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January 30, 2009

Some Thoughts on Karl Eikenberry
Posted by Patrick Barry

The New York Times reported that the Obama administration plans to appoint Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry to the position of Ambassador to Afghanistan.  Appointing a career military officer to such a sensitive diplomatic position is a highly unconventional decision, but there are a few factors that bode well for his appointment.

First, as Spencer observed, Eikenberry, in addition to knowing the country extremely well from having served two tours there, has put a strong emphasis on enhancing Afghan governance, in particular the Afghan army.  This puts him on the same page as other key figures associated with formulating U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, all of whom have been outspoken about putting an Afghan face to any strategy. Secretary Gates indicated his reticence of expanding the U.S. footprint beyond the troops that are expected to deploy in 2009, which puts expanding the size of the Afghan army at a high priority.

Second, signs point to a multi-national dimension to Eikenberry's appointment, specifically related to NATO, where he served as Deputy Chairman.  Coordinating NATO forces, and fully integrating allied efforts into an overarching framework has long been a bugbear for the U.S. mission.  Caveats, which restrict the terms of engagement for most NATO forces, are the best illustration of this problem.  But beyond that there are challenges to reconstruction (example - 26 PRT's, from 13 different countries, with each country's teams structured different, and operating under different procedures) to institution building (example - Germany's well document problems training and building the ANP).  Addressing these interwoven obstacles will be even more difficult as European support for the war continues to waver.   It makes sense to have someone with deep knowledge of both the issues specific to Afghanistan, as well as broader political constraints facing the international coalition, to be in charge of hammering things out. Eikenberry fits that mold.

And finally, as a reassurance for those who may be concerned about a military officer taking over a diplomatic position, remember Richard Holbrooke.  As President Obama indicated last week, Holbrooke will have wide authority to implement U.S. policy in the region.  That doesn't mean that Holbrooke's relationship with Eikenberry will be devoid of the friction typically associated with Special Envoys and Foggy Bottom, but it's hard to imagine Eikenberry steering State department's policy in a more militarized direction when among Holbrooke's orders are instructions to elevate diplomacy above a purely military strategy.



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I know LTG Karl Eikenberry is the right choice for Ambassador. I really wanted LTG Eikenberry to be the 4 Star in charge of ISAF, but this is even better. His relationship with President Karsai is exceptional and exactly the right ingredient to put us back on track in Afghanistan. I am thrilled that President Obama made that decision.

Is Gen. Eikenberry committed to sustained and permanent irradication of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan?

Is Gen. Eikenberry committed to sustained and permanent irradication of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan

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Gen. Karl who also happened to be among the top military commanders in war-hit Afghan territory, suggested to Obama that under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be any good to send more troops there.In other words, Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry seems to have aroused a negative opinion against him through his remarks...

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