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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Facing Up to Facts

In the coming weeks and months the president and the American people will have to find clarity on what we need to do in Afghanistan and the potential costs of those actions. Instead of an "about face," I see this as an opportunity to finally "face up" to the facts on the ground. Laying out the proper course to address those facts on the ground, and weighing the pros and cons, will be a difficult but necessary task.

For many years, the Afghan conflict remained in the shadows of the Iraq war. When my friends would deploy, they would tell me they were going to fight "the forgotten war" with few resources and even fewer headlines.

While many in the field and at the Pentagon have been crying "fire," the smoldering Afghanistan looked easy compared to the inferno that Iraq was several years ago. Now Iraq is contained, but the Afghan smoldering has become a major blaze. So now General McChrystal is giving his assessment, and it isn't pretty: Either make a major push to put out the fire, or it may burn down the good things that have been built. So now what?

What happens in Afghanistan will depend on the president's strategy and the military objectives he establishes for the commanders on the ground. If that strategy is to pull out, it will require much different tactics than if he decides to eliminate Afghanistan as a safe haven for al Qaeda and its Taliban enablers and supporters.

The tactics also depend on how long- or short-term the view is. Strengthening the Afghan police and military so they can fend for themselves requires one sort of timeline. Ensuring that security exists for a long enough period to create economic stability is quite another.

I believe victory is still possible in Afghanistan--but it will require brutal honesty and a renewal of support. We have to be honest about which coalition partners are not pulling their weight and the limitations of our NATO alliance. Honest about where rules of engagement are failing to achieve results, and where our military is operating outside its core competency. And honesty about where there is serious fraud, abuse or corruption, both with the Afghan government and with ours.

I have tremendous faith in the American people. If we know the facts and what is required, we will rise to the occasion. To be successful, we will need to renew support for our men and women in uniform and for civilians serving alongside our military. We need compassionate Americans to support nonprofits and civilian agencies that are helping with reconstruction. Support means encouraging the private sector to help our government develop technologies to protect our people and solve problems like clean-water delivery to Afghan civilians. Support means asking news agencies to send their first-string reporters to keep the public informed. And most importantly, support means remembering the Afghan people. At the end of the day, they have to live with whatever is left behind.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  September 23, 2009; 12:42 PM ET
Category:  Wartime Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The Taliban gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden. It doesn't matter if they knew of his plans for 9/11. They knew about his terrorist agenda and acts prior. Pakistan gave advance warning to Osama so that he could escape a military strike ordered by President Clinton. Bush struck some kind of deal with Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11 that allowed us to overthrow the Taliban. The problem is that we won't be likely to keep them out once we withdraw. Perhaps we can only threaten them with serious repercussions if they sponsor more terrorism, but that would seem like an empty threat. We don't take action against other sponsors of terrorism. Obama is most assuredly not going to stand against radical islam. He thinks Israel is the problem. I suspect that Bush followed by Obama is the one, two punch from which we cannot recover.

Posted by: farmerjohn | September 24, 2009 2:50 PM
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Let's see:
Support our troops. Check
Compassion. Check
Encouraging the private sector to help government. Check
Support free press. Check
Remembering Afghanis. Check.

I guess I'm on board. Hold it a second. You're not proposing that we increase taxes are you? Or are you proposing borrowing more and thus imposing higher taxes on future generations? Or maybe your suggesting that Afghanistan will pay for it out of their vast oil wealth? As long as it is free, I'm for it. If it costs money, I suggest you say that we need to raise taxes or increase borrowing. Or perhaps you would like to argue for specific spending cuts to pay for more spending in Afghanistan.

Posted by: Renu1 | September 24, 2009 2:49 PM
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As long as US government wants to be willingly duped by Pakistan and as long as American news media continues to collude with US government in that endeavor, US policy in Afghanistan is doomed to fail especially since US recruited terrorist state of Pakistan to fight the very terrorism that Pakistan itself has created and nurtured. No wonder American people do NOT think that Afghan war is winnable and want to throw in the towel. US government and American news media do NOT want American people to know the truth - the facts about Pakistan’s involvement not just in 9/11 attacks or Pakistan’s creation and nurturing of Taliban/Al Qaeda axis but also Pakistan’s continuous duplicitous policies of ’running with the hare while hunting with the hounds’, both under military as well democratic governments there.

As much as he wanted to evade the facts, poor General McChrystal was forced to admit that
1. Most insurgent fighters are Afghans. They are directed by a small number of Afghan senior leaders based in Pakistan that work through an alternative political infrastructure in Afghanistan.
2. The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) based in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, is the No. 1 threat to US/NATO mission in Afghanistan. At the operational level, the Quetta Shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Mohammed Omar (Afghan Taliban Chief) announces his guidance and intent for the coming year.
3. Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's lSI. Al Qaeda and associated movements (AQAM) based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support.

Pakistan has never wavered from its original goal of reestablishing its writ in Afghanistan once US leaves. That is why Pakistani government continues to shelter Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar and other members of the Afghan Taliban's inner Shura (council) who have been ensconced in the Quetta area ever since US threw them out of Afghanistan in 2001. Yet, US drones have targeted militants in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but not the Afghan Taliban leadership operating with impunity from Baluchistan, planning daily attacks on US/NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. US ground-commando raids also have spared the Afghan Taliban's command-and-control network in Baluchistan.

Since Obama administration has decided to continue the Bush policy of coddling Pakistan, same fate awaits Obama’s billions that befell on Bush’s billions with Afghanistan becoming another Vietnam for US military.

Posted by: simplesimon33 | September 24, 2009 1:30 PM
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So we are supposed to shower Afghanistan with public works and charity, when we can't offer health care to our own uninsured and our roads crumble. NGOs will send people there so they can be murdered or have their money filched? Businesses will invest in Afghanistan, which offers [blank] attractions? Could our wonderful execs offer skills to an Afghan village they probably could not make profitable in Tulsa or Detroit? But, yes, perhaps it would be a good place to send to Kandahar a co-worker you wanted to see fail our out of your path. "Honey, I've got great news. Pack your burka. We're off to Afghanistan."

No, not even the most altruistic saint or greedy carpetbagger would put up with the dangers, privations, or the certain frustration. The US armed forces would have to spend a major portion of resources just to protect the expatriate civilians.

Finally, we have no "victory" to win in Afghanistan. The Taliban are low-cost indigenous, can hide in Pakistan, and can regenerate at any time. We have no popular constituency, only a few warlord allies and elites. The 9/11 perpetrators trained and conspired in the US and Europe, and were born in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Killing people in Afghanistan won't avenge 9/11. Osama and Zawahiri are certainly not there, but if we ever do get a tip on there whereabouts, a drone strike is the only efficient way to act. Let's leave Afghanistan to its own people and destiny.

Posted by: jkoch2 | September 24, 2009 1:26 PM
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For many years, the Afghan conflict remained in the shadows of the Iraq war. As you will recall, but did not mention, these shadows were cast by George Walker Bush.

Posted by: whocares666 | September 24, 2009 9:33 AM
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Yes, brutal honesty. How about asking why this war was started in the first place? The Taliban - which was the closest thing to a legitimate government that Afghanistan had in the last 30 years - had no prior information about the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

Since we started this war, we have killed some 18,741 Afghans (47,156 seriously injured) at a cost of 1,372 U.S & Coalition regular troops and mercenaries killed (6,321 seriously injured).

And there is no end in sight. Despite Mr. Goodwin's "tremendous faith", neither he nor anyone else has defined what "victory" means in Afghanistan - let alone explained how such "victory" could be accomplished or how it has anything to do with security for the United States and its citizens.

It is the supreme arrogance of those who seek to remake Afghanistan in our (American) image - which has brought tremendous suffering upon the Afghan people, at an unsustainable cost to the U.S. It would be beyond insane to increase our commitment in blood and treasure in the expectation of getting different results.

Posted by: LeszX | September 24, 2009 8:43 AM
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POlitical objectives a must before military objectives.Strategy in respect of safe havens in FATA sine qua non.Light footprint will not do.Grid Af with adequate force.Check ingress from FATA with appropriate force level.Target Taliban in Af.Target AQ/Taliban leadership in FATA.Reign in Pakistan.

Posted by: hspanag | September 24, 2009 7:13 AM
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I believe victory is still possible in Afghanistan. All we have to do is declare victory and get out. This would take brutal honesty. We have no business being there after 8 years.

The Taliban is on the run. We put in a new government. Just paint a rosy picture of our accomplishments and get out now.

Posted by: alance | September 23, 2009 5:02 PM
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