Time for an Afghan Surge
The status quo in Afghanistan is not acceptable. Security has deteriorated, and our enemies are on the offensive. From the moment the next President walks into the Oval Office, he will face critical decisions about Afghanistan. Senator Barack Obama believes we can't win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, the success of the surge in Iraq shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan. It is by applying the tried-and-true principles of counterinsurgency used in the surge--which Senator Obama opposed--that we will win in Afghanistan.
Our commanders in Afghanistan say they need at least three additional brigades. I will ensure they get the troops they need by asking NATO to send more and sending U.S. troops as they become available. But more than troops, we need a unified command and a nationwide civil-military campaign plan that is focused on providing security for the population. A successful counterinsurgency requires that we use all the instruments of our national power and that military and civilian leaders work together, at all levels, under a joint plan. Too often in Afghanistan, this is not happening. We need an Afghanistan czar, and I will appoint a highly respected national-security leader, based in the White House and reporting directly to the President, whose sole mission will be to ensure we bring the war to a successful end.
It's time for an Afghan surge as well. The Afghan army is already a great success story: a multiethnic, battle-tested fighting force. The problem is, it's too small, with a projected strength of only 80,000 troops. We need to at least double the size of the Afghan army and establish an international trust fund to provide long-term financing for the effort. We also need a stronger diplomatic effort. I will appoint a special presidential envoy to address disputes between Afghanistan and its neighbors.
A special focus of our regional strategy must be Pakistan, where terrorists today enjoy sanctuary. We must strengthen local tribes in the border areas who are willing to fight the foreign terrorists and convince Pakistanis that this is their war as much as it is ours. Senator Obama has spoken about taking unilateral military action in Pakistan. In trying to sound tough, he has made it harder for the people whose support we most need to provide it. I will not bluster, and I will not make idle threats. But when I am Commander in Chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run and nowhere they can hide.
Refocusing on the Central Front
What has long been missing from our national debate is an honest and serious discussion about the strategic consequences of our long-term presence in Iraq.
This war prevents us from tackling nearly every serious threat we face, from a resurgent al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to a hostile Iranian regime intent on possessing nuclear weapons to the spread of extremist ideology around the world.
Instead of being distracted from the most pressing threats that we face, I will harness all elements of American power to overcome them. My first order as Commander in Chief will be to end the war in Iraq and refocus our efforts on Afghanistan and our broader security interests. Let me be clear--my plan would not abandon Iraq. It is in our strategic interest to maintain a residual force that will go after al-Qaeda, train Iraqi security forces and protect U.S. interests. But we must recognize that the central front in the war on terror is not in Iraq, and it never was. The central front is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unacceptable that almost seven years after 9/11, those responsible for the attacks remain at large. If another attack on our homeland occurs, it will likely come from this same region where 9/11 was planned. Yet today we have five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan.
Senator McCain said just months ago that "Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq." I could not disagree more.
I will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan and use this commitment to seek greater contributions--with fewer restrictions--from NATO allies. I will focus on training Afghan security forces and supporting an Afghan judiciary. I will once and for all dismantle al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The solution in Afghanistan is not just military--it is political and economic. That is why I would also increase our nonmilitary aid by $1 billion. These resources should fund projects at the local level to impact ordinary Afghans, including the development of alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers. And we must demand better performance from the Afghan government through tough anticorruption safeguards on aid.
Finally, we need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We should condition some assistance to Pakistan on their action to take the fight to the terrorists within their borders. And if we have actionable intelligence about high-level al-Qaeda targets, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.
The American people deserve a President who understands the real threats we face, and they deserve a strategy to overcome them. We cannot afford another four years of misunderstood and misguided priorities.