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U.S. Says Key to Success in Afghanistan Is Economy, Not Military
'The Razor's Edge'
Jones said repeatedly on this trip that the new strategy has three legs, all of which he said had to be dramatically improved: security; economic development and reconstruction; and governance by the Afghans under the rule of law.
"The president realizes it's on the razor's edge," Jones said, suggesting not only a difficult, dangerous time but also a situation that could cut either way. "And he's worried that others don't."
The National Security Council is developing a series of measurements to assess the effectiveness of the strategy and the capability of the Afghan government and Afghan security forces. This is expected to be presented to Congress soon.
Jones made it clear in his visit to Afghanistan that it is a new era and that Obama will not automatically give the military commanders whatever force levels they request -- the frequent practice of President George W. Bush in the Iraq war.
"This is a decisive moment," Jones told U.S. military leaders, diplomats and the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, "a strategic moment, and we better get it right."
In early 2007, when Gen. David H. Petraeus took command in Iraq, he declared that the situation, nearly four years into the war, was "hard" but "not hopeless." Jones and his staff use similar words to describe Afghanistan today.
The U.S. military and the 32,000 other NATO troops are engaged in a robust effort to improve security in Afghanistan, but insurgent attacks have escalated, reaching an all-time high of more than 400 attacks during one week in May.
Though that does not rival the violence in Iraq, which peaked at 1,600 attacks in one week during the summer of 2007, it represents a trend that has alarmed U.S. military leaders.
'The Golden 500'
It is a 25-minute helicopter ride from Camp Leatherneck to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, where Jones met with the leaders of a provincial reconstruction team, a unit of about 160 British, U.S., Afghan and other civilians and military officers working to rebuild the economy, improve security and increase effective government.
In a meeting, the reconstruction team leaders told Jones that there had been 58 makeshift-bomb attacks in the past week in the province. They stressed that the biggest problem was "Afghan capacity" because the government had not provided sufficient Afghan military, police and civilians.
The British, who lead the team, said the key to progress in Helmand, the largest Afghan province with 1.2 million people, has been provincial Gov. Gulab Mangal. They said that in the past 15 months, he had moved on nearly all fronts to modernize, improve governance and launch a war on corruption.
The British have identified what they call "the golden 500" -- government and other officials beginning with Mangal whom they want to stay in their positions in Helmand so progress can continue.
U.S. and British officials believe that Karzai, who is running for reelection in August, plans to replace Mangal. To ensure his reelection, one official said, Karzai is making deals with a number of Afghan politicians.
Jones and the British voiced their distress at the possibility that Mangal would be ousted, and Jones promised to intervene personally with Karzai. As a first step, Jones called in about a dozen Afghan reporters and sat down on a couch next to Mangal for a news conference at team headquarters. Mangal, 52, is a soft-spoken leader with black hair and a neatly trimmed beard.
First, Jones publicly embraced Mangal's leadership and said he was there "on behalf of the president, who is committed to a new strategy. I know of no place in Afghanistan that has more potential."
He said "the cornerstone is the Afghan people, the Afghan military and the Afghan police," adding, "We want to make sure Afghans control their own destiny."
Jones noted that he had been coming to Afghanistan since 2003. He was NATO commander when the alliance took over the Afghanistan war. "I know what to do," Jones said glancing at Mangal.
In a brief interview, Mangal said of Karzai, "He sent me as a soldier to Helmand province." Mangal noted that he had previously been a governor in two other provinces. Did he hope to continue? Mangal nodded yes.
After retiring as NATO commander in 2007, Jones became co-chairman of the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. In 2008, the council issued a report that began, "Make no mistake, the international community is not winning in Afghanistan."
Flying back from his three-country trip Friday night, Jones cited the report and said most of its bleak conclusions still apply -- insufficient reconstruction, weak economic development, the continuing "epidemic in opium production" and "disorganized, uncoordinated and at present insufficient" international efforts.
"We are doing the same things well and the same things poorly," he said. It was not mission impossible, he said, causing him to feel "urgency but not panic."
Researcher Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.