Cablegate: Scenesetter for December 10-11, 2008 Visit To
O 090321Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6364
SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
S E C R E T KABUL 003176
STATE FOR SCA FOR A/S BOUCHER AND PMOON
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/CDHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SECRETARY GATES, USDP EDELMAN AND WILKES
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-82 AND POLAD
EO 12958 DECL: 12/08/2018
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PTER, AFIN
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR DECEMBER 10-11, 2008 VISIT TO
AFGHANISTAN BY SECDEF ROBERT M. GATES
Classified By: Acting DCM Valerie C. Fowler for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (C) Embassy Kabul warmly welcomes your visit to Afghanistan. The overall state of the security situation here is more nuanced than the negative drumbeat coming from the media. Steady advances in success by Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) do not grab the headlines that a spectacular suicide attack does. Progress in development in support of a balanced COIN strategy continues below the radar screen. Those achievements, however, are hindered and ultimately threatened by poor performance on the governance front.
The Fundamental Challenge of Governance
2. (C) Karzai is at the center of the governance challenge. He has failed to overcome his fundamental leadership deficiencies in decisiveness and in confidence to delegate authority to competent subordinates. The result: a cycle of overwork/fatigue/indecision on the part of Karzai, and gridlock and a sense of drift among senior officials on nearly all critical policy decisions.
3. (C) Karzai struggles with striking the correct balance between institutional and traditional (i.e. tribal) governance. In fairness, there are no easy answers. He has given a notional nod to General McKiernan,s proposal to support formal agreements between Afghan authorities and district-level councils. The latter would be responsible for certain governance and security functions in their districts. This proposal is aimed at ensuring freedom of travel along the Ring Road, the lack of which undermines public confidence in the Afghan government and in the international community’s efforts. Some questions remain on how to ensure district security arrangements do not create independent local militias.
4. (SBU) Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) Director Popal has earned and maintains Karzai,s backing to improve sub-national governance. Popal has launched the Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP), to form local councils (separate from McKiernan,s plan) to strengthen ties between sub-national institutional government and the tribes. We will be one of the largest donors to this new and ambitious plan, providing $6 million for ASOP in three provinces.
5. (C) Next year,s presidential and provincial council elections will be the defining event for 2009. Election factors already dominate nearly everything political here. Karzai,s popularity has fallen through the floor, but the absence of a credible opponent means it is still Karzai,s election to lose. Public ill ease over personal (not national) insecurity and disgust over unconstrained corruption are Karzai,s greatest vulnerabilities. He installed Hanif Atmar as Interior Minister to turn up the heat on both problems. Atmar is talented and may turn around perceptions, but after seven years of unmet expectations Afghans will be hard to convince.
6. (C) Politicians and the Kabul punditry are fascinated with the political jockeying between Parliament and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) over the election date. In the end, we expect all will agree to the IEC,s proposal for an August vote, based on security and logistical reasons.
7. (C) More problematic is the insecurity in the south and east, which is prompting some ) including Karzai, other Pashtuns and some RC-South partners ) to raise the specter of Pashtun disenfranchisement and the possible illegitimacy of the vote. It is much too early to judge the prospects of failure. We and Karzai agree the British are not up to the task of securing Helmand, but we also think the expected arrival of additional U.S. combat brigades this spring and summer, in tandem with the constant flow of newly-minted Afghan troops to the field will provide an adequately secure environment for the election.
8. (C) Karzai’s senior-level Taliban reconciliation initiative is more about strengthening his political base and his relationship with the Saudis than anything else. “Negotiations” have been much less tangible in reality than is depicted in the press. The public is split: many welcome the promise (whether real or not) of reduced violence and instability via a possible reconciliation with the Taliban, while others (mainly non-Pashtuns, women, and certain civil society groups) fear a Karzai backroom deal that could harm their political interests or set back hard-fought human rights advances. We have advised Karzai to negotiate from a position of strength and to restate our shared &red lines.8
Karzai and civilian casualties
9. (C) Karzai’s recent heated public statements about “bringing down NATO aircraft” and timelines for coalition withdrawal reflect both deep and heartfelt anger, as well as a certain amount of elections grandstanding. Civilian casualties anger him most. General McKiernan has directed substantial changes to coalition tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), but those cannot eliminate the possibility of civilian casualties, especially when the Taliban has clearly adopted “human shield” tactics. ISAF and the Embassy work increasingly more effectively with Afghan counterparts on improved post-incident response (to affected communities and the media), and investigations.
10. (C) Karzai hears of these efforts, but is not mollified. You can address his upset by acknowledging the problem and recognizing such mistakes hurt us all. In the months since the Shindand incident, and specifically as a response to civilian casualties, the Afghans have drafted a technical framework agreement on security measures, as a means to exert greater control over coalition operations. The Ambassador told Spanta that Washington cannot take this up until after the new Administration is in place, a point you should underscore with Karzai.
Steps to Improve Security
11. (C) The Coalition and Afghan security forces have increased our area of control and taken the fight to the Taliban, with increasing effectiveness. The Taliban response has been a forced shift in tactics from insurgency to terrorism to challenge the will of Afghans and the international community. Taliban acts of violence are highly visible and the immediate effect is that ordinary Afghans do feel less safe with random violence - particularly kidnappings - on the rise, and travel around the country more insecure. Atmar is countering, by looking to accelerate reform of the police. We are supporting him. The Focused District Development (FDD) program to retrain and equip the police is going well and will broaden to include the Border Police. Nonetheless, professionalizing the Afghan National Police (ANP) and reforming the Ministry of Interior are ongoing challenges. We also are working with the IDLG, NDS, and the Ministry of Defense to engage community support for security along the highways.
12. (C) Our greatest success on the security side is the advances in numbers and capabilities in the Afghan army. The army is the most trusted governmental entity, and is currently leading more than 60 percent of joint military operations. The International Community recently agreed to support the expansion of the army force structure to 134,000 (which includes a 12,000-troop trainee, transient, patient “float”). Army expansion will help meet future security requirements and take some of the pressure off of the police to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The principal challenge for both the army and police training program is a shortage of trainers, either from the U.S. or Allied nations. Karzai recognizes and is grateful for the central role of U.S. security assistance in developing the Afghan security forces. He will welcome reaffirmation of our support for eventual Afghan self-sufficiency and independence in the security and law enforcement fields; however, the army will continue to depend for some years on Coalition enablers such as close air support and intelligence assets.
Survey of Security in Afghanistan by Region
13. (SBU) RC-East remains focused on a balanced COIN approach synchronizing operations to protect the populace and push the insurgents out while pursuing mutually reinforcing efforts in development and governance assistance; the Embassy, USAID and CJTF-101 are coordinating more closely than ever USG efforts in RC-East. The Commanders, Emergency Response Program (CERP) funding is critical to delivering quick, effective assistance projects, which, in coordination with USAID and local officials, supports both locally identified needs and longer term development goals. In RC-South, the number and lethality of IED attacks is up dramatically; significantly, in some areas the number of IEDs reported by the public to ANSF or ISAF forces is also up, reflecting public support for the Government. The approximately 2300 Marines of the recently departed 24th MEU carried out successful operations in the Garmsir District in Helmand. The insertion of other U.S. forces into the South could have a positive impact on Karzai,s confidence and quiet concerns about whether the presidential election can be safely held.
14. (SBU) RC-West and RC-North remain relatively quiet, although RC-West has become less stable in the past few months. A rash of kidnappings in Herat, combined with a series of insurgent attacks, including at least one that upset public access to basic needs, had resulted in a widespread lack of confidence in local governance. The GIRoA apparently recognized the danger of leaving this key region that borders Iran (and will eventually be linked to Khaf, Iran by rail service) open to growing insurgent movements and the appeal of a parallel source of governance. MoI Minister Atmar has just sacked a number of senior security officials in Herat in response to this popular unrest.
15. (S) There,s been a sea change in bilateral ties since Musharraf,s exit. Karzai and Zardari have warm relations, which has spread to other parts of the bilateral civilian-side relationship. We also see promising signs of cooperation on the security side ) increased coordination and communication between the respective security forces along certain parts of the border, and a November meeting in Islamabad between NDS Director Saleh and ISI Director General Pasha. The two governments also convened a largely symbolic but positive &mini-jirga8 meeting in October. Continuing - though reduced - infiltration from the FATA and the recent Mumbai attacks have done little, however, to diminish Afghanistan,s ongoing distrust of the Pakistan Army and conviction that ISI is supporting rather than countering terrorism.
16. (U) We very much look forward to your visit.