Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy told the House Armed Services Committee she is “cautiously optimistic” about advancements made in Afghanistan as the new strategy has begun to show signs of success, yesterday.
“I believe we are achieving success,” she said. “We are on the right road for the first time in a long time in Afghanistan. I would argue for the first time, we finally have the right mission, the right strategy, the right leadership team in place.”
Although Flournoy was optimistic about the progress made, she acknowledged the work has not yet been completed.
“Are we done yet?” she asked. “Absolutely not. Are there more challenges to be dealt with? Yes. But we are on the right path, and things are starting to move in the right direction.”
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Paxton Jr., operations director for the Joint Staff, agreed with Flournoy.
“We are starting to see conditions that we believe are necessary for success in Afghanistan,” he said. “Among the most important of these conditions is having the right leadership and strategy in place.”
Flournoy cited progress in the troop surge to support that strategy. Nearly half of the 30,000 additional U.S. forces committed to the mission are on the ground, with the rest arriving by late August. In addition, NATO and other coalition partners have pledged 9,000 additional troops to support the mission.
Other factors contributing to the turnaround include changes in coalition tactics to reduce civilian casualties, intensified partnerships to promote the development of Afghan national security forces, and more nonmilitary assets on the ground focused on economic and political development, Flournoy said.
Flournoy pointed to the International Security Assistance Force and Afghan national security force partnership during operations in Helmand – “the first large-scale effort to fundamentally change how we are doing business together — as a sign of how much things have changed under this strategy.
“Preparations for the Helmand operation included extraordinary levels of civil-military planning and engagement with the Afghan partners at every level,” she said. “And we feel that the collaborative operational planning process was critical to giving Afghans a sense of ownership and investment in the success of our joint efforts.”
She said operations in Kandahar will present fundamentally different challenges and will require coalition forces to adapt to changing conditions.
“I don’t want to suggest that achieving success in Afghanistan will be simple or easy. Far from it,” Flournoy said. “Inevitably we’ll face challenges, possibly setbacks, even as we achieve success. We need to recognize that things may get harder before they get better.”