The Envoy

McChrystal: Ten years in, goals in Afghanistan only “50 percent” met

The Envoy


On the 10th anniversary of the American war in Afghanistan, the former top U.S. military commander in the war said the United States and its allies are only "50 percent of the way" toward achieving their goals.

American military commanders have repeatedly sought over the past decade to "put time on the Washington clock," as retired General David Petraeus once put it, by describing the progress their forces made in the counterinsurgency campaign.

However, Petraeus' predecessor as the top commander in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal, sharply broke with that message Thursday in bracing remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations.

"We didn't know enough and we still don't know enough," McChrystal said, the Guardian's Declan Walsh reported. "Most of us, me included, had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years."

McChrystal resigned his command last year after a Rolling Stone article reported that his staff disparaged the civilian leadership of the war from the White House; a military investigation subsequently cleared him of wrongdoing and questioned the accuracy of the report.

On Thursday, McChrystal said that in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, there was a supportable rationale for the United States' overthrow of the Taliban, al-Qaida's Afghan hosts. But he obliquely questioned the strategic wisdom of the Bush administration's 2003 decision to invade Iraq--at least in the eyes of the Muslim world, as he put it. (McChrystal served in both Iraq and Afghanistan including as commander of special operations.)

"When we went after the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, there was a certain understanding that we had the ability and the right to defend ourselves and the fact that Al Qaeda had been harbored by the Taliban was legitimate," he said. "I think when we made the decision to go into Iraq that was less legitimate" in the eyes of the Muslim world.

Farid Maqsudi, an Afghan-American businessman who travels frequently to Afghanistan, suggested the problem with assessing progress in Afghanistan is that it's a mixed picture, rather than a clear-cut success or failure.

"I don't think it's 'one-step forward, two steps back,'" Maqsudi told The Envoy by email Thursday. "It is one step forward and almost one step backwards."

"We have had an incoherent policy over the last 10 years and and it is still vague," Maqsudi said.

But a decade into America's longest war, Maqsudi said it's still not clear whether the U.S. government has learned much from its experience there.

"Why this 'civilian surge' when they [the civilian personnel of the American government] can't get out of the embassy?"--because of security concerns, he said. "We still think we can solve [it by] throwing lots of money" at the Afghan national army and police.

"We have not set clear goals," said Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia who is the chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, in an interview with The Envoy Thursday. "If you ask Americans ... on the street, 'What's the goal in Afghanistan?,' their eyes will glaze over."

"Was the goal to get rid of al-Qaida? Then we've largely succeeded," Nunn said. "Was it to get rid of the Taliban? That was not the original mission. So it's one of those areas where, has the mission changed, without clear articulation?"

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