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Cablegate: Uk Prime Minister Brown Visits Helmand; Welcomes Ansf Focus and Seeks Metrics to Measure War Effort

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/2019

Classified By: Classified By: Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, Reasons 1. 4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Camp Leatherneck (Helmand province) August 30 and met with Ambassador Eikenberry, COMISAF General McChrystal, and 2d MEB Commanding General, BrigGen Larry Nicholson. The PM noted close cooperation between U.S. and British military units in southern Afghanistan and welcomed planned efforts to significantly increase ANSF numbers and capabilities. He said Afghanistan's next government needed to make "tough decisions" in line with taking on greater responsibility for its own affairs. COMISAF described the situation in Afghanistan as "deteriorating" but still winnable. Greater efforts at strengthening Afghan security forces -- including extensive ISAF-ANSF military unit partnering -- offered the best chance for success, despite persistent challenges. Sustaining current momentum in southern Afghanistan would remain the coalition's priority effort.

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2. (C) SUMMARY CONT'D: The Ambassador highlighted the sizable increase in U.S. civilians in the country and proposed expanded financial commitments to Afghanistan; he also stressed the importance of the international dimension of ongoing efforts to stabilize the country. Notably, PM Brown signaled that various publics, including in Britain, needed to be able to see progress on a "month-to-month" timeline -- not over years. Participants also briefly discussed Taliban outreach and reintegration, near-term goals for the next Afghan government, concrete metrics to measure the war effort, and a planned upcoming operation in Helmand (Marjah). END SUMMARY.

COMISAF: Situation Serious, But War Winnable ---------------------------------------

3. (C) COMISAF stressed that while the situation in Afghanistan was "serious and deteriorating," the mission could still be accomplished with proper resources and a focus on ANSF expansion and partnering. Threats to security emanated from a resilient and growing insurgency, a crisis in confidence toward the government and its abilities (alongside elements of ISAF's own past role and endurance) and overall questions about NATO commitments.

4. (C) COMISAF stressed that Afghanistan and the region were too important for the U.S. to leave suddenly; Al Qaeda would try to reestablish its presence and the risks to overall regional stability would increase quickly. To address these challenges, certain actions -- and additional resources -- were needed, to include:

-- FOCUS ON THE POPULATION: A sustained focus on winning the support of the Afghan people as the primary objective; the coalition needs to take the steps necessary to win them over; most Taliban were Afghan, not foreign )- and many would likely quit fighting for jobs.

-- ANSF IN THE LEAD: The coalition's main effort would be ANSF development and partnering. The new goal would be growing a force of 400,000 (240,000 ANA and 160,000 ANP) by 2013. However, ANSF would likely only be strong enough to be in the lead by 2012 or 2013. COMISAF acknowledged that this strategy had risks; the current ANSF had a flawed organization -- a new model would need to embed and partner units down to the platoon level. Current momentum in southern Afghanistan also needed to be maintained, so that a security bubble in Helmand and Kandahar could cover 85 percent of the population in the south. Other areas would necessarily be economy of force priorities. COMISAF said that without additional resources, current efforts would be "fixed" -- but with more resources, enough terrain could be controlled to deny the Taliban strategic traction.

PM Brown: Welcome ANSF Focus, But Who Pays Over Long-Term? --------------------------------------------- -----

5. (C) PM Brown said he welcomed the ANSF focus and plans for expansion, which the UK government would support. He questioned, however, the long-term ability of Afghanistan to fund its own needs, noting that only seven percent of the country's revenue was self-generated; the rest came from donors.
Message to Karzai and Abdullah -------------------------

6. (C) The PM noted that he recently had telephone conversations with both President Karzai and leading KABUL 00002810 002 OF 003 opponent, Abdullah Abdullah. He said that Abdullah told him he would voice concerns publicly about "fraud" in the election. The PM said he had told both Karzai and Abdullah that whoever won in the end, "tough decisions" would have to be made by the next government (attacking corruption, supporting effective local governors, counter-narcotic efforts, etc.) PM Brown said these steps were necessary so that the new government "could be increasingly responsible for its own affairs."

Taliban Outreach, Near-Term Next Administration Goals --------------------------------------------

7. (C) The PM inquired about efforts to reintegrate Taliban fighters. The Ambassador noted that President Karzai and all major candidates had publicly and regularly expressed during the campaign the importance of such efforts. Other factors needed to be watched closely in coming weeks as well, such as: getting through the election with a credible outcome; the quality of government appointments that follow (good ministers and governors); the content of the presidential inauguration message and speech and specifically if the speech lays out a compact between the new president and the Afghan people; the government is willing to take some bold early steps against corruption; and possibly holding an international conference of Foreign Ministers in Kabul hosted by the President of Afghanistan to endorse the compact. COMISAF said that any Taliban reintegration plan would require greater flexibility for ground commanders to deal with local elements willing to reintegrate.

International Commitment, Burden Sharing ---------------------------------

8. (C) PM Brown questioned how possible Dutch and Canadian departures would affect the new strategy -- "would there be extra burden sharing by those who had done so little?" The Ambassador noted the importance of keeping Dutch and Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Teams in place as they provide the commitment from which forces obtain. The PM said that if the Netherlands and Canada left, public opinion in other countries, including his own, would suffer. The Ambassador said that the United States recognizes the importance of a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, referencing our relationship with Egypt as an example. President Karzai was still looking for a strong and lasting NATO and the U.S. security guarantee toward Afghanistan and the region while suspicious of our motivations and objectives.

Civilian Increase --------------

9. (C) The PM inquired about additional civilian capabilities and tasks envisioned alongside any increase in military commitments. The Ambassador noted that a significant increase in U.S. civilian capacity was currently underway, particularly at the regional and provincial levels. U.S. civilian numbers would double by year's end; by the end of 2010, approximately 1,000 civilians would be split between Kabul and the provinces. The U.S. Embassy had also requested additional development aid in the coming fiscal year. The biggest factor, however, centered on improved Afghan capacity and capabilities at the local level. The Ambassador noted that we are working with key Afghan ministers to establish Afghan "District Development Teams" that can be dispatched to districts after clearing operations by ISAF and ANSF. The Ambassador stressed that the Afghan people would not be convinced of lasting progress until they see ANSF and their own government present and operating effectively in their districts.

Public Opinion and Metrics? ----------------------

10. (C) The PM said efforts in Afghanistan would have to be measured in a timeline of months, not years, and that agreed upon metrics would be helpful. He said that while Karzai is "quite good at his ambassadorial role, we need a CEO." The UK's national security advisor cautioned that COMISAF's seemingly "bleak" assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan might lead to press stories that would paint "too bleak" a picture. COMISAF replied that while he was sensitive to that impression, he would maintain his intellectual honesty -- and that what might be perceived by some to be a bleak assessment, might be considered by others to be "realistic."

11. (C) PM Brown asked about the Administration's likely timeline for a decision on COMISAF's resource request and KABUL 00002810 003 OF 003 assessment -- did the U.S. envision hearings in Congress on the report? COMISAF said that a more detailed analysis of needs would be in Washington leaders' hands by mid-September, and while congressional hearings were not presently scheduled, it would not be surprising if they were held. The Ambassador said that there was no timeline for a decision by POTUS, but obviously the assessment, its recommendations and follow-on discussions would be extremely sensitive.

12. (C) The PM stressed, in conclusion, that the UK viewed its role and position as the second largest contributor to Afghanistan -- and that the UK expected others to increase their role and share of responsibilities. He reiterated support for the ANSF focus and partnering model, but also repeated that the UK domestic audience needed to be able to judge successes "month-to-month, not year-to-year."

13. (C) Meeting participants also briefly discussed a planned future operation in Marjah, a de facto Taliban safe haven in central Helmand. COMISAF stressed the importance of maintaining momentum; recent Marine efforts in southern Afghanistan had led to successes that needed to be sustained and expanded.

14. (U) COMISAF and MEB Commander BrigGen Nicholson has reviewed this message. EIKENBERRY

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