Kabul Gathering Strengthens U.S., Afghanistan Partnership

Posted by Morgan Obrien
April 14, 2010
Ambassador Holbrooke With President Karzia and General Petraeus

About the Author: Morgan O'Brien serves as Staff Assistant to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Morgan writes from Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan.

Over the past two days, I've had a front row seat as a cross-section of around 300 civilian and military experts from the United States, Afghanistan and the rest of the international community met for a "Rehearsal of Concept" (ROC) that turned an airport terminal building into a multinational conference center.

Co-chaired by my boss, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and General David Petraeus, commander of United States Central Command, the ROC Drill sought to dig deep with the Afghans and the international coalition into U.S. and ISAF thinking on the year ahead in Afghanistan. Dozens of key players from the field discussed the details of their plans and programs to promote an across-the-board, cooperative civilian-military, international and Afghan discussion on the challenges posed and ideas for making continued progress.

"Over the past year, we have consistently sought inputs from all of our partners to ensure we developed a comprehensive, civ-mil, counterinsurgency campaign," said General Petraeus. "This event, however, took that partnership to a new level. These were invaluable, very productive sessions."

The sessions were not only invaluable and productive, but fascinating to watch. It was refreshing to see such a wide array of nations -- with a dozen Ambassadors and 13 Afghan ministers and other senior officials, and international organizations -- talk with one another as partners sharing a common platform and common goal. Rather than theory, they looked at what could actually be done in the coming months. Sitting in the same room as a collection of individuals like ISAF commander General Stan McChrystal and President Karzai who will end up in my children's history books (if books exist when I have kids -- I'd continue, but I'm not sure if it would be appropriate for DipNote if I turned this post into a love letter to my new iPad), was a one of those moments that makes you appreciate the unique opportunities the Foreign Service provides.

As Ambassador Holbrooke and General Petraeus both pointed out numerous times over the past few days, the build up to this moment was the furthest thing from spontaneous. Last May's ROC Drill, held at Washington's Ft. Leslie McNair, laid the foundation for this year's event.

“While we identified a number of areas for improvement last year, it was virtually all American participants, something we wanted to improve upon for this year,” said Ambassador Holbrooke. “To get 300 people to Kabul took many, many months -- the planning for this event began during President Karzai's inauguration in November.”

In what Ambassador Holbrooke described as the "capstone" of the ROC Drill, President Karzai addressed the participants during the Sunday afternoon session, thanking attendees for coming to Afghanistan, and recognizing the value of this forum. Another moment I enjoyed was seeing the embassy interpreter -- a young Afghan man whose name I'm not going to mention here -- take tremendous pride in announcing the arrival of his President to the conference attendees. President Karzai's attendance was not just a big deal for the Afghan participants.

“President Karzai's participation carries great importance,” said Ambassador Holbrooke. “We greatly appreciate the fact that he came.”

In addition to President Karzai's brief visit, more than a dozen Afghan ministers and officials representing fields including intelligence, finance, policing, foreign affairs, trade, agriculture, justice, local governance and many others were on hand to participate in the discussion for most of the two days.

In Washington, desk officers often prepare background documents, meeting prep papers and information memos about foreign officials whom they may only know from embassy reporting cables. But the ROC drill brought Ministers Zakhiwal, Atmar, Popal, Wardak director Saleh and a host of others off the pages of briefing checklists and into the middle of the action. I saw these men share their thoughts about how to move their country forward with our leaders and saw the most prominent figures on all sides really listen to one another.

"We spent the last two days with some of the smartest, and most dedicated people in Afghanistan," said Jack Lew, Deputy Secretary of State.

The American co-chairs, the Afghan leaders, and the international representatives all agreed that the two-day event was a success and decided the practice should continue more frequently. "The last two days were so successful that we are planning another ROC drill here, in the near future," said Ambassador Holbrooke.

"We had a very good exchange on the topics discussed over the last two days," said General Petraeus. "But there are still seams and areas for improvement."

At the conclusion of the event, Ambassador Holbrooke and General Petraeus met with President Karzai to deliver a two-hour long outbrief and begin planning for future events, which will include not just an additional drill but also a visit by President Karzai to the United States in mid-May and the Kabul Conference in the summer.



California, USA
April 14, 2010

Masood in California writes:

Simply put! Mr. Karzai needs to get his act together and deliver! Corruption is not the option anymore!

New Mexico, USA
April 14, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Morgan,

My dad once told me, "Son, never believe anything you hear, only half of what you read, but believe what you see and get your eyes checked often."

That said, I'm wondering if your boss would recomend I get checked after reading the following assesments, (one old, one recently posted), or is the vision 20/20 and we're still all on the same page?

>Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2001 03:41:03 -0600
>To: secretary@state.gov
>From: (Eric in New Mexico)
>Subject: "Powell doctrine"-Exit options
>> Dear Mr. Secretary,

It seems logical to me when looking at the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after WW2, why we haven't been targets of terrorism by these former enemies, it may also be logical to view the rise of Hitler as a direct result of the sanctions imposed opon Germany at the end of WW1.

I agree that the war that has been declared opon us will take time, and cost much to win. I hope you will forgive my being so bold as to propose the following;

Based opon the fact that the people of Afghanistan have no self-determination of their fate, and are at the mercy of the Taliban(or who-ever controls them), and given the fact so many are abandoning the country in fear, it seems to me that this mission must be a liberation, not a reprisal, I mean by this that we perform surgery-heal the patient(Afghanistan).

In order to retain support, especially throughout the Arab world, for a sustained presence in the region, it will be necessary to address the humanitarian needs of the refugees immediately to;

A.Show compassion in the midst of our wrath.

B.To prevent further human suffering due to terrorist acts opon us.

I will base the following on the assumption that the military surgery undertaken will remove the cancer in a similar fashion as in WW2-unconditional surrender.(*)

Given the resulting void in government structure, and to avoid setting up what might be viewed as a "puppet" government, I propose this as an alternative:

Restore the government prior to the Soviet invasion, most of that ruling family is in exile.(although a monarchy,it held democratic ideals despite the influence of the Soviets and had no clue about the Soviet agenda until too late) .

I have only my gut instinct to go on, but the "northern alliance" might agree to this as it would bring the country full circle, bringing hope again and the ability to function as a distinct political entity in the U.N.

In addition I believe that the whole premise by which we may safely exit the situation with the goals in hand is this;

If the average Afghan citizen can say they're better off than they were before the Taliban took over, and having the world's help rebuilding, not only will the world respect us, but we'll give them nothing to hate us for in the future.

The massive response with food, shelter, clothing to the refugees prior to any action against the Taliban or bin Laden will immediately let the world know without a doubt that we consider them victims of terrorist aggression, and that our mission is to rid them of this and restore sanity.

If we do this right, the long term prognosis will be a full recovery from a terminal illness.

Afghanistan may need a decade of peace to achieve this.

The stability necessary for this can only come from the people's desire to be at peace, and a hope for the future.

(*) Unconditional surrender in this case does not require use of nuclear weapons to achieve objective, if used, all support will evaporate, and the objective(long term)is lost. I believe it's logical given the terrain, that this may have been considered, hopefully only for a fraction of a second.

I must apologize for not having introduced myself.

I'm a house painter, a trade which allows me to have way too much time on my hands to think about things. Father to two girls who stop traffic unintentionally.

Granddad worked on the bomb with Oppenhiemer, therefore my interest in history and sociology, and partially my reason for this e-mail. The other is to help if I can.

Best wishes and Godspeed,



The time stamp, header, and letter are unaltered except to delete personal and irrelevent content for posting.

My understanding through constituancy services is that this and others were passed around among a half dozen folks @ State and the Whitehouse when it was read ( in this case 4-5 hours after sending)

I know Amb. Finn appreciated this when I sent it to him and I hope your boss does as well. The latest assesment follows (5000 character limits being what they are).

Give my best to all concerned please and thanks for posting and keeping folks informed,


New Mexico, USA
April 14, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Morgan,

(part 2)

This current assesment was given in response to doubts expressed here on Dipnote based on news reporting of late.

Lot of folks concerned, and that why I'm asking for the feedback.

Could help dispel doubts on all sides.

Be safe,


"Karzai's major worry is not just his credibility with his own people, it's about not wanting his country to become the battlefield for regional powers, including between the US/ISAF and Iran.

He's not stupid, just under a lot of stress to perform, with the entire world looking on.

Personally I think he's using a little reverse psycology on his own people in posing the thought of becoming Taliban himself. Afghan's in general hate the Taliban more than they do any foreign forces in there to deal with them and al-quaida. Karzai knows this.

So I think he's trying to motivate his own people to stand up for themselves, to make the choices they need to make to secure their future as an independant country that's taken control of their future.

Fact is, he can't solve corruption all by himself and so when he told tribal elders in Kandahar that the tribes needed to deal with "their own thieves" I think he's giving them a choice in the timing of military action so they have a little time to kick the taliban out on their own, as well as deal with the corruption that supports the taliban.

It's interesting that he accused the UN and others of trying to set up a "puppet gov.", it wasn't made clear whether he was going to lead it or someone else was. But he's often been called a "western puppet" by the taliban and he's trying to win the support of his people in some pretty trying circumstance.

I can't say it's not going to backfire on him, but if we demonstrate some "legendary patience" and give him some time to put his agenda to work, it's just possible he'll motivate his people to do what they need to do to secure their own future.

If one was to compare body language Karzai exibited with Amanidijad compared with Gates, McCrystal or Obama, one can sense the stiffness in his bering with the Iranian leader as compared to a generally relaxed association with those he has a working relationship with. Even when disagreements happen, he thanks the American people for their support.

So I don't doubt he knows who his friends are."

Posted on Wed Apr 07, 2010

United States
May 3, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

Can't Karzai get shares in a new hospital or medical system in exchange for relinquishing drug profits? Have him give up his illicit profits, build a state of the art medical system with the opium money and let him be on the Bord of Directors.

New Mexico, USA
May 17, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Morgan:

What about that letter of 19 Sept 2001 do folks not understand all these years later? I knew exactly what I was asking my government to do. And how hard it would be to achieve. Two administrations now have been working hard at it to make it so.

The goals I outlined in Sept. 2001 have been met with one exception, there as yet has not been a "decade of peace" to allow for full recovery of the "patient" and Afghanistan coming full circle. At risk of repeating myself, here's how I think reconciliation can happen on the ground. We don't need Mullah Omar or Gulbadin Hectmayr's approval to achieve it, for the truth is self evident; That promoting world peace is all about getting the other guy to lay down his weapons, and talk alone rarely achieves that. Nor is it done by military means alone, both means must be proven effective together under the circumstances they are targeted to change. "The question of reintegration is sort of a "right of passage" for those formerly of the Taliban, in the process the individual must go through after laying down arms and agreeing to terms unconditionally.

A program in place whereby three things happen for that individual to be successfully reintegrated into peaceful Afghan society.
1. That work is a method of decompression from combat used as a tool to create a peaceful mindset and something to look forward to in life.
2. That in order to prove loyalty to the constitution and Afghanistan; that the individual will plant trees for the government of Afghanistan for a period of 2 years and be paid a living wage for his labor. Planting trees will form an appreciation for life rather than retain a willingness over time to destroy life, in theory.
3. That upon successful completion of educational (reading, writing, arithmetic) training during those 2 years (can't plant trees in the winter), the individual is granted full legal status as an Afghan citizen-"in good standing with the government", with the right to vote, and start a business.

I think some sort of probationary period would be in order if the law abiding Afghan citizens are to be respected. Not to speak for Afghans in this, I think it's just human nature to want assurances of peaceful intent. The Taliban have got to pay their dues to a future Afghanistan all Afghans can be joyful in calling home. The way to make democrats out of separatists is to include them in that process. This way they come to understand that we're not there to steal their land, just there to help them heal it, being in our own national interests as well as theirs.

I think given a choice between fighting and having the opportunity to do something one can show off to their grandkids as they sit in the shade you created in a greener Afghanistan that has successfully won the war against desertification, then I think you'll find more than a few walking away from the fight they're in with us today. End the illegal logging along the Pakistan border by paying the local Afghan loggers to plant trees instead, and then create a few more national parks to preserve the existing forests, and the Afghan government will retain sovereignty over its natural resources rather than have them pillaged by opportunists.

The tree planting that the US is sponsoring now has turned into one of the most popular programs among Afghans that has been stood up so far, if I understood the Sec. of Agriculture correctly. I'm wondering if folks @ State are as curious as I am just how far we could stretch a program to solve more than one problem at a time."

---end post
I'm sure President Karzai has ideas, as do Afghans in general about how to go about achieving reconciliation, but if Amb. Hollbrooke thinks this a valid suggestion to offer as a solution, I think President Karzai is pretty open to a few constructive ideas. Perhaps he'll see fit to pass it on in some form or another.

Best regards,


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