- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

National security adviser James L. Jones - the president’s point man in a momentous debate on U.S. policy in Afghanistan - has repeatedly shifted his assessments of the war as he transformed himself from a top Marine general to a civilian adviser in recent years.

Mr. Jones declared as recently as 2006 that the Taliban had been tactically neutralized by coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.

In the ensuing years, though, he has warned that the Taliban is expanding its reach while offering varying opinions on whether more U.S. troops are needed to fight them, a review of his public statements shows.

In an interview with The Washington Times, the former Marine general and NATO commander acknowledged his views on Afghanistan have soured in the three years since he left the military. He said security in Afghanistan had deteriorated “because of the [U.S.] failure to see the interaction of security, development, and governance and rule of law.”

“I think that is coming clear in spades now, that the failure - the tendency to focus so much on troop strength and not enough on the other factors, the development of the national Afghan police, for example which was on life support for so many years, the development of the Afghan National Army, which has never really gone fast enough - those are things that as we developed a strategy that was released in March were clearly highlighted. And now everybody is turning full-scale attention to them,” Mr. Jones said.

As President Obama’s national security adviser, Mr. Jones plays the pivotal role of referee in an intense administration debate over whether to shift strategy and increase troop levels for the second time this year.

The final decisions, which could include whether to shift focus away from the Taliban and toward a narrower war against al Qaeda, carry high stakes. The top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has submitted a counterinsurgency strategy that reportedly favors sending as many as 40,000 troop reinforcements with a warning that the war may be won or lost in the next 12 months.

As outgoing NATO commander in September 2006, Mr. Jones appeared in the Pentagon pressroom to declare a tactical victory over the Taliban in south, the insurgent stronghold where the alliance oversees operations.

Told by reporters at the time that the Afghanistan war effort was faltering, Mr. Jones disagreed. He said the allies were establishing a “permanent” southern presence that would prevent a Taliban return. No more troops were needed, he said.

A year later, Mr. Jones, as a civilian, signed a report as co-chairman of the Afghanistan Study Group, which said the war effort was in danger of “faltering.” More troops were needed, said the report, which argued, “The Taliban have been able to infiltrate many areas throughout the country, especially the south.”

Mr. Jones has zigzagged again since he joined the administration in January, most recently signaling that he may side with Democrats who do not want to endorse a further troop escalation beyond the 21,000 approved by the president earlier this year.

Mr. Jones told CNN on Sunday, “I think the end is much more complex than just about adding ‘X’ number of troops. Afghanistan is a country that’s quite large and that swallows up a lot of people.”

Despite his earlier study group’s warning that the war effort was in danger of faltering, he said on CNN, ” I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling.”

Mr. Jones’ coolness toward Gen. McChrystal’s troop request has prompted some biting criticism from an old friend, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. The two worked together as military liaison officers to the Senate in the late 1970s.

“It’s well known, it’s broadcast all over television, that there are individuals, including the vice president of the United States, now, unfortunately, the national security adviser, the chief political adviser to the president, Mr. Rahm Emanuel who don’t want to alienate the left base of the Democrat Party,” Mr. McCain said.

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