The New York Times has obtained full copies of two cables Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the most recent review of Afghanistan strategy. Although it was known at the time that Eikenberry opposed McChyrstal’s strategy based primarily on counterinsurgency, having access to the full text of the cables provides more detail on Eikenberry’s reasoning.
As the Times states in the accompanying article, Eikenberry’s warning in the cables is that Karzai “is not an adequate strategic partner” and “continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden".
Eikenberry’s primary conclusion, according to the Times, is that "deploying sizable American reinforcements would result in ‘astronomical costs’ — tens of billions of dollars — and would only deepen the dependence of the Afghan government on the United States."
Lest anyone get the impression that Eikenberry’s positions on Afghanistan are merely representative of typical turf battles between the military and the State Department, it should be noted that Eikenberry comes from the military:
Image from defense.gov
Furthermore, although this State Department biography obscures the point, both the linked Times article and the defense.gov site that was the source of this photo note that Eikenberry served as Commanding General for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan Army, or, in other words, Eikenberry previously held the post now occupied by McChrystal. That history gives more perspective to Eikenberry’s conclusion regarding the Karzai government:
They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.
Considering how long the US has been in Afghanistan and what US behavior in the "war on terror" has been since invading Afghanistan, how could Karzai believe otherwise?
Buried in one of the cables and not noted by the Times is another revealing statement by Eikenberry with respect to conditions in Afghanistan:
We underestimate how long it will take to restore or establish civilian government. The proposed strategy assumes that once the clearing and holding process has been accomplished in a given area, the rebuilding and transferring to Afghans can proceed apace, followed by a relatively rapid U.S. withdrawal. In reality, the process of restoring Afghan government is likely to be slow and uneven, no matter how many U.S. and other foreign civilian experts are involved. Many areas need not just security but health care, education, justice, infrastructure, and almost every other basic government function. Many have never had these services at all. Establishing them requires trained and honest Afghan officials to replace our own personnel. That cadre of Afghan civilians does not now exist and would take years to build.
What Eikenberry is telling us here is that our entire strategy is based on a false assumption. Although in theory US forces may well "clear" areas and turn them over to Afghan control, there are no Afghan personnel ready to provide a long-term "hold" and it would take "years" to train civilian personnel to do so. Eikenberry notes elsewhere in the same cable that his previous request for $2.5 billion to begin this training "was debated in great detail, only to be rejected."
Sadly, Eikenberry is telling us that we are committing to spending additional tens of billions of dollars a year while sacrificing many Afghan and US lives and getting only a long-term engagement from which there can be no stable extraction. Current strategy is focused entirely on security while making a false assumption that a US-style government providing "services" to the citizens will magically appear once security is achieved. Instead, as Eikenberry points out that Karzai also understands, US strategy in Afghanistan is guaranteed to produce a permanent US "war on terror" presence.