FP: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan were really on the verge of failure. What’s your incoming assessment?
DP: I told [then] Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in September 2005 that Afghanistan would be the longest campaign in the so-called ”˜long war.’ That judgment was based on an assessment I conducted in Afghanistan on my way home from my second tour in Iraq. And having been back to Afghanistan twice in recent months, I still see it that way. Progress there will require a sustained, substantial commitment. That commitment needs to be extended to Pakistan as well, though Pakistan does have large, well-developed security institutions and its leaders are determined to employ their own forces in dealing with the significant extremist challenges that threaten their country.
FP: I was rereading an account of an Afghan veteran from Soviet operations there. After every retaliatory strike, he said, ”˜Perhaps one mujahideen was killed. The rest were innocent. The survivors hated us and lived with only one idea””revenge.’ Clearly [U.S.] engagement in Afghanistan didn’t start out in the same way as the Soviets’ did, but one of the questions is whether all these occupations wind up similarly after seven years.
DP: A number of people have pointed out the substantial differences between the character of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and that of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, especially in the circumstances that led to the respective involvement, as well as in the relative conduct, of the forces there. Foremost among the differences have been the coalition’s objectives: not just the desire to help the Afghans establish security and preclude establishment of extremist safe havens, but also to support economic development, democratic institutions, the rule of law, infrastructure, and education. To be sure, the coalition faces some of the same challenges that any of the previous forces in Afghanistan have faced: the same extreme terrain and weather, tribal elements that pride themselves on fighting, lack of infrastructure, and so on. In such a situation, it is hugely important to be seen as serving the population, in addition to securing it. And that is why we’re conducting counterinsurgency operations, as opposed to merely counterterrorism operations.
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