White House downplays significance of Afghanistan report
Stars and Stripes November 9, 2010
WASHINGTON — The Afghanistan-Pakistan review due to the president next month will evaluate how successful the war strategy in the region has been but won’t suggest substantive changes to operations, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
The official, who spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity, said White House will brief lawmakers on the findings but it has not been decided whether that will take place before the new Congress is seated in January. Regardless, the change in political power brought on by Republican gains in last week’s elections will not affect the focus of the report, he said.
“This is a diagnostic look at the strategy,” the official said. “We are not in the business of formulating policy alternatives or different courses of action. We’re simply assessing how the current policy is working.”
The report is to be delivered to the White House near the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point outlining a new approach and a new timeline for military operations in Afghanistan.
That came weeks after the release of another Afghanistan strategy review, in which NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal said field commanders were short-handed and in danger of losing the country to insurgents.
Since last December, U.S. military officials have sent more than 30,000 additional troops into the region and mounted a series of aggressive military campaigns to root out insurgent strongholds.
But Obama also set a July 2011 deadline to begin the transition of military responsibilities to Afghan security forces, a mark some Republicans have publicly questioned. White House officials have downplayed exactly what that deadline means in terms of U.S. troop withdrawals.
Earlier Tuesday, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, said that local army and police recruits appear on track to take over security responsibilities throughout the country by the end of 2014, although U.S. troops would likely remain in the region past then.
The senior administration official said that the upcoming report would not have any effect on the July 2011 deadline.
“The president has already made clear we will begin a responsible transition then,” he said.
But he added the report likely will shape National Security Council discussions for coming months, especially if shortfalls are found in key metrics like security of cities and political progress of the Afghan government.