Afghan Ambassador Trumpets Obama Agenda

Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States trumpeted major portions of Barack Obama's approach towards his country on Tuesday, marking the second time in as many weeks that an official at the center of U.S.-Mideast policy has echoed the Illinois Senator's agenda.

Said Jawad, who has been at the ambassador's post since 2003, avoided specific references to Obama and his rival Sen. John McCain. But on a broad range of issues that divide the two candidates -- defining the main battleground in the war on terror, U.S. military commitments to Afghanistan, and combating terrorist activity in Pakistan -- he agreed with the prescriptions of the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Sipping occasionally from a glass of mint-flavored iced tea, the ambassador argued that the war in Iraq had diverted military and material resources from Afghanistan. He described the border his country shared with Pakistan as "the central front of the war on terror, certainly," stressing the need for additional American forces. And he offered what amounted to a heartfelt endorsement of Obama's proposal to target high-level al Qaeda figures in northwest Pakistan, even without that country's acquiescence.

"We would appreciate it if Pakistan could take full responsibility in dealing with them," he said. "But if they can't, if they don't have the resources, they should allow the international community to take these elements out, for the sake of Pakistan, for the sake of Afghanistan, and for the sake of the world. These are criminals. We should allow the humanity to go out and eliminate these enemies of humanity. We should not fool ourselves with the legal questions such as sovereignty."

Obama and McCain have differed on this policy, with the Arizona Republican accusing his opponent of naivete and inexperience for proposing to "bomb" an ally. The two candidates have also parted paths on the best way to address the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which this month has seen more deaths of U.S. service members than Iraq. Obama has called for the reallocation of two-to-three brigades of troops from the latter war to the former - a "short-term surge" that Jawad, likewise, advocated.

"From the very beginning the U.S. and international community around Afghanistan was following a policy known as a light footprint, which I see as the wrong policy. We needed the right footprint for Afghanistan," said the ambassador. Now, he added, Afghanistan "will require the surge of both military resources and competence."

McCain, in contrast, has said he would encourage NATO countries to commit more forces to Afghanistan -- a proposal that Jawad said would be important but ultimately insufficient.

"The presence of NATO in Afghanistan is a political asset both for Afghanistan, the United States and other countries," said the ambassador. "The real security and military stakeholders in the fight against international terrorism in Afghanistan are, however, Afghans and Americans. And therefore, we appreciate the fact that NATO countries are there but we need troops that are ready to fight. We need troops that are properly equipped and ready to be deployed to all parts of the country."

Jawad was diplomatic in fielding questions on the 2008 presidential campaign, stressing that Afghanis looked favorably on both candidates. "They admire the courage and the military background of Sen. McCain," he said. "And they really admire the youth and the energy of Sen. Obama. So they are in both camps in this regard."

The bipartisan tone reflected what Jawad said was a critical need for international support for his country, irrespective of who Americans elect. But for Obama, the ambassador's statement will likely only enhance his perception as a serious foreign policy thinker. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki specifically cited the Illinois Democrat's plans for troop withdrawal as the proper template for a status of forces agreement.

The remarks also play nicely into the Obama campaign's efforts to cast the Senator as the lone candidate attentive to the burgeoning Afghanistan crisis; a contrast to McCain and President Bush who remain focused on Iraq. At times, Obama's commitment to the issue - specifically, his pledge to send more troops into that theater - has provoked skepticism from even his own informal advisers. In an interview with the Huffington Post last week, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser and an Obama endorser, warned that by sending more troops to Afghanistan, the United States was "running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did."

But even in this regard Obama found an ally in Jawad. "We very much appreciate Brzezinski's friendship and commitment for Afghanistan, which he supported in 1980, but on this point he is still stuck in 1980," said the ambassador. "The real threat to Afghanistan's peace and prosperity in the region is coming from terrorism. We have been asking for the involvement of the United States even during the time the Soviets were there. And even after they left we wanted the U.S. to play an important role. So it is a totally different situation... The task of defending Afghanistan is ultimately our job. And we will do it. There is no shortage of commitment or courage. There is a shortage of skills and equipment."