In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Senator Chuck Hagel said that after we withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the mission of our forces should be restricted to counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces.
But hasn’t that been their whole mission all along?
It’s not an idle question. From the start, the problem in devising the right strategy for Afghanistan was the tension between (1) a light-footprint mission focused on search-and-destroy counterterrorism, without regard to whether the country as a whole might or might not be falling to pieces, and (2) a mission focused on building up the institutions and security forces of the Afghan state so that Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for terrorism.
The resulting strategy has been a mix of both, because the Pentagon long ago properly concluded that institution-building (“partnership capacity building”) is necessary for counterterrorism.
So, of those things we’re doing in Afghanistan right now, which presumably the Pentagon thinks are necessary for counterterrorism, which does Hagel think are not necessary for counterterrorism? That, it seems to me, is the key question for this hearing on the issue of Afghanistan.