What Are We Fighting For? General Re-Explains What 'Winning' Means in Afghanistan

By Susan Jones | August 12, 2013 | 10:33am EDT

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who commands the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.  (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

(CNSNews.com) – Twelve years after the war began, General Joseph Dunford, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), says the American people “need to know exactly what we’re trying to do” in Afghanistan.

In a recent speech in Washington, Dunford outlined “what winning looks like” for the international coalition that has been fighting the war for almost 12 years – at a cost of 2,124 American lives.

He indicated that winning the war is no longer about defeating al Qaeda.

Although U.S.-led forces have “put extraordinary pressure on al-Qaida and its associated networks in Afghanistan” and “disrupted al-Qaida's ability to plan and conduct operations from within the country, Dunford said “al-Qaida in the region remains resilient and determined to attack the West.”

Dunford indicated that winning the war involves nation-building.

“I have a hard time standing in front of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen that are in harm's way and talking about anything other than winning,” Dunford said later in the speech. “And I want to make it clear that winning for us means setting the conditions for the Afghans to exploit the decade of opportunity that will come in 2015 and beyond.”

Dunford talked about developing the capabilities of Afghan forces so they can support “credible and transparent elections” in Afghanistan. He also spoke about Afghan forces being able to “harden” Afghanistan – “so that it can facilitate, you know, economic development and political processes that, quite admittedly, will take many years after 2015.”

In December 2009, when President Obama announced a 30,000-strong troop surge for Afghanistan, he said the war’s “overarching goal” had not changed, and that was “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”

Obama said the U.S. objectives in Afghanistan were to deny al-Qaeda safe haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and strengthen Afghanistan security forces so they can take the “lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.”

In his speech last Thursday, Dunford said that although he’s optimistic about the progress in Afghanistan, “From my perspective, winning is by no means inevitable at this point, but it's absolutely achievable. Everything I've identified as a component of winning, it can be done by the end of 2014” – as long as some U.S. forces remain in the country, he added.

“I'm mindful that not everybody shares my optimism,” Dunford told the U.S. Reserve Officers Association. “I'm sure most of you saw the recent poll that said 67 percent of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. And 43 percent of Americans believe that all U.S. forces should come home next year.

“Now, as you can imagine, that sentiment concerns me a great deal. We still have over 60,000 young men and women in uniform in harm's way, and the American people need to understand why they're here, what they're doing and what they're trying to accomplish.”

Dunford said the young men and women fighting the war “need to need to understand that what they are doing is important and that they have the support of the American people.”

Of the 90,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan, 66,000 are Americans.

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