Ask the Expert: Brian Katulis on the Obama Administration's Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

What is the latest strategy from the Obama administration on Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This week the Obama administration released a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that's aimed at stabilizing both countries using all tools of American power, not just the military and sending troops. I think a key feature of this strategy--the one thing that's new--is the support it offers to the Afghan government for the reintegration of certain elements of the Taliban. And how the United States actually executes these programs, working with our State Department and USAID and other key civilian agencies, I think that will be the ultimate test of whether that strategy achieves results.

What are the unanswered questions?

How do we actually know when the mission is accomplished? Unfortunately, one year into the Obama administration, we still don't have a reasonably defined end state of what we would like to see Afghanistan and Pakistan look like. We have a clear goal, which is to defeat and dismantle Al Qaeda in both countries and make sure they don't come back. But the central question of what it is we're actually trying to build--what sorts of institutions we need to leave behind, what are we doing as part of this civilian surge in Afghanistan, and when do we know when their job is done? This is still an unanswered question.

Can the United States still succeed in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

I think the United States can achieve progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there's a bigger policy question: we don't have a clear metric for how we're doing when we apply resources to these particular places--whether its troops or development assistance--and what are the outcomes and the results. Whether it's truly making America safe. We lack an overall metric for determining success nearly eight and a half years in this global fight against Al Qaeda, and the United States needs to get a clearer objective in terms of how it's going to bring this war to an end and what are the best ways to measure progress.