Unity is necessary to reach military goals

As we embark on a critical stage of the war in Afghanistan, it is essential U.S. military and civilian agencies speak in one voice and implement a unified vision. There should be no discord within the chain of command when it comes to the strategy, message or plans for the future. In his first week as the new commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus emphasized this point that surfaced at the epicenter of the controversy surrounding his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. In his statement, Petraeus affirmed, “…In this important endeavor, cooperation is not optional … civilian and military, Afghanistan and international, we are part of one team with one mission.”  

This integrated approach has taken on a new urgency because the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have challenged our conventional concept of war. Asymmetric warfare and other extremist measures have been waged by non-state actors aiming to exploit the inability of local governments to provide essential services to the people. In order to defeat insurgents, military and civilian agencies must work in tandem to accomplish mutually enforcing objectives. Counterinsurgency requires partnering with the local population and government to train security forces, build credible governance and establish sustainable economic development and infrastructure. 


The current conflict in Afghanistan is not a fight between the U.S. and the Taliban.  Rather, it is a struggle between the Afghan government and the Taliban for support of the Afghan people. In order to help the Afghan government garner popular support, we adopted a strategy that relies on the military to clear and hold an area, while civilians build governing capacity, with the ultimate goal of transferring authority to their Afghan counterparts. The stages of this process do not occur linearly or independently, and, therefore, rely on a whole-of-government approach and coordinated civilian-military effort.

While some progress has been made to unite civilian and military planning and operations, there is still room for improvement. I am pleased the U.S. civilian footprint in Afghanistan has tripled since President Obama took office, and joint civilian-military training at Camp Atterbury is now required for all civilians deploying to the field. The fact remains, however, that a mere 320 civilians are currently deployed outside of Kabul, and this is not enough to partner with 29 million Afghan people. The State Department must do more to institutionalize a rapid response counterinsurgency capability, starting with the mobilization of a viable Civilian Response Corps (CRC) and hiring qualified mentors for foreign government officials. While there remains potential in the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), the capacity of our civilian agencies to engage in counterinsurgency still lags behind that of the military. Moreover, both military and civilian officials are responsible for fostering and maintaining greater unity of effort.

The counterinsurgency strategy we and our international partners are employing is our best chance for success, but there is no guarantee. Unfortunately, there are many factors in Afghanistan — starting with the government in Kabul — which fall outside the realm of U.S. control. President Hamid Karzai must do more to eliminate widespread corruption and institute rule of law that is transparent and fair. Press reports surfaced last month that members of Karzai’s government had repeatedly obstructed corruption investigations of politically connected officials. This ongoing trend of tolerating corrupt and unlawful behavior has made attempts to gain Afghan popular support difficult, if not impossible.  

As the Obama administration prepares for its strategy review this December, it must closely monitor anti-corruption efforts as one of many benchmarks for measuring success and areas that need to be improved. This will allow us to embark on a conditions-based withdrawal and transfer of responsibility to the Afghans in July 2011, but degrees of progress do not lie in the hands of Afghans alone. We must also consider whether it is possible to achieve the level of security required to permit an expanded U.S. civilian footprint, equitably resource our military and civilian efforts and delineate more effective mechanisms for enhanced civilian-military coordination on the ground. President Obama has articulated clear objectives for Afghanistan, which highlight both the Afghan and U.S. roles. On the U.S. side, we must develop a common narrative by which military and civilian officials can reach these goals in the next year.  

Sen. Kaufman is a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Armed Services Committee. He has made three visits to Afghanistan during his time in office.