25 Jan 2010 13:00:19 GMT
(Repeats with no change in content) (For more coverage of security issues, click [ID:nSECURITY])
* U.S. sees nation-building as key to security
* Civilian help ratcheted up to match military commitments
* Fighting militants for ‘hearts and minds’
By Andrew Quinn WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Seen from Washington, the threats can all look the same: deeply divided societies plagued by corruption, poverty and growing Islamic militant movements that harbor deep hatred for the United States. But while Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Yemen may appear similar from a distance, up close each is a very different struggle — a lesson Washington must learn to achieve its objectives in any of them, security analysts say.
This week, U.S. allies meet in London for two conferences on Afghanistan and Yemen that will spotlight how President Barack Obama’s policies are evolving to meet the expanding constellation of security threats. Both will underscore a shift from short-term crisis management to long-term nation-building — a potential hard sell for a U.S. public exhausted with war and unnerved by record government deficits and high unemployment at home.
With some Republicans raising concern the administration has not responded aggressively enough to the Yemen threat even as it muscles up in Afghanistan, Obama must persuade skittish voters that his strategy will keep the country safe in a world where the next attack could come at any time. “The rise of Yemen illustrates the difficulty the United States is facing in dealing with the network phenomenon of global jihadi terrorists,” said Stewart Patrick, a senior security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “You’ve got the world’s only superpower playing a game of whack-a-mole,” Patrick said, referring to a popular game in which players whack down one peg only to see one pop up elsewhere.
“There are obviously limitations with that kind of strategy. It leaves the impetus and initiative open to al Qaeda.” In Afghanistan, U.S. plans have focused on the military, with Obama pledging to add 30,000 U.S. troops to the 68,000 already there fighting Taliban militants. The strategy mirrors that ordered for Iraq by former President George W. Bush in 2007, which was credited with reducing violence and setting the stage for a U.S. withdrawal. Whether it will be effective in Afghanistan is still an open question.
With soldiers already on the ground, the United States and allies such as Britain are launching a “civilian surge” to bolster the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Officials hope Afghanistan will emerge from the Thursday meeting with a timeline to take charge of its own security, mechanisms for coordinating development and plans to fight widespread corruption in Karzai’s government.
“It’s very important that we upgrade our civilian side of the mission as the military upgrade their side,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said last week. The Obama administration has tripled the number of civilian experts in Afghanistan to nearly 1,000 from 320 a year ago, and hopes to expand that by 20 to 30 percent in 2010. The emphasis on basic issues like the police force, agricultural development and eduction represents the realization that the only way to deny al Qaeda and other extremists safe haven is to give the local population a viable alternative, analysts say. “We are not going to achieve our goals just by having boots on the ground,” said Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The biggest problem of all in these places is economic.” NEW THREAT AND NEW FOCUS Despite the focus on Afghanistan, Yemen moved to the top of the U.S. priority list after a Nigerian man with Yemeni links was charged with attempting to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the failed bombing and promised more attacks on the United States in an audiotape Al Jazeera said on Sunday was of the Al Qaeda leader. The Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen presents many of the same danger signs as Afghanistan: weak government, destitute population and a history of al Qaeda-linked attacks including the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole.
But while diplomats quickly scheduled a London meeting on Wednesday to deal with Yemen, the response has been calibrated — a sign lessons are being learned, analysts say. Military officials have ruled out U.S. troop commitments. Rich neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are being squeezed for support. Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh is being given clear performance benchmarks for continued international assistance. “There is not an effort here to treat Yemen as if it is an Afghanistan in the making, which I think is appropriate,” said Steven Heydemann, a Yemen expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank. “There has been a relatively cautious effort to figure out the scale of the threat Al Qaeda in Yemen represents, and to assure the Yemenis are out front in addressing it,” he said. The London meeting will seek to unlock some of about $5 billion already pledged to Yemen in 2006 but held up in part over concerns about how it would be spent. That, in turn, could begin changing conditions on the ground before Islamic radicals gain widespread support, analysts said.
Some U.S. officials have voiced fears that Washington is not responding aggressively enough to the Yemen threat. “If we are now opening this new front without the capacity to do it, I wonder seriously about where that takes us,” Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a recent hearing. But analysts say the drive to win ‘hearts and minds’ on the ground, as opposed to beating back militants on the battlefield, may be the only key to long-term security. “There is a lesson coming out of Afghanistan, and Iraq before that, that you need to get more balance and we can’t afford to simply take a short-term approach,” said Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Editing by Paul Simao)