President Obama convened his monthly war council Monday during this “very volatile point” in the war in Afghanistan, a senior administration official in attendance told ABC News.
“Violence is up and we’re in a. difficult political environment heading into an election in a country also facing an insurgency,” the official said, adding that this dynamic was expected. “We’re under no illusions – it’s a very challenging time.”
The meeting started at 11 am ET in the Situation Room, and ran for roughly an hour and 45 minutes.
US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry began by briefing the council on governance issues – discussing the parliamentary elections this Saturday and the push-and-pull with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on corruption. The Commander in Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, followed with a briefing on the security situation. Lastly, US Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Patterson discussed that country, focusing on the aftermath of the floods.
After each of the three briefings, others chimed in with observations and general discussion.
During the conversation on governance, the team discussed the best way to work with Karzai and Afghans to address corruption, some of which is deeply rooted in Afghan culture, the official said. The war council discussed ways the US can try to distinguish between the common graft that is “the way business has been done in Afghanistan for a long time” and the more scandalous examples of government officials stealing billions and buying mansions in Dubai, which undermines confidence in the government.
Petraeus, speaking from Kabul via videoconference, emphasized that for the first time the mission in Afghanistan is fully resourced, the official said. It took until the end of August for all of the new “surge” of troops to be deployed and put in position. Petraeus said the US has never had this tempo or scale of operations in Afghanistan – with roughly 98,000 US troops.
But the tone of the war council meeting was grave – because a consequence of the influx of troops and the new mission is increased violence. That’s because the insurgency is resilient and has been gaining strength for years, and also because the US troops are challenging them in their longest established strongholds – particularly in the South and around Kandahar.
President Obama and Gen. Petraeus agreed to look for five basic metrics in the coming months to assess how the mission is proceeding:
1) How well are US troops doing and dislodging Taliban in places where they’re most deeply rooted, such as Kandahar;
2) How are troops doing in stepped-up efforts to take out Taliban leaders such as shadow governors and regional commanders;
3) Recruitment and training of Afghan forces — meeting higher recruitment goals, improving the quality of training;
4) A new metric that started in July – the progress of new local policing initiatives in communities, villages and tribes;
5) Reintegration of low-level Taliban into Afghan society.
On the whole, the meeting was fairly sober, given how tough the situation on the ground has become in the past few months.