A. The war in Afghanistan was under-resourced from the start. The United States hasn’t put enough troops there and, perhaps even more fundamentally, hasn’t articulated a clear strategy for winning. You can’t resource a war whose mission isn’t defined. Nor can you marshal the will at home that’s needed to win this war if you view it as a “charity operation.”
Q. How important is it for President Obama to reassure people that the U.S. is going to stay in Afghanistan for the long haul?
A. It’s very important for him to send clear assurances to both the Afghan and American people that convey the endurance of America’s commitment. It’s encouraging that Obama’s listening to different perspectives, but it’s time for him to issue a clear statement of policy.
Q. How do you define success in Afghanistan?
A. Afghanistan will be a success when the government can protect its citizens and provide basic services to them.
[Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff interjected at this point, stressing that success will come when the United States can destroy al Qaeda’s safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan and prevent them from being re-established.]
Q. What percentage of Afghans live in parts of the country where the government has little to no access?
A. It’s hard to say with any certainty, but what’s clear is that Afghanistan’s countryside must be denied to the Taliban. It takes two years to build a school but only a split second for the Taliban to destroy it or murder a schoolteacher. It’s an uphill battle to rebuild the country and establish the government’s legitimacy.
Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.