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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09LONDON2311 2009-10-07 17:05 2011-02-08 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy London
DE RUEHLO #2311/01 2801727
P 071727Z OCT 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 LONDON 002311 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2019 
AFGHANISTAN  - COUNTING ON U.S. LEADERSHIP AND EMPOWERING THE AFGHANS  Classified By: Robin Quinville, Political Counselor, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)  

1.  (C//NF) Summary.  In October 1 and 2 meetings with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Admiral Stavridis, and ISAF Commander General McChrystal, Prime Minister Brown, Foreign Secretary Miliband and other senior UK officials underscored HMG's commitment to the allied mission in Afghanistan. They are eager for U.S. leadership to chart a clear course of future strategy in Afghanistan, including a desired end state, as soon as possible.  In the British view, U.S. leadership is essential to keeping the coalition in place. Empowering the Afghan security forces to play a greater role is a top British priority.  The British interlocutors stressed that continued willingness of the UK public to tolerate casualties depends upon the perception that the coalition has a strategy for success Afghanistan.  They agreed that the fight against extremism in Pakistan is closely linked to the outcome in Afghanistan.  In his meeting with McChrystal, Conservative Party leader David Cameron similarly stressed the importance of U.S. leadership and expressed support for continued, sustained effort.  End Summary.  

U.S. Leadership Remains Key ---------------------------  

2. (SBU)  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral Stavridis, and ISAF Commander General McChrystal met with Prime Minister Brown, Foreign Secretary Miliband, Defence Secretary Ainsworth, International Development Secretary Alexander, and Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister Simon McDonald during their respective October 1 and 2 meetings in London. General McChrystal's meetings took place on October 1; Admiral Mullen's and Admiral Stavridis, meetings were on October 2.  Charge' participated in meetings with PM, Defence, Foreign and Development secretaries.  Poloff joined meetings with McDonald.  

3. (C//NF)  Prime Minister Brown said the UK and other coalition partners are looking to President Obama to lay out U.S. policy and lead a renewed effort to stabilize Afghanistan.  Both Brown and Miliband stressed that U.S. leadership is essential to keep the coalition in place.  They expressed confidence that U.S. leadership of a new strategy would maintain coalition solidarity.  The PM said that he would continue to do the utmost to maintain alliance cohesion, but said strong U.S. leadership was necessary to keep several countries from withdrawing forces.  Brown and his advisors made clear their hope that the U.S. review process would be completed as quickly as possible.  Brown stressed that despite suffering significant casualties, the UK sought to persevere in Afghanistan to stabilize the country.  

4. (C//NF) Admiral Mullen described the intense policy review process underway.  General McChrystal provided an overview of his conclusions regarding the way forward in Afghanistan.  He praised the performance of British forces there, acknowledging their significant casualties and stressing that their sacrifice had not been in vain.   He noted that his recommendation for an ISAF force increase was not a call for any one country to provide troops but a message for all allies and partners in Afghanistan.  He outlined his view of the need for a rapid and substantial increase in the size and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces, both the army and the police.  

5. (C//NF)  Brown and Miliband made clear through repeated and pointed questions and that HMG is carefully following the U.S. policy review process.  They expressed their desire for a short timeline for articulating and implementing a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy.  They also affirmed that this strategy should be clearly articulated before additional resources, including troops, are deployed to Afghanistan. They raised the length of time it would take for a COIN strategy to succeed, expressing concern that casualties would remain high in the meantime. Brown emphasized that the longer term strategy must be to establish security, promote effective governance, particularly at the provincial and local levels, and reduce corruption.  McChrystal frankly explained that executing a successful COIN strategy would be a slow and gradual process.  Both Mullen and McChrystal clearly acknowledged that a COIN strategy would result in higher casualties over the short run until its success and greater Afghan force capacity bring tangible security gains.  This had been the pattern in Iraq.   Both estimated that it  LONDON 00002311  002 OF 005   would take three to four years to stabilize Afghanistan.  The PM and his advisors concurred with these assessments.  The PM said that the British people could tolerate casualties as long as they saw the alliance implementing a clear strategy for success.  McDonald shared his "impression" that McChrystal's review was "uber comprehensive."  He asked if it would, perhaps, be preferable for allies to be "more focused," perhaps focusing on maintaining security in major population centers.  McChrystal replied that his review had analyzed the minimum steps necessary for Afghanistan to move forward, and that a strategy based on enclaves and exclusively dependent on counterterrorism would not succeed.   

Karzai ------  

6. (C//NF)  Brown observed that it appeared that Karzai would have gotten over 50 percent of the vote without fraud and irregularities.  Mullen responded that once the election results are final, the international community needed to help legitimize the Karzai government.   The PM concurred, but stressed that the quid pro quo should be a new &compact8 with Karzai.   In Brown,s view, Karzai should use his inaugural address to commit to appointing a strong cabinet, effective governors and combating corruption.   Brown urged us to pin Karzai down on this now.  This would legitimize his government.  Simon McDonald, the Head of Foreign and Defence Policy in the Cabinet office, noted "rumblings" among allies about President Karzai's legitimacy given concerns about fraud. Certification of a first round Karzai victory could raise questions about the government's legitimacy, he stressed.  McDonald welcomed McChrystal's analysis of the elections, but wondered "Will Karzai learn a good lesson from the process?"  

Measuring Success -----------------  

7.  (C//NF) Asked how he would define success, Mullen cited Secretary Gates in calling the goal to make Afghanistan's security situation resemble that of Iraq today.  The coalition had led and had trained Iraqi forces and now the Iraqis were leading, with the U.S. in over-watch mode.  The Prime Minister recalled British success in making local elections more inclusive in Basra and said this needed to be done in Afghanistan.  Doubting that Afghanistan would ever have a central state like that of Iraq, he stressed the importance of building effective regional and local government.  He noted that local elections in 2010 offer an important opportunity, perhaps more important than the presidential elections, to Afghanistan and the international community to improve on the flawed presidential elections and build legitimacy and governance.  In parallel, the PM stressed the need for  an effective reconciliation effort to co-opt Taliban supporters who were in fact closer to mercenaries than hard core Taliban fighters.  

8.  (C//NF)  Miliband articulated a "to do" list for Afghanistan:  First, developing workable governance, especially viable government programs at the provincial and local levels, is key.  He also affirmed the importance of making progress on reintegration of and reconciliation with insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms and participate in the democratic process.  Finally, Miliband stated that the allies need to define the desired end state and develop benchmarks of success.  McChrystal commented that in Iraq the only benchmark with any meaning to most Iraqis was reduction in levels of violence.  

9. (C//NF) McDonald said that "metrics and measures of success are on the Prime Minister's mind."  These measurements "need to be objective ) and we have not captured them yet."  General McChrystal replied that it is possible to objectively measure two benchmarks:  security on a district-by-district level and the size and effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  

Empowering the Security Forces - ASAP -------------------------------------  

10. (C//NF)  General McChrystal provided an overview of his assessment of the training needs and training timeline for the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), and the role of ISAF in providing a "bridge" between now and 2013, the projected date when Afghan forces would be able to stand on their own.  Admiral Mullen estimated that recruiting and training the requisite forces will take three to four years. While the immediate focus is on training the military, over  LONDON 00002311  003 OF 005   the long run, the priority will be on building police capacity.  Mullen cautioned that the security situation is likely to get worse before it improves and that the next 12 months will be difficult, even with the expectation of doubling the number of deployable Afghan troops.  

11. (C//NF)  Prime Minister Brown  repeatedly and forcefully underscored the need for Afghan forces to play a much greater role in providing for Afghanistan's security.  Brown said that the UK is extremely frustrated that British troops in Helmand are doing the job that Afghan forces should be doing, namely holding ground.  He added that British troops are sustaining casualties as a direct result.  The PM pressed for more Afghan forces in Helmand as soon as possible and peppered General McChrystal with detailed questions about when they would arrive and the overall plans for building Afghan force capacity.  McChrystal clearly explained to Brown that there is a limited number of Afghan troops  presently available for combat roles, and he explained the gradual timeline for building capacity. Brown was visibly disappointed, but acknowledged the reality, that McChrystal had to manage the entire theater and could not direct significantly greater numbers of Afghan forces to the areas of Helmand where UK forces are operating.  In his meeting with McChrystal, McDonald commented that there are regions that would be well-served by a substantially increased ANA presence, including Helmand, which has "1/34th of Afghanistan but has 1/3rd of security incidents."  

12. (C//NF)  McDonald concurred about the importance of training the ANSF and empowering them to take increasing responsibility for Afghan security nationwide.  He opined that the ideal trainer-to-trainee ratio is one-to-one.   The Afghan National Army (ANA) is the nation's "most successful national institution" and the institution could be damaged if it grows too quickly, he cautioned.  Peter Watkins, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Director General for Operations Policy, who participated in the meeting with McDonald, expressed support for "embedded partnering"; the UK is doing so already and could be a resource for other nations that decide to follow that route.  

13. (C//NF)  Brown said that his challenge was persuading the British people  that there was a way forward and not a stalemate.   Noting  the fact that UK expenses in Afghanistan had grown ten-fold in four years, he said  that the government must prove that the strategy of Afghanization that they say they are implementing is actually being implemented.  Given the lack of trained Afghan security forces and the casualties that UK forces are suffering, it is difficult to make that case presently.  He repeated that there is a need for a much larger number of Afghan forces and they must become much more effective.  

Timeline and Troop Numbers --------------------------  

14. (C//NF)  McDonald affirmed that Afghanistan is Prime Minister Brown's top foreign policy priority ) a point he repeated several times during his meeting with McChrystal. The British "military wants things to happen in short order," but the political situation in the UK is "more complicated," McDonald explained.  The UK's commitment in Afghanistan will be in a "steady state" until November, McDonald asserted.  

15. (C//NF)  McDonald said that there is an ongoing debate within UK policy- making circles about whether or not to maintain the current British force level in Afghanistan at about 9,000 troops or to increase it to 9,500.  McDonald stressed that 9,000 troops are an insufficient number to accomplish current tasks.  He observed that "If we're to stick with 9,000, we'd have to give up something((possibly) Regional Battlegroup South."  McDonald stressed that the UK military would not like that option, and HMG will consider adding an additional 500 troops.  Internal UK discussions will continue; McDonald asked that the U.S. show "understanding of the political pressure that the Prime Minister is under."  

16. (C//NF)  Watkins noted that the current UK unit at Regional Battlegroup South is due to leave Afghanistan at the end of October, which could result in a "gap" in UK forces for a month if there is no timely political decision to plus up forces.   General McChrystal advised against a gap in the Regional Battlegroup, stressing its loss would create a significant problem for ISAF and that he would accept risk in TF Helmand rather than lose the Regional Battlegroup South. In response to questions from McDonald, McChrystal also outlined operational plans and goals for Marja, in November,  LONDON 00002311  004 OF 005   and Babaji.  

Getting Out the Message -----------------------  

17.  (C/NF) Miliband said that British government faces the political challenge of answering questions from the British people about the war in Afghanistan.  He outlined these questions:  Why are we there?  How long will we be there? Will we succeed?  Is it worth it?  What is the end state? Miliband said that the British people well understand the first question; there are concerns about the rest.  McDonald stated that Prime Minister Brown is unhappy about strategic communications efforts, so far.  Brown's team has been rejiggerring its communication efforts since "our messages did not seem to be getting out."  Additionally, strategic communications in Kabul need to be better coordinated, McDonald stated.   One of McDonald's deputies observed that the UK media often portrays the UK's commitment as a "British fight" rather than part of an alliance effort.   The solution is to "NATO-ize" strategic communications in order to give a "broader context" to the commitment, she said.  

Confronting Extremism in Pakistan ---------------------------------  

18.  (C//NF) Brown and Mullen emphasized the importance of the fight against extremism in Pakistan and its importance to the outcome in Afghanistan.   Responding to several questions from the PM, Mullen and Stavridis briefed him on U.S. and Pakistani cooperation against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mullen noted the great improvement in the effectiveness of the Pakistani response to the terrorist threat over the past six months.   He added that greater effort is needed. Observing that the route to fixing Islamabad passed through Delhi and the route to fixing Kabul passed through Islamabad, the PM said reducing tensions between Pakistan and India would markedly increase Pakistan,s capacity to address the Taliban.  He viewed PM Singh as a man of peace and suggested the U.S. and UK press Zardari to engage with Singh.  Mullen commented that Zardari,s capacity was limited and that the real decision maker on this was the Pakistani military. Brown underscored that if the Pakistanis see us doing more in Afghanistan, they will do more to combat the Taliban inside Pakistan.  

The Conservative Perspective ----------------------------  

19. (C//NF)  Conservative Party Leader David Cameron asked General McChrystal during their meeting to share his perspective on the way forward in Afghanistan, observing that "we need to redefine our  strategy" there and reach the "tipping point" that will lead to victory.  Cameron expressed support for continued, sustained effort, observing that "if you push harder, the tipping point will come sooner."  He affirmed his commitment to working closely with the U.S. to promote stability in Afghanistan.  

20. (C//NF)  Cameron, who was accompanied by Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox, expressed support for increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan "if you can show it is about training the Afghan National Army and building capacity."  He stated that an increase in British troops in Afghanistan under a future Conservative government would depend upon showing "why (more troops) would make a difference."  Cameron asked General McChrystal to outline how long it would take for the Afghan security forces to grow strong and big enough to manage the nation's security.  

21. (C//NF)  Cameron flagged the "really important" efforts to build Afghan capacity at the local level, singling out district governors and the heads of local tribes as key interlocutors.  He asked for General McChrystal's assessment of the role of local militias in promoting stability and providing security.  He suggested that local forces could play a positive role, but "we don't want to create warlordism."  Cameron asserted that Pakistan's government "is making the right noises" but also needs to "make the rights steps" to promote regional stability.  

COMMENT -------  

22. (C//NF)  Since early summer, Brown and his government have faced a steady barrage of criticism at HMG's prosecution of the war effort.  The critics include opposition politicians and senior military officers, as well as independent analysts and some from within his own Labour  LONDON 00002311  005 OF 005   Party.  One strand of criticism faults the government for providing insufficient troops and vital equipment, including helicopters, to accomplish the mission.  Others have criticized the government and the U.S.-led coalition for failing to clearly define the strategic goals of the mission.  Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown expressed the views of both groups when, in a September op-ed, he called for 1,000 additional British troops to be sent to Afghanistan,  cautioning, however, that he does not favor sending more troops &if we can,t sort out what they are supposed to be doing when they get there.8  British popular support for the war effort remains weak; according to recent polling, 41 percent of Britons favor a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and only 23 percent favor an increase in troop numbers.  Nonetheless, PM Brown remains personally committed to the UK's engagement in Afghanistan and he will personally make all major decisions regarding British strategy.  His priorities are boosting Afghan security forces and establishing effective governance in Afghanistan at the national, regional and local levels so that &Afghanization8 can become a reality.  He is anxious to see dynamic U.S. leadership of a strategy for success, which he is convinced can bolster the confidence and boost the energy of the coalition to persevere for the three to four years it will take.  Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX