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Obama Strategy to Focus on Local Afghan Leaders

National Security Adviser says key thrusts of the strategy involve security, good governance at national and provincial level, economic development that ends dependence on poppy growing, and extending good governance down to local communities.

President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser says the revised strategy for Afghanistan will emphasize engagement with local leaders to ensure that security and good governance are delivered to populated areas, as part of the broad effort to fight Taliban and related insurgents.

Retired General James Jones told foreign reporters Friday the key thrusts of the strategy involve security, good governance at the national and provincial level, economic development that ends the dependence on poppy growing and…

"We want to pay more attention to local leaders, tribal leaders, mayors, district heads, to make sure that that stream of good governance is extended down as far as we can down to the local communities of Afghanistan," he said.

General Jones says that is an important part of a counterinsurgency strategy designed to convince ordinary Afghans to turn against the Taliban, depriving them of their ability to operate. But he says the effort also involves a military dimension for the U.S.-led coalition, as well as for the Afghan and Pakistani security forces.

"If we can dislodge and dismantle and, in my view, destroy the safe havens, along with closer partnership with the Army of Pakistan, then I think you have a strategic change in the entire region," he added.

General Jones says another key indicator of progress will come if the Afghan forces play a greater role in their country's security.

"If you see a more prominent Afghan face, if you will, in the local communities, with better police, a more visible presence of the Army, and a bigger role in terms of maintaining overall security in the key population areas of the country, better protection of the infrastructure, you will see that things are moving in the right direction," he said.

In spite of eight years of effort by American and international trainers, the Afghan Police force has a significant corruption problem and the Afghan Army is smaller and less competent than officials had hoped. For example, in the U.S.-led operation in northern Helmand Province that began Friday, only about 100 Afghan troops are working with 900 U.S. Marines.

Many members of the U.S. Congress are calling for faster growth of the Afghan Army, but U.S. defense officials say there are significant problems with recruitment and retention. To address that, they are raising the salaries of Afghan soldiers, which officials say were lower than what the Taliban pays its fighters. In addition, officials have said U.S. commanders may recruit local tribal fighters to help with security, as they did with considerable success in Iraq.

President Obama's plan to begin a U.S. withdrawal in July of 2011 depends on developing competent Afghan forces to take responsibility for security. General Jones, who commanded NATO forces from 2003 to 2006, calls the timeline "ambitious" but predicts that just having that date identified will have what he called "a galvanizing effect" inside Afghanistan and in the international coalition.