Obama debuts Afghan strategy
President Obama unveiled a new Afghan war strategy Friday at the White House, recasting the conflict to emphasize Pakistan’s role and vowing “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
The plan further increases U.S. troop commitments and, for the first time, will set explicit benchmarks, though Obama gave no specifics on how they would be measured.
The benchmarks have not yet been established, said Bruce Riedel, who chaired the White House review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Let me say that this strategic review is a roadmap for moving forward: It’s a strategy, it’s not intended to be a campaign plan or a straight-jacket,” Riedel told reporters on Friday.
The strategy is meant to have “maximum flexibility and adaptability,” he said.
“For example, there may be a benchmark that we don’t even know of now that as we go forward we begin to realize is something we want to test and measure,” he said.
Focusing heavily on Pakistan, Obama said increased U.S. aid there “will not provide a blank check.”
“Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders,” he said. “And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”
The Taliban has already promised a response to a renewed effort on the part of Afghan and international troops. Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of international forces in southern Afghanistan, has said he expects a “significant spike” in attacks as more troops flow into the region.
The New York Times reported Friday that Taliban leaders have agreed to unite the Afghan and Pakistani factions of the movement and “ready a new offensive in Afghanistan.”
The Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, reportedly made the overture to the Pakistani faction, which has supplied fighters and aid for the fight across the border.
“In interviews, several Taliban fighters based in the border region said preparations for the anticipated influx of American troops were already being made. A number of new, younger commanders have been preparing to step up a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks to greet the Americans,” the Times reported.
Obama’s plan is the result of a two-month strategy review that began immediately after his inauguration. Its implementation will require a significant boost in U.S. military outlays, with some estimating a 60 percent increase in funding this year. And it will rely on the ability to push the Afghan and Pakistani governments to concrete action, a challenge thus far not yet met.
Additionally, the plan provides $1.5 billion a year for five years to Pakistan to “build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan’s democracy.”
“There is no guarantee of success with this strategy, but not having a strategy, as we have not for the past eight years, is certainly a guarantee of failure,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Pakistan has served as a sanctuary for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and while the Pakistani military has helped to fight them at times, they did not have the capability to win that fight. Even worse, some in the Pakistani political process and intelligence services hedged their bets and made common cause with extremist groups.”
The Friday announcement cements the notion that Afghanistan is “Obama’s War.”
During his campaign, Obama repeatedly called Afghanistan more pressing than Iraq, and promised a new approach.
More than seven years after a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime that harbored al-Qaida terrorists, the war effort has bogged down, U.S. and foreign military officials have said. A resurgent Taliban has stepped up its attacks, particularly in southern Afghanistan, and civilian and military casualties are at record levels.
Obama’s announcement was littered with allusions to his predecessor.
“America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq,” Obama said.
And, calling it a war the U.S. “did not choose,” Obama pledged not to “blindly stay the course.”
“For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police,” Obama said. “Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner.”
Obama will present the plan to NATO leaders at an April 3-4 conference in Strasbourg, France, pushing them for more troop and civilian contributions.
Obama’s strategy avoids preferences for specific leaders, following the Bush administration’s firm support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Karzai has come under increased criticism by foreign leaders, who accuse his of everything from corruption to lack of political will. Obama called the leaders of both Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday to brief them about the plan.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, said Friday that Karzai’s government is “committed to working with the U.S. and our allies to implement this new strategy.”
VoteVets.org, an organization of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, released a statement praising Obama’s plan for “[giving] up the pipe dream of setting up a European-style democracy in Afghanistan, and instead has refocused our goals on a more urgent mission – protecting America and the world from terrorism.”
“The United States is not going to provide aid to Pakistan that does not fight this war,” Anthony Cordesman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Stripes. “One of the fundamental shifts here, and I hope the Pakistanis understand it, is that we are not going to continue simply to pay and watch Pakistan act as a sanctuary to the enemy.
Stripes’ Pat Dickson and Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.