A Conversation with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

Former Afghanistan ambassador critiques military’s track record

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry gave an overview of the progression of U.S.-Afghanistan relations from the start of war under President George W. Bush to the recent withdrawal of most troops under President Barack Obama. He also spoke specifically as to how his experience in the military had prepared him for the ambassadorship, and noted two critical missions the United States still has in Afghanistan—counterterrorism and helping Afghanistan develop military operations.

“This is a war that could only be won by Afghan people,” Eikenberry said. “It’s about the Afghan government winning over the hearts and minds of their people, not about us trying to win over the hearts and minds of villagers.”

Eikenberry said he respects President Obama’s decision to give a 2014 end goal for the Afghanistan mission, and he thinks Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will give U.S. troops legal immunity by signing the bilateral security agreement to have troops remain after 2014.

Eikenberry recounted the timeline of the war in Afghanistan, starting with the 9/11 attacks.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working on the army staff in the Pentagon on the third floor when American Airline flight 77 flown by al Qaeda crashed almost literally beneath my office,” Eikenberry said. “That was my introduction to Afghanistan.”

In 2009 as the determination of Afghan people deteriorated, the military turned to a robust state-building strategy. This required extensive resources and time to avoid a retreat by the United States. The military did not give the president a sophisticated, broad array of options, he said.

“The president turned to the national security team and said, ‘I want a range of options for what to do in Afghanistan,’ and the military basically said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you three options—20,000 additional troops and we’ll lose quickly, 30,000 additional troops and we’ll lose slowly or 40,000 additional troops and we’ll have a chance.’”

Eikenberry’s candid, blunt style of speaking gave the audience a realistic view of U.S. international relations.

“It will be fun to hear what he is going to tell us,” President Richard Brodhead said. “But imagine what he is not willing to tell us.”

Eikenberry showed how being trained in the humanities has taught him how to balance the law of war against strategy, taking morality into account.

Sophomore Teymour Dajani—an international student who “carries passports from all of the world”—was interested in hearing Eikenberry’s perspective on career paths.

“A guy who is so interested in the arts and really applying himself in a practical manner on the ground…[is] refreshing for me to see [as] an example of someone who makes full use of his education,” Dajani said.

Rahul Sumant, Fuqua ’13, said that his strong interest in the region and Eikenberry’s high profile drew him to the event.

“The most intriguing thing that I learned about is that the United States is playing three different roles in Afghanistan,” Sumant said. “One is nation-building, [the second] is CIA fighting its war against al Qaeda and the third was building the Afghan army.”

View the original Chronicle article here.