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A Commander's View of Stability in Afghanistan

Interviewee: Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, Chief, U.S. Army Senate Liaison Division, and Former Commander, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
February 19, 2009

As the U.S. government calibrates its new strategy in Afghanistan, advice is pouring in. President Obama has announced plans to send as many as 17,000 additional U.S. soldiers and marines to the fight, and his administration is conducting a comprehensive review of policies governing the U.S. approach. But in Afghanistan, a dynamic and complex country, strategy may best be formulated on the ground, where military commanders and Afghan leaders are cooperating on a daily basis.

Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, who was responsible for security operations in eastern Afghanistan from January 2007 to April 2008, says the local Afghan leaders he has worked with in Khost Province and elsewhere are far more capable than many Western pundits suggest. "As each year goes on, more is required and expected, and so I think there is a higher demand on the governmental institutions, governmental infrastructure," he says. And in most regions, the colonel notes, Afghan leaders at the provincial and district levels are performing well.

Yet Schweitzer says a host of problems continue to threaten progress, from endemic corruption to an entrenched drug trade. Meeting those challenges will require continued and lasting U.S. commitment. The extra troops pledged by Obama are only a part of the solution, he says. "Don't look at that as they're going in there to conduct kinetic full-scale operations. Most of the activities that they are going to be doing will be to establish and create capacity within the Afghan security forces; will be to establish and create capacity within local governorates at the district level." And Schweitzer says nonmilitary personnel from the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and even foreign governments will be an important piece of any new U.S. strategy.

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