Obama set to announce shift in Afghan policy
March 26, 2009
President Barack Obama is expected to announce a new Afghan war strategy on Friday, laying out a new path for a conflict that some American military officials have described as a stalemate.
While Obama declined to give details of the plan in his Tuesday night press conference, several aspects have emerged in interviews and statements by U.S. and NATO officials in recent weeks.
In general, the new strategy is expected to set more modest goals for the U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan. It also boosts resources — particularly civilian experts — even beyond the 17,000 additional troops Obama has ordered to the country for this year.
The strategy should be based on ensuring that terror groups such al-Qaida cannot use the region as a base of operations for attacks on the U.S. or its allies, Obama has said.
Other key elements of the plan are to include a vast expansion of Afghan forces, greater engagement with Pakistan and an effort to co-opt some Taliban fighters that can be convinced to give up the fight, officials have said.
Military officials have repeatedly stressed the need to include Pakistan in any strategy, going so far as to dub the plan "AFPAK." Militants have long found a safe haven in the border areas, but in recent months, Islamic militants have expanded their operations further into Pakistani territory.
The strategy is a result of several reviews — by the Pentagon, White House and others — of the war.
"What we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," Obama said in a "60 Minutes" interview broadcast Sunday. "So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy.
"And there’s got to be an exit strategy. There’s got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."
Officials have also hinted at shifting more aid directly to provincial and district leaders, bypassing the central government of President Hamid Karzai. In concert with that, more U.S. outposts would be established in rural areas.
It is unclear whether the proposal will have a centerpiece such as the "surge" ordered by former President George W. Bush in Iraq. That strategic shift is credited in part with the security gains made in Iraq, though many analysts have said local developments independent of U.S. efforts were just as responsible.
There are nearly 70,000 foreign troops currently in Afghanistan, including about 38,000 Americans.
Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested more troops beyond the 17,000 being sent this year.
Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of NATO forces in the south, said more troops are needed.
"When we talk about ‘stalemate,’ I think it’s fair to say from an ISAF point of view, we are not stopped by the insurgency, but we just ran out of troops," he said last week.
De Kruif also expects a "significant spike in incidents" following the influx of more troops.
His words echoed Taliban claims that they would expand their offensive in the face of a revamped war strategy.