July 27th, 2010
01:42 PM ET

Security experts urge reconciliation with insurgents

WASHINGTON — The United States should negotiate with insurgent leaders in Afghanistan to stop fighting — if it can do so from a position of strength, security experts told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday.

The U.S. strategy for the war is back in the spotlight this week after whistleblower website WikiLeaks.org published Sunday what it says are more than 75,000 military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year.

The documents paint a bleak picture of the 9-year-old war, and have raised questions about operations and the reliability of some U.S. allies in the area.

"There's nothing wrong with negotiating ... but you have to know what you're doing," Dr. David Kilcullen, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told the committee.

"And most importantly, you must be negotiating from a position of strength."

The panel met Tuesday for its 12th hearing on U.S. policy on Afghanistan in the past 18 months.

Kilcullen urged the committee to define strength in Afghanistan both in military and political terms. He said a weak or corrupt government there weakens the U.S. position and would complicate efforts to stabilize the
country.

Ryan Crocker, dean and executive professor at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, told the committee a lesson he learned from the U.S. war in Iraq was that the United States must engage with "extremely unpleasant people."

But Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Pakistan, urged the United States to open talks with insurgent leaders on its own terms.

"Reconciliation and reintegration become possible on a large scale when insurgents are no longer sure they are winning," he said.

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