A couple of notable excerpts from General Petraeus's testimony yesterday.
The Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat to stability in the region. Throughout much of the region, the regime pursues a dual-track foreign policy. Overtly, the Iranian government cooperates with regional states through bilateral arrangements to promote Iran as an economic, political, and military power. In parallel, the regime entrusts the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-Qods Force to execute covert aspects of its foreign policy using political influence, covert businesses, lethal and non-lethal aid, and training to militants supportive of the regime’s agenda. The Qods Force is active throughout the region, and, in fact, controls Iranian foreign policy in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza and influences heavily in Afghanistan and the Gulf Region. Through Qods Force soft power initiatives and destabilizing activities, such as coercion and direct attacks, Iran is subverting democratic processes and intimidating the nascent governments of our partners. The regime continues to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian situation through its support to Hamas and Lebanese Hizballah, and it remains in violation of six United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding its nuclear program and arms transfers.
Iran’s nuclear program is a serious, destabilizing factor in the region and is widely believed to be a part of the regime’s broader effort to expand its influence. Although the regime has stated the purpose of its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful, civilian use, Iranian officials have consistently failed to provide the assurances and transparency necessary for full international confidence. This includes failure to provide verification as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, and failure to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Additional Protocol, which would allow for more comprehensive inspections. The regime’s obstinacy and obfuscation have forced Iran’s neighbors and the international community to conclude the worst about the regime’s intentions, as confirmed by the recent IAEA Board of Governors’ near unanimous censure of Iran’s recent disclosure of a secret nuclear facility near Qom. It appears that, at a minimum, Tehran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. Iran continues to develop and improve its uranium enrichment infrastructure and is likely to use its gas centrifuges to produce fissile material for a weapon, should it make the political decision to do so. This pattern of conduct coupled with its rejection of international responsibilities is troubling, especially when viewed in the context that other regional states have recently announced their intentions to develop nuclear power programs. This behavior poses a clear challenge to international non-proliferation goals due to the possibility of such technologies being transferred to terrorist groups and the potential for a regional arms race, as other regional states may seek nuclear parity.
Domestically, the regime is taking dramatic steps to maintain power in reaction to the persistent civil unrest sparked by the apparent election manipulation leading to President Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June 2009. The aftermath of the presidential election created a political rift among regime elites and further hardened certain leaders’ views toward the U.S. and the West over alleged involvement in supporting a “soft revolution” in Iran. Tehran has deployed significant numbers of security forces, mainly comprised of Basij militia, to crack down on street protests and conduct mass arrests of protestors. The regime has also taken sweeping steps to control the information environment by slowing or shutting down the internet, telephone networks, and other forms of social media used by protestors to organize, execute, and publicize their efforts. The opposition movement, led by former regime insiders, poses the most serious political challenge to the regime since the advent of the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian regime has also attempted to thwart U.S. and international efforts to bring stability to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the broader region. In Afghanistan, the Iranian regime appears to have hedged its longstanding public support for the Karzai government by providing opportunistic support to the Taliban. In Iraq, however, the Iranian regime has embarked on a broad campaign led by the IRGC-Qods Force to influence Iraqi politics and support, through various means, parties loyal to Iran. The Qods Force also maintains its lethal support to Shia Iraqi militia groups, providing them with weapons, funding, and training. Additionally, al-Qaeda continues to use Iran as a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al-Qaeda’s senior leadership to regional affiliates. And although Iranian authorities do periodically disrupt this network by detaining select al-Qaeda facilitators and operational planners, Tehran’s policy in this regard is often unpredictable.
Pursuing our longstanding regional goals and improving key relationships within and outside the AOR help to limit the negative impact of Iran’s policies. A credible U.S. effort on Arab-Israeli issues that provides regional governments and populations a way to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the disputes would undercut Iran’s policy of militant “resistance,” which the Iranian regime and insurgent groups have been free to exploit. Additionally, progress on the Israel-Syria peace track could disrupt Iran’s lines of support to Hamas and Hizballah. Moreover, our development of a cooperative Regional Security Architecture, which includes a regional network of air and missile defense systems as well as hardening and protecting our partners’ critical infrastructure, can help dissuade aggressive Iranian behavior. In all of these initiatives, our military activities will continue to support our diplomatic efforts, and we will remain vigilant across a wide range of contingencies.
The past year was marked by a shift in strategic focus in Afghanistan. Over the course of the conflict, the Afghan insurgency had expanded its strength and influence – particularly in the South and East – and 2009 levels of violence were significantly higher than those of 2008. The Taliban have been resilient, with their activities fueled by revenues from outside the region as well as from narcotics-trafficking, the freedom of movement they enjoy in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, ineffective governance and services in parts of the country, as well as by contributions from other militant groups outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. To reverse this momentum and the downward spiral in security, we have embarked on a new 12-to-18-month civil-military campaign plan, and coalition forces and their Afghan partners are fighting to retake the initiative from the insurgency. The main goals of our strategy, announced by President Obama last December, include the following: reversing Taliban momentum through sustained military action, denying the Taliban access to and control of key population and production centers and lines of communication, disrupting the Taliban outside secured areas and preventing al-Qaeda from regaining sanctuary in Afghanistan, degrading the Taliban to levels manageable by the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF), increasing the size and capability of the ANSF and employing other local forces selectively to begin a conditions-based transition of security responsibility to the Afghan government by July 2011, and supporting U.S. government efforts to build the capacity of the Afghan government, particularly in key ministries.
To implement this strategy, we and our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners have spent a great deal of effort putting into place the right organizations and command and control structures needed to carry out a comprehensive civil-military campaign. This includes the capabilities for targeting of insurgents’ resources and finances, detention operations, ministerial capacity building, border coordination, strategic communications, and the conduct of reconciliation efforts. This began by ensuring the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander was dual-hatted as both a NATO Commander and the commander of U.S. forces, which helped to reduce many of the organizational firewalls between ISAF and Operation Enduring Force elements. We created the ISAF Intermediate Joint Command (IJC), a three-star headquarters to oversee operational execution of the counterinsurgency campaign. We established a Joint Task Force to address detainee operations and help develop rule of law capacity within the Afghan government, from policing and incarceration to trials and convictions. We developed a Force Reintegration Cell within the ISAF headquarters to support the reintegration and reconciliation process at the national level. We established an interagency threat finance cell, an intelligence fusion cell, and a full-fledged Joint Information Operations Task Force to conduct strategic communications. We formed the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and made several other command and control adjustments, such as the integration of mentoring teams under the IJC and its battle space commanders and the restructuring of Army brigades, to improve our ability to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces. Lastly, we formed the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell on the Joint Staff and inaugurated the Afghanistan-Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence at CENTCOM to better organize our resources here at home. All of these organizations tie together and support the numerous activities taking place at the unit level across the country as our operations move forward over time, and to run them we have hand-selected some of nation’s best civilian and military leaders, all of whom have been involved with counterinsurgency operations for quite some time.
Just as critical, we have strengthened our counterinsurgency approach and established a wide-spread understanding of the critical concepts guiding and governing our operations. First and foremost in this approach is a commitment to protecting and serving the people. This focus is captured in Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal’s Integrated Civil-Military Campaign Plan, which directs our military and civilian components to take a residential approach and, in a culturally acceptable way, live among the people, understand their neighborhoods, and invest in relationships. General McChrystal has also published counterinsurgency guidance, has pushed to achieve greater unity of effort, has aggressively pursued the mission of partnering with the Afghan security forces, and has issued appropriate guidance on detention, reintegration, joint night raids, and tactical driving. All of these concepts are designed to secure the Afghan people, to reduce civilian casualties, and to build their trust in ISAF forces and the national government.
Critical to the organizations, leaders, and strategies we have put in place in Afghanistan are the resources needed to support them, in this case, 30,000 additional U.S. forces, additional civilians experts, and appropriate funding, each of which was announced by the President in December at West Point. Just as important are the additional commitments from other NATO and coalition partners totaling more than 9,000 troops. These resources are starting to flow into the country, and they will allow us to better expand the security presence in population centers and along major lines of communication, to better hold areas cleared of insurgent groups, and to build a new level of Afghan governmental control.
As a part of this approach, we will also invigorate efforts to develop the capabilities of the ANSF, including the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Uniform Police, the Afghan Gendarmerie Force, the Afghan Border Police, specialized counternarcotics units, and other security forces. We recognize the fact that international forces must eventually transfer security responsibility to Afghan security forces. In January 2009, the ANSF numbered 156,000; today, there are over 206,000 assigned, but significant work remains in improving the quality of the Afghan force through enhanced partnering, training, and recruiting. General McChrystal has placed a premium on comprehensive partnering with the ANSF, an emphasis that is being demonstrated in the ongoing Operation Moshtarak, in which ISAF and ANSF operate at close to a one-to-one ratio. Of equal importance, ISAF and ANSF leaders worked together in partnership to plan all aspects of the operation, a signal of ANSF development that goes beyond the number of ANSF boots on the ground. A properly sized, trained, and equipped ANSF is a prerequisite for any eventual drawdown of international forces from Afghanistan, and through our support and the assistance of the Afghan Security Forces Fund, the ANSF will continue to expand so that they will be more able to meet their country’s security needs.
In addition, we, along with our civilian colleagues, will bolster the capabilities and the legitimacy of the other elements of the Afghan government – an effort in which, in much of Afghanistan, we will be building, not rebuilding. We will do this through our support to local government at the provincial and district levels, utilizing the new structure of civilian representatives at each level of our deployed military. These, along with the efforts of Provincial Reconstruction Teams and national level civil-military and ministerial capacity building teams are empowering Afghans to solve Afghan problems and promoting local reintegration where possible. Most recently, we are supporting governance and development efforts as part of ongoing operations in Helmand Province.
Another major component of our strategy is to disrupt narcotics trafficking, which provides significant funding to the Taliban insurgency. This drug money has been the “oxygen” in the air that allows these groups to operate. With the extension of authority granted to U.S. forces to conduct counter-narcotics operations, we are able to more closely work with the Afghan government to disrupt the illicit narcotics industry though interdiction of the narco-trafficking network. To complement this effort, we support and promote viable agricultural and economic alternatives and the requisite infrastructure to help Afghans bring licit products to market for sale and distribution.
Executing this strategy requires clear unity of effort at all levels and with all participants. Our senior commanders (and I) have worked with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Ambassador Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Stefan di Mistura, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan; Ambassador Mark Sedwill, NATO’s new Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan; and the Afghan leadership to improve and synchronize the whole of government approach. Our security efforts have been integrated into the broader plan to promote political and economic development. We have urged partner nations to continue the invaluable support they are providing and to seek additional support as required for mission accomplishment.
The changes in approach launched in 2009 and 2010 (e.g., greater military and civilian resources, enhanced unity of effort and partnering) can help turn the tide over time, but we must manage expectations as we continue the buildup in our forces. Progress will be incremental and difficult. In 2010, the Taliban and other insurgent groups will attempt to build on their previous momentum and create further instability in the Afghan provinces, particularly in the South and East. We will endeavor not only to prevent that but to wrest the initiative from the Taliban.