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Afghan Strategy Addresses Thorny Issues


The Obama administration's Afghan-Pakistan strategy was the synthesis of at least four policy reviews going on simultaneously among different elements in the U.S. government. The final product, as outlined by President Barack Obama on Friday, is a mix of reconstruction in Afghanistan, reconciliation with moderate Taliban elements, and retaliation against hardcore insurgents for their attacks inside Afghanistan.

Larry Goodson is a South Asia specialist at the U.S. Army War College who was involved in the review process. He says that it was soon realized that a combined military-civilian approach would be needed to stabilize Afghanistan.

Goodson says participants in the Defense Department's review had started by agreeing on the most basic premises.

"I can state with certainty that going in, there was a lot of disagreement or different points of view about how bad the situation was and therefore what needed to be done," he said.

In the end, President Obama labeled the situation "increasingly perilous," warning that al-Qaida is still plotting attacks on the United States from inside Pakistan's tribal areas. Goodson says there was much discussion on how to, in effect, motivate Pakistan to deal with the sanctuaries issue without alienating the government in Islamabad.

One central element of the new strategy is to try to wean moderate and less ideological Taliban fighters or sympathizers away from the more hardcore militants. Speaking on Thursday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said that can be done by good governance from Kabul.

"I do think that the local Taliban are probably more motivated by the - or can be defeated if the government, with international assistance, can provide the basics of a good life in that particular valley or district -- decent education, water, justice, minimum corruption - those sorts of things. It seems to me that that's how you deal with it on a local basis," he said.

Analysts point to corruption in the government of President Hamid Karzai as one of the factors in the newfound success of the Taliban. Larry Goodson says the reconciliation outreach to moderate Taliban might come after the Afghan presidential election later this year.

"I think that one thought was that the reconciliation opportunities with the sort of lower-level and more moderate, maybe, elements of the Taliban might be there after that election in ways that don't really exist right now, and that specifically the idea that I pushed for was that we focus on right now is that we dry up the demand for the Taliban rather than attacking, if you will, the supply across the border in ways that I think are well-documented," he said.

Civilian casualties from attacks by U.S. Predator unmanned drone aircraft have fueled anti-American sentiment on both sides of the border, and have been cited as another reason for Taliban sympathies.

The strategy also calls for more international military and civilian assistance in Afghanistan. President Obama said he will take that message to a NATO summit next week.

Former EU Special Envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell says the strategy will be welcomed in Europe, but may not necessarily translate into additional military support from NATO countries.

"Of course, there is a Catch-22. The more the U.S. is Americanizing the war, the less likely it is that Europe, the European allies, will get involved. But, of course, the U.S. is Americanizing the war because the Europeans have not - many of them have not - been willing to do more," he said.

The chief of the British Army told the Times of London Friday that Britain was prepared to send additional troops to Afghanistan, but no decision on numbers has yet been made.

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