered most of the headlines, a concurrent increase on the civilian side also is occurring, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan told Congress today.
Karl W. Eikenberry, who once commanded troops in Afghanistan, said he is marching in lockstep with Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to put in place the civilian and military strategy in Afghanistan.
“On the civilian side, we aim to increase employment and provide essential services in areas of greatest insecurity, and to improve critical ministries and the economy at the national level,” Eikenberry said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
While security is a key portion of the strategy, so are governance and development, Eikenberry said.
“Since assuming my post, I've made a special point of getting outside of Kabul to see conditions first-hand, and I fully concur with General McChrystal's assessment that the security situation remains serious,” the ambassador said. “Sending additional U.S. and NATO [International Security Assistance Force] forces to Afghanistan is absolutely critical to regain the initiative.”
More troops will mean more security, he said, and will help in training Afghan forces to take over the security mission.
“The second pillar of our comprehensive strategy focuses on governance at the national and the subnational levels,” Eikenberry said. “Our overarching goal is to encourage improved governance so Afghans can see the benefits of supporting the legitimate government and the insurgency loses its support.”
One of the major impediments to implementing the new strategy is the Afghan government’s credibility gap with its own people, he said. “To strengthen its legitimacy, our approach at the national level is improving key ministries by increasing the number of civilian technical advisors and providing more development assistance directly through these ministries’ budgets,” he said.
This focus, the ambassador said, will accelerate building the Afghan government to one that is sufficiently visible, effective and accountable.
“At the provincial and the district levels, we’re working jointly with our military through our provincial reconstruction teams, our district development working groups and our district support teams, which help build Afghan capacity, particularly in the areas of greatest insecurity, in southern and in eastern Afghanistan,” he said.
The ambassador has called for more experts across the board, and especially in agriculture, the largest industry in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan also needs to put in place the rule of law. The national government is steadily building law-enforcement institutions to fight corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking. In his inaugural address for his second term, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he will make merit-based cabinet appointments and will implement an anti-corruption strategy. “We're very encouraged by these statements,” Eikenberry said.
He said the Afghan elections were “difficult,” but that the Afghan government shows signs of recognizing the need to deliver better governance and security. “We await urgent, concrete steps in a number of areas,” he said.
Poppy cultivation and heroin manufacturing are debilitating to anything in Afghanistan. “Our strategy is multi-pronged here, involving demand reduction, efforts by law enforcement agencies and the military to detain traffickers and interdict drug shipments, and support for licit agricultural development,” Eikenberry said.
He said the narcotics problem never will be solved without economic development. The U.S. embassy staff has focused on key elements of Afghanistan’s private-sector economy, increased the emphasis on agriculture, enhanced government revenue collection and improved the coordination of assistance within the U.S. government and the international community.
This is part of a counterinsurgency strategy designed to protect the people and make their lives better. A more effective government lessens support for the insurgency, the ambassador explained.
“Rebuilding the farm sector, in particular, is essential for the Afghan government to reduce the pool of unemployed men who form the recruiting base for extremist groups,” he said.
Military and civilian efforts in the country are buying time for training Afghan security forces and for building Afghan national and provincial institutions goals Eikenberry said are “attainable.”
“The president’s strategy is based upon a pragmatic assessment of the security interests of the United States of America and our belief that a sustainable representative government and a sustainable economy in Afghanistan are essential to our success,” the ambassador said. “We need a viable Afghan government so our forces can draw down, and the investment of U.S. taxpayer dollars can be reduced.”