The Eikenberry memos on Afghanistan


US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

The New York Times has dropped a bombshell by publishing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s memos that were written in early November that explained his opposition to the ‘surge’ of 30,000 US forces in Afghanistan. According to Eikenberry, who served as the top commander in Afghanistan for an 18-month stint that ended in 2007, Afghan President Hamid Karzai “is not an adequate strategic partner.” He also believes that the Afghan government only sought to draw the US in further and has no capacity for sustaining the local governance needed for success. Eikenberry is concerned that the Afghan security forces are unable to fill the role of quickly transitioning security, worries about the cost of the venture, and feels the Obama administration is putting undue trust in Pakistan to police the Taliban on its side of the border.

Eikenberry makes a compelling case against the surge. Several of his concerns, particularly the rush to push the Afghan security forces into the field, many units of which do not yet exist, and the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan, were raised here at both The Long War Journal and Threat Matrix.

The memos also show that the top military and diplomatic leaders in Afghanistan are not in sync as they were during the Iraq surge. The relationship between General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker was instrumental in the success of the Iraqi surge. While the Times said Eikenberry’s concerns were alleviated, there is no indication any of his concerns were even addressed.

You can read the article here and the full memos here.

Here is Eikenberry’s view on relying on Pakistan and the importance of Taliban sanctuaries across the border:

More troops won’t end the insurgency as long as Pakistan sanctuaries remain. Pakistan will remain the single greatest source of Afghan instability so long as the border sanctuaries remain, and Pakistan views its strategic interests as best served by a weak neighbor. There is reason to be encouraged by Pakistan’s current military offensive in Waziristan, but the lasting result of this effort is still unclear. Nor does the Pakistan military action address the role of the Quetta Shura, which has the most influence over the insurgency in southern Taliban strongholds, or the Haqqani network, the most lethal killer of allied troops and Afghan civilians. Until this sanctuary problem is fully addressed, the gains from sending additional forces may be fleeting.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

Tags: ,


  • If one reads between the lines of McChrystal’s recent interview in which he talks about “reconciliation”

  • Charley says:

    But Gen Eikenberry immediately follows up the “Pakistan is source of all instability in Afghanistan, no action against Quetta Shura”

  • T Ruth says:

    I am dumbstruck that basically there is no strategy beyond the President’s March 27 mission statement.
    At the late stage of Nov, Ambassador Eikenberry was proposing the INITIATION of such a review!
    Whatever have Clinton, Holbrooke and Co been doing?
    And another thing: the Administration doesn’t seem to have buy-in at top-levels with either Afghanistan or Pakistan!
    The surge announcement in Dec left one with the feeling that there was a GLARING WHOLE with regards to Pakistan. These memos confirm that uneasiness and vulnerability.
    It makes one wonder how the CIC felt comfortable enough, knowing all this, to go play golf and lie on the beach across the new year.
    And one last ‘detail’–the DoD has no cost charts?! In Nov? After months and weeks of review mtgs, it takes the Ambassador to point that out?
    Good Lord!
    At this rate, Obama will be a one-term President, so he may as well forget withdrawal timelines based on political imperatives and go hell-for-leather after his mission in Afghanistan AND Pakistan. He’d do well to drop in on them one weekend.

  • Jon says:

    When does Eikenberry not leak? Does he understand counter-insurgency?

  • John says:

    The administration knew its a unwinnable war(at best a long shot), but Gen. McChrystals leaked memo forced his hand. They will try their best for 18months and then declare victory and withdraw, except for an elite force for safeguarding kabul and running drone missions.
    I still think they can win this, esp if pakistan or taliban score a self goal. Keep up those drone attacks & something gotta give in pakistan.

  • cjr says:

    The memo as written in early November, one month before the final plan was agreed to, while it was till being deliberated. It is now is end January. 2.5 month later.
    It doesnt say if Eikenberry’s recommendation were taken to heart and his issues addressed.
    It it is pretty irresponsible, of the NYT to publish this 2.5 months after the fact without getting Eikenberry to comment on the situation today.

  • Render says:

    Yeah, Somehow I think Karl Eikenberry has an understanding of COIN. And by my count he hasn’t leaked any more and probably less then Stan McChrystal or Robert Gates has. The Oval Office itself has gotten rather leaky on military matters since last November, hasn’t it?

  • Charley says:

    To me it looks like all our military and ex-military leaders (Armitage, Powell, Eikenberry, McChrystal, Patraeus) are easily hoodwinked to the Pakistan military. Perhaps they are in awe of the power their uniformed friends in Pakistan hold over civilian affairs, and wish they had the same sway here. Old IMET ties run deep, apparently. I seriously doubt they will ever recommend taking stern action against Pakistan, and as a result this will guarantee our failure in Afghanistan.

  • BR says:

    Hmm! So maybe the Bush Administration had it right to limit the efforts in Af and Pak. As to keep an eye on the boiling pot. Take control of a more strategic location (Iraq) and help them get on their feet. As noted by this sites name this is a long war and I think the Bush Administration knew that. The real heart of terrorism is its support. The two biggest supporters were Iran and Iraq(Saddam). Saddam is gone now there is Iran. Why do you think UBL family is held up in a secure area in Iran. They are not under arrest they are being protected.

  • Charley
    There is no doubt that the Pakistanis are making the American leadership dance to their tune.
    In a nutshell managing Af-Pak threat comes down to outwitting the Paks.
    Some Indians or Americans of Indian origin (the knowledgable ones) know the weakness of the Paks and how to make them dance. Mind you, Indians had to deal with this modern Nazi state for a long time.
    I know the Muslim Punjabi mentality very well.
    Reading up material in my book is a good way to start!


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram