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Cablegate: Mixed Initial Reactions to President Obama's

VZCZCXRO5509
PP RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #3854/01 3361645
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 021645Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3693
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 003854

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KDEM AF
SUBJECT: MIXED INITIAL REACTIONS TO PRESIDENT OBAMA'S
AFGHANISTAN STRATEGY SPEECH

1. (U) Summary: President Obama's Afghanistan strategy
speech aired early the morning of December 2 in Kabul,
leaving Afghan politicians, political analysts, and
government officials the day to both praise and criticize the
President's strategy. While some commentators praised
Obama's renewed focus on Afghanistan, others questioned
whether the strategy was any different from what they had
seen in the past. Similarly, some praised Obama's resolve to
begin removing troops in 2011, while voicing concern that the
announcement of a timeframe was premature. Most analysts
lauded the President's inclusion of Pakistan in his strategy,
but questioned that country's resolve to eradicate terrorism
within its own borders. End Summary.

----------------------
The Same Ol' Strategy?
----------------------

2. (U) During a December 2 roundtable discussion at the
Afghan Government Media and Information Center (GMIC),
political analysts praised President Obama's renewed focus on
Afghanistan. Kabul University Professor Ahmad Zia Rafhat
told journalists he is optimistic that, after eight years,
the international community has a better understanding of
Afghanistan and will employ lessons learned from past
mistakes. Daoud Muradian, Director of the Foreign Ministry's
Strategic Studies Office, called Obama's emphasis of
Afghanization "a very good point" and commented favorably on
the international community's realization that terrorist safe
havens lie across the border" in Pakistan.

3. (U) However, other analysts saw little new in President
Obama's strategy and questioned whether the United States
possesses the resolve to win in Afghanistan. Although Kabul
University Professor Stanekzai assessed the strategy
positively in the GMIC discussion, in a separate interview
with Radio Azadi, he criticized the international community
for its lack of coordination in their activities and strategy
over the past eight years. Karzai supporter MP Shukria
Barakzai questioned the expectation that Afghans will assume
security responsibility in two years, commenting during a
Tolo TV roundtable aired the same day that the United States
and the international community had not trained and equipped
the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) over the past
eight years. Also at the GMIC event, a journalist from
Bakhtar News Agency questioned whether the United States
would now choose to sufficiently equip the Afghan Army when,
over the last eight years, they had been given barely any
equipment "besides three broken planes."

----------------------------------
Transferring Power Or Pulling Out?
----------------------------------

4. (U) Some political pundits interpreted our summer 2011
time line to begin withdrawing our combat troops as part of
our strategy to build Afghan capacity and then transfer
security leadership to the rightful owners - the Afghans.
Referencing the goal to begin decreasing combat forces in
2011, Professor Stanekzai reassured the GMIC audience that
the United States "is not here to occupy Afghanistan."
Professor Ahmad Zia Rafhat told the journalists that while
discussing a troop increase and exit strategy simultaneously
may sound paradoxical, it in fact impresses upon senior
Afghan government officials that they need to be prepared to
take more responsibility quickly. He stated confidently that
while one to two years is insufficient time to end terrorism,
it should be enough to root out Al-Qaeda and weaken the
Taliban. UNAMA Spokesperson Nelab Mobarez, among others,
emphasized the importance of strengthening the Afghan
National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) in order
to successfully transfer security responsibility in 2011.
Some analysts also stressed the need for improved governance
and more efficient reconstruction to ensure a smooth transfer
of responsibility.

5. (U) Other Afghans viewed the 2011 timeline as evidence of
our unwillingness to commit long-term to Afghanistan. Former
Deputy Defense Minister General Attequllah Baryali told Radio
VOA Dari that setting a timeline for troop withdrawal will
cause Afghans to worry the United States is not truly
committed to the country, comparing the situation to when the
Soviet Union withdrew and Afghanistan collapsed into civil
war. He also worried that sufficiently building ANSF
capacity could take 5-10 years, not 18 months. A journalism
student from the American University in Afghanistan (AUAF)
warned that setting an 18-month timeline would embolden
insurgents.

-----------------------

KABUL 00003854 002 OF 002


Afghanistan's Neighbors
-----------------------

6. (U) Most political commentators and analysts emphasized
the important role Afghanistan's neighbors play in securing
the country. MP Dawood Sultanzai told Tolo TV that the new
strategy will fail unless the international community takes
Afghanistan's neighbors into serious account. In the GMIC
meeting, Professor Stanekzai stipulated that "America must
assert pressure on Pakistan," while MFA official Muradian
praised President Obama and Gordon Brown for "pointing out
that Taliban leadership now resides in Pakistan."

7. (U) While analysts were pleased to see President Obama's
continued emphasis on Pakistan, many were skeptical that
Pakistan would do its part in eradicating terrorism within
its borders. At the GMIC event, Professor Stanekzai told
journalists it would be a big achievement "if Pakistan
focused on itself," but then qualified his statement by
saying "it is no doubt that Pakistan will never want
stability in Afghanistan". At the same event, an AUAF
student questioned why the United States "is sending 30,000
new troops to Afghanistan and only money to Pakistan, despite
acknowledging that the terrorists are in Pakistan."
Eikenberry

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