What I Heard Last Night

Last night, I accompanied the President to West Point as he spoke to the American people about his decision on the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This was an important moment for America, delivered in a stirring yet sober setting.  Over four thousand people filled Eisenhower Hall -- proud and patriotic cadets and their families, West Point leadership, and members of the local community.  Also in the audience were Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, Secretary Shinseki, General Petraeus (a graduate of West Point, along with General McChrystal), Admiral Mullen, members of Congress, and General Doug Lute and John Tien (also West Point graduates and members of my National Security Staff).

President Obama announced that he is ordering an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan.  He highlighted that a large portion of these troops will be trainers, critically important as we have to start partnering Afghan security forces with our security forces in the field so that they are actually getting experience in securing these areas, and are then prepared to take a handoff as U.S. troops draw down.  In the summer of 2011, we will begin a transition from this extended surge and start to transfer security responsibility to Afghan Security Forces.  The slope, pace, and end point of this drawdown will be based on conditions on the ground.  We will begin to make those assessments in December of 2010 after these additional troops have been in country for a year and we will be able to measure the progress that has been made with this strategy.

The President made it clear that he did not make this decision lightly.  He made it because our own national security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan: it is from this region that our country was attacked on 9/11, and it is where new attacks are being plotted.  This is the reason American troops and those of our international allies are risking their lives.  This resonates with Americans from all backgrounds.  And having served in Afghanistan and Iraq during my forty years in the Marine Corps, I know this was the right decision.  Our entire national security team is committed to the success of this strategy and we will hold ourselves and our partners accountable as we move forward to implement the President’s vision.

The President emphasized that the core goal of our mission in Afghanistan is unchanged from the strategy decision he made in March of this year: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.  We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.  And in this process, the President is going to hold the government of Afghanistan accountable for its performance, as he declared that the days of providing a blank check are over.  We are committed to good governance in Afghanistan, all the more important now that their President begins his second term in office.  The President speaks directly with President Karzai often, and has outlined to him the steps that we expect the Afghan government to take in improving governance and delivering services to its people.
                                                                    
We cannot separate our strategy in Afghanistan from our strategy in Pakistan.  We will continue to use all aspects of our diplomatic and development tools to work with the Pakistanis to keep up the pressure on the extremists that are within their borders and the safe havens that exist there.

As the President said last night, we must come together to end this war successfully.  What is at stake is the security of our homeland, our allies, and the common security of the world.

General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret) is National Security Advisor

Related Topics: Defense, Foreign Policy
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