Briefing on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

MR. RIEDEL: The President feels very strongly that this strategy needs to be flexible and adaptable, and that to the extent possible, we develop metrics — and you heard him use that word in the speech — that give you an idea of our success rate. He wants to reevaluate periodically how we’re doing, what’s working, what’s not working, make mid-course corrections and adjustments.

This is a very, very difficult problem, as the President laid out. It’s going to be a long and difficult road ahead. And he wants to have, and we have built into the strategy, maximum flexibility and adaptability. For example, there may be a benchmark that we don’t even know of now that, as we go forward, we begin to realize is something we want to test and measure. So the theme of this process is to be flexible, adaptable and comprehensive, and self-regulating with periodic reviews.

Q Can I ask about the question of corruption with regard to Pakistan? The President alluded today to some problems in getting Pakistanis to respond when we have high-level intelligence — or have intelligence about high-level terrorists, and he said, “We will insist that action be taken.” Does that mean if the Pakistanis will act we will not, and if they do not, we will?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I just don’t think we can answer that question. It’s speculative, it’s hypothetical, and it would be deeply injurious to our national interest to speculate. But I appreciate the importance of the question, and that’s all we’re ready to say.

Q Can you say something about what the President meant by that?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No.

Q The Taliban has come out with a statement in response to the President this morning. They basically said that the U.S. is repeating the mistakes of the Russians, and if winning the war by military power worked then the Russians would still be in charge. I wonder if you have any comment to that. And if that’s the kind of rhetoric that they’re — they sound like they’re ready to fight. Is the U.S. ready for casualties, more Afghan casualties? And how can the U.S. engage with them in any productive way?

MR. RIEDEL: Let me comment on the Taliban. It’s no surprise. We know that the core Taliban leadership, led by Mullah Omar, is determined not to negotiate with anybody. They want to take Afghanistan back to the medieval hell that they created in the 1990s. But there are many of the — those involved in the insurgency who may not be so committed as that, and if we see the momentum of the Taliban broken this summer and over the course of the fighting season, we may see some fractures within that movement. And I suspect that the core Taliban leadership is very, very worried about just that kind of thing happening.

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