I’m working on a story about the future (and past and present) of the Stryker program. So yesterday I talked to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks the Belfair Democrat now presiding over the House defense appropriations subcommittee. (The subcommittee oversees the Pentagon’s $600 billion annual budget.)
He recently traveled to Afghanistan as part of a congressional delegation. While there, he met with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and others. Dicks had lots to say about the war there that won’t quite fit the scope of my story. But this blog’s readers might enjoy reading some of what he said.
On Operation Moshtarak, which cleared the Marjah district of Helmand province of Taliban insurgents: The next part will be the most difficult part, with governance and construction and efforts to do projects in that area.
On Afghanistan’s political situation: The problem still is Karzai is a weak president. There has been some corruption in his government. I think he has appointed some better people, because he knows his reputation in the international community has been diminished. The ambassador and McChrystal took him to that area, Marjah, to show him what’s happening and show him that he is the president of country at war. They’re trying to improve that relationship and strengthen him.
On cooperation with the Pakistanis: The Pakistani army and security team are helping us roll up Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida. They had military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. I got a chance to talk with (U.S. Central Command commander) Gen. (David) Petraeus, and he thought in the past 10 months the cooperation from the Pakistani government has really enhanced. And a lot of it is because the terrorists went after the (Pakistani) army and the families of the army and the families of the (Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency). And people wanted something to be done about it. That’s the message I got from the Pakistani defense minister.
On the future: Everyone feels like things have shifted. Things are moving in the right direction. It reminds me a little bit of the start of a surge. I went over (to Iraq) in February 2007. I had a chance to spend time with Gen. Petraeus and Gen. (Raymond) Odierno, and I was very impressed with the possibility of the surge. I think this is a more complicated problem here, with all the factions and groups and warlords and the drug issue and the illiteracy. It’s a real challenge. But if this is going to turn around, I think we have the right leadership.
On NATO: I wish we had a little more support from NATO. But they’re there, and that makes a difference. That sends a real positive message that it’s just not the United States that’s concerned about this.