WASHINGTON: The ongoing U.S.-Afghan operation in Marja, Afghanistan, probably is the greatest in the history of counterinsurgency, the United States special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said in a weekend television interview.
The United States made a concerted effort to introduce combined units from the U.S. and Afghan militaries, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Afghan government officials to the area as part of its “clear, hold, build, and transfer” policy, Richard C. Holbrooke told CNN’s “GPS” host Fareed Zakaria.
“We are in a better position today than we were 12 months ago today, and that’s the bottom line for me,” Holbrooke said about the situation in Afghanistan.
He commended Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to engage with local Afghans in Marja, pointing out that Karzai was the first Afghan head of state ever to visit the region.
“He spoke in the local language. … He had a local shura, a council. He listened to the people. They yelled at him. They told him they didn’t like corruption,” Holbrooke told Zakaria.
Based on his numerous meetings with village elders across the country, Holbrooke said, corruption, the need for services, and girls’ education are foremost on Afghans’ minds. The Taliban’s refusal to allow girls to go to school is particularly abhorrent to many Afghans, he noted.
Holbrooke also discussed the state of al-Qaida today and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. An increase in missile strikes has led to about a dozen – more than half – of al-Qaida’s top leadership being killed, he said, reducing the terrorist organization’s ability to operate as it used to.
“It looks like they are less an organization that plans operations now than an organization that summons people to aspirational jihad,” Holbrooke said. And al-Qaida’s recent attacks on Muslims have weakened its ability to inspire people, he added, noting that a backlash has formed against the organization in the Arab and Muslim world.
Turning to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Holbrooke said a stronger sense of cooperation and collaboration has grown between the two countries.
“There has been a significant improvement across the board in the relationship between our government and the government of Pakistan,” he told Zakaria.
Pakistan has increased its efforts in tackling both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban factions, Holbrooke said. Although he acknowledged that the Pakistani military hasn’t yet engaged in North Waziristan, he said that he was impressed with its dedication so far.
Holbrooke said Pakistan moved more than 100,000 troops from its border with India in the east to the western front, where al-Qaida and the Taliban are located. It also has several divisions in the Swat region and in South Waziristan.
The envoy said this improvement is due in large part to personal ties formed between the two countries’ leaders. He cited the high-profile visits of several top administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and National Security Advisor James L. Jones Jr., among others. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen has developed a close working relationship with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
“We feel, clearly, that we’re working more closely together with them, and I think that’s a very big step forward,” Holbrooke said. “No government on Earth has received more high-level attention.”