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Af-Pak Hearing: ‘Tell Me How This Ends’

Jul 31, 2020
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Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) wants to know the answer to the million-dollar question: how will we know when the Afghanistan war is over? He specifically references Petraeus’ famous half-joking question to reporter Rick Atkinson during the Iraq invasion, “tell me how this ends.”
Flournoy’s answer is much the same one offered on Friday. “I think that a key point defining success is when both the Afghans and the Pakistanis have both the capability and the will to deal with the remaining threat themselves,” she said. There will be a “period [when] the extraordinary intervention and assistance goes to a transition to a long-term, more normal relationship with both countries.” Building local capacity is her key metric.
Webb is completely unsatisfied. That “kind of puts us at the mercy” of Afghan and Pakistani decisions, and it doesn’t contain an inherent clarity for knowing when that occurs. He asks Petraeus for a more operational concept.
Petraeus doesn’t offer much. He references his Iraq experience to say that you sort of know it when you see it, as there are many moving parts. Ultimately Petraeus backs up Flournoy”: “The task will be for them to shoulder the responsibility of their own security and the responsibility of governance.” Webb counters: when was the last time Afghanistan had a functional army capable of such a task? “More than 30 years ago,” Petraeus replies.
Webb is clearly less than pleased. While he doesn’t say it, the Obama administration can be fairly criticized for not having any more of a precise answer to the endpoint of the Af-Pak strategy than “as they stand up, we’ll stand down,” which the Bush administration insisted on in Iraq before the Status of Forces Agreement. This is all the more conspicuous because Flournoy credited the strategy with going back to fundamental interests to refine the mission.
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Camilo Wood

Camilo Wood

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