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Afghanistan Strategy Fuels ‘Unprecedented’ Government Cooperation

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2009 – The Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy unveiled earlier this year has garnered unprecedented cooperation among U.S. government agencies, the top Pentagon policy official said today.

Michelle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said in a statement submitted to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that a “whole of government” approach to the region is being coordinated.

“We have launched what I believe is a truly unprecedented interagency effort to implement our new strategy,” states Flournoy’s testimony, which Wallace “Chip” Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, read to Congress today on behalf of Flournoy, who is traveling in Asia.

A whole-of-government approach reflects a foreign policy philosophy that military effort should be complemented with diplomacy, economic aid and other instruments of state power if a comprehensive strategy is to be effective.

This, in addition to reliance on international partnerships, is a core component of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that President Barack Obama’s administration made public in March. Reversing insurgents’ gains and securing the population, helping to build a self-reliant Afghan security force, and providing a secure environment in which Afghan governance and development programs can take root and grow are its top priorities.

“Doing all those things isn’t strictly -- or even primarily -- a task for the U.S. military, though our military has a vital role to play,” Flournoy said. “The challenges we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan are economic, diplomatic and informational as well as military. … To succeed, we must make good use of all elements of national power, military, diplomatic, and economic.”

In the midst of arranging the comprehensive approach, Flournoy said, the United States is clarifying agency responsibilities, synchronizing the various government efforts and resources, and developing measures of effectiveness to determine what’s working and what needs changing.

On one hand, U.S. officials must articulate clear guidance that is coordinated from the top down, Flournoy said. But power brokers in Washington must understand the limits of centralized planning.

“That’s why this administration has been so focused on identifying and empowering key senior leaders, military and civilian, both at the theater level and in country,” she said. Operationally, the United States is refining the civil-military plan designed to help in achieving the unity of effort needed, while delegating as much authority as possible to local actors, she added.

In her remarks, Flournoy cited the interagency team headed by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as an example of the kind of coordination necessary.

“It is staffed by talented individuals drawn from many different departments and agencies,” she said, including the departments of Defense and Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Several top Defense Department regional experts and military officers are on loan to Holbrooke’s team, Flournoy added.

Flournoy underscored the important role Washington plays in overseeing the efforts.

“Even as we have empowered senior leaders in the field, we recognize that their work must be accompanied by ongoing and intensive senior level support and oversight here in Washington,” she said. “We have established interagency working groups at every level, from frequent Principals and Deputies Committee meetings down to highly specialized interagency working groups.”

Though today’s hearing and other oversight measures are only four months in the making, Flournoy noted, she expressed optimism at the way the comprehensive approach is evolving.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us as we continue to build efficient and effective coordination structures,” she said. “But I want to emphasize that we’ve already achieved a genuinely unprecedented level of interagency cooperation.”

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Michelle Flournoy


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