Too Soon To Say If Afghanistan Plan Is Working

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones says the Obama administration should know within a year whether its new strategy for Afghanistan will be successful. Jones made that prediction during his first speech in the U.S. about national security matters. Jones touched on the administration's decision-making process and some of the greatest threats facing the U.S.

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If you want to know if the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is working you may have to wait at least a year. That's the advice of the National Security Advisor James Jones. Jones made that forecast in a speech yesterday where he also outlines some of the other threats facing the United States. NPR's Jackie Northam has more.

JACKIE NORTHAM: General Jones chose to make his first U.S. address about national security matters at a function in Washington, D.C. The tall, former Marine Corps general laced his speech with jokes and memories of his 40 years in uniform. He and a moderator then moved to deep leather chairs on the stage under the beam of a spotlight. For a moment it looked remarkably like a segment of the TV show "Inside the Actor's Studio."

Jones comfortably took questions about some of the most serious issues facing the U.S. He said he knew of no more challenging a time during his life.

General JAMES JONES (National security advisor): The 21st century is a century in which the threats that are coming at us are coming at us in waves. They're very asymmetric. They're very different than in the 20th century. It is not just about a war on terror. It has components relating to proliferation, to climate and energy, economic security…

NORTHAM: And the list goes on. Jones had high praise for his boss, President Obama. And he lifted a curtain ever so slightly on how the National Security Council deals with the problems it faces. He said the greatest difficulty is determining which issue the NSC needs to focus on at any given time.

Jones addressed the intertwining problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said the plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 21,000 will have a critical affect, but that alone doesn't necessarily guarantee success.

General JONES: It's not about how many troops you put on the ground. It's about whether you can achieve security, economic development and governance in a rule of law simultaneously. It's a three-pronged approach that will serve us well if we do it well. And that jury is still out, frankly.

NORTHAM: Jones said it could take a year to gauge if the new strategy is going to work. The plan also calls for the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to do more to solve the challenges of their countries. Jones says he's pleased that the Pakistanis are finally going after the Taliban and other Islamic extremists who are pushing further into the country.

General JONES: I am heartened by the recent activities of the Pakistani army and the Pakistani government. The response by the military so far has the support of the Pakistani people. And that is going to have an affect in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

NORTHAM: Jones addressed several questions about the most pressing issue of the week - North Korea's nuclear test and its test firing of short range missiles.

General JONES: Nothing that the North Koreans did surprised us. We knew that they were going to do this. They said so, so no reason not to believe it.

NORTHAM: Jones said the detonation and the missile firings do not in and of themselves constitute an imminent threat to American's security. He said North Korea is still a long way from having a nuclear delivery system.

General JONES: But the imminent threat is the proliferation of that kind of technology to other countries and potentially to terrorist organizations, and (unintelligible) actors. And that is, in my view, the most imminent danger.

NORTHAM: Jones said other countries are closely watching how the U.S. will handle the North Korean crisis. But when asked about what options the Obama administration has in handling North Korea, Jones said he would not like to get into specifics.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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