As President Obama prepares to announce his new strategy in Afghanistan, it is vital to note that success or failure will not be determined by our military footprint alone. With mounting press speculation regarding a possible increase in U.S. troop levels, we should consider General McChrystal's warning that "focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely." Even more important is the level of commitment from our Afghan and international partners. In his second term, President Karzai must act decisively to improve security, deliver basic services, and rid the government of corruption.
When I met President Karzai during a September visit to Kabul, we discussed the effectiveness of counterinsurgency strategy and the importance of stronger governance at all levels - national, district, and provincial. President Karzai must do a better job of delivering essential services because, ultimately, this is a battle for legitimacy between his government and the Taliban. This battle must be fought with the Afghans in the lead and the U.S. in a supportive role, because without a true Afghan partner, the U.S. military presence can only go so far.
The best defense against the Taliban is an effective Afghan government. As such, I urge President Karzai to work with the United States and other international partners to produce specific and measurable guidelines for combating corruption, improving government transparency and accountability, providing essential services, strengthening rule of law, tackling the drug trade, and improving economic conditions. Clear benchmarks must be set, and progress must be monitored to ensure compliance at every level.
This plan cannot be limited to Kabul. Government officials in the provinces and districts must be well qualified and empowered with the necessary authorities and budgets to improve the lives of all Afghans. We must work together to undermine the Taliban's foothold and role as a de facto provider of rule of law and basic services, especially in the south. To further support these goals, I urge President Karzai to appoint competent governors and cabinet members who adhere to international human rights standards and the rule of law, and are respected by the Afghan people.
I welcome President Karzai's recent characterization of corruption as a "dangerous enemy of the state," but rhetoric must be matched with action. This problem cannot be addressed with words alone. Numerous criminal cases involving government officials - such as recent allegations that the Afghan Minister of Mining accepted a $30 million bribe as part of an illicit deal with a Chinese mining firm - must be thoroughly investigated. No one is above the law, and anyone embroiled in corruption or illicit behavior should be held accountable.
Another element of success in counterinsurgency is the training and deployment of effective national security forces. I am pleased by President Karzai's stated intention to assume complete Afghan control over security within five years. I also echo his calls for NATO partners to take more effective steps to accelerate the training of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).
Currently, there are not enough Afghan and international forces on the ground to "clear and hold" against the Taliban. In fact, the number of trained Afghan security forces is less than one-third those in Iraq - a geographically smaller country with nearly the same-sized population. The training of the ANA and ANP must be expedited to build a stronger force of needed counterinsurgents, with the near-term goal of transferring responsibility to the Afghans.
During my two trips to the region this year, I was impressed by the vision and fortitude of the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan people identified security as a key concern and wanted a swift transition from international to Afghan forces. Americans also hope for a swift transition, so we can eventually end our military presence and bring our brave troops home.
As we stand on the cusp of history together, the United States and Afghanistan are allies with shared goals and coinciding interests. It is now incumbent upon President Karzai to fulfill the promises articulated in his inauguration speech so that we can realize our common objectives. At this critical juncture, we must hold the Afghan government accountable for its actions and urge renewed leadership, determination, and resolve.