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US to Review South Asia Strategy with Afghan, Pakistan Delegations


The U.S. diplomat assigned to Afghanistan and Pakistan says both countries are sending delegations to Washington next week to review regional strategy.

The news from special representative Richard Holbrooke comes the same week President Obama said he is sending thousand more soldiers to fight in Afghanistan.

South Asia experts call for changes in U.S. handling of the war and stance toward Afghan government.

NATO coalition soldiers raid a drug factory in a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. The Helmand province is part of what the top U.S. commander called the "volatile south" where he said he would deploy 17,000 extra troops.

General David McKiernan told reporters in Washington [Wednesday], "Even with these additional forces, I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year," he said. "There are the baseline problems of poverty and literacy and violence that have occurred over the last three decades in that country. So it will not come around quickly"

The Obama administration is reviewing the Afghan war strategy, a move many South Asia experts welcome.

Afghanistan expert Seth Jones of the research firm, the Rand Corporation, says the U.S. should push to strengthen Afghan security forces.

He says the thrust should be, "That forces are not fighting a US war, that is not conducting unilateral operations," he said. "That they are ultimately building local capacity to deal with militants in Afghanistan and assisting where appropriate in Pakistan as well."

Jones says similar U.S. efforts were more effective in the first two years of the war.

Some analysts suggest that NATO troops should act as advisors to local forces which would clear territory of militants and then hold it.

John Nagl at the Center for New American Security explains what he sees as an effective counter-insurgency. "The counter-insurgency force clears, somebody holds what has been cleared and preferably that is host nation's security forces," Nagl said. "And then, within that security bubble, civilian agencies both of the host nation and of the international community build a better society and a better future within that security bubble."

Instead of assisting the Afghan government at the top, U.S. officials say they will now focus more on helping local institutions.

Haider Mullick of the Joint Special Operations University urges policy makers give the provinces limited autonomy to lay down their own laws. "Then more and more Afghans will be able to relate to those rules and will realize that it is a loose federation so all provinces will enjoy a certain level of autonomy," he said.

General McKiernan says levels of violence will continue to rise for some time and he expects U.S. forces to remain there for three to five years.

But President Obama says any further deployment of U.S. troops would come only after the review that will involve developing a "regional strategy" that also includes Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.

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