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December 13, 2010

'No Surprises' In White House Afghan Policy Report

by Kent Klein

President Barack Obama will speak publicly on Thursday about his administration's review of U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The president's advisors on the region met Tuesday to discuss the findings.      

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the report will not contain any surprises, and President Obama will not make any major changes as a result of it.

Gibbs says the administration is pleased with progress in several areas.

"There has been some important progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan," said Robert Gibbs. "We have seen, through counterterrorism, success at degrading senior al-Qaida leaders.  And we have seen greater cooperation, over the course of the past 18 months, with the Pakistani government."

However, the president's spokesman says some challenges remain.

"We have to continue to strengthen capacity inside of Afghanistan, and we still have the ongoing challenge and threat of safe havens in Pakistan," he said.

Gibbs says despite some continuing problems in the area, he has no doubt that the war effort is going better than it was a year ago.

The president's Afghanistan-Pakistan advisors met for nearly two hours on Tuesday, discussing the situation in the region.

Mr. Obama directed the staff to issue a final version of the report, and asked for some minor changes.

Gibbs says the report does not call for any further changes to the number of U.S. or NATO troops in Afghanistan.  He says it also reaffirms that the responsibility for the country's security should begin to pass into Afghan hands as scheduled, in July, 2011.  The process is expected to be complete by the end of 2014.

There was an empty seat at the meeting table for Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died Monday after a valve in his heart ruptured.  

Gibbs called Holbrooke "a unique figure in foreign policy," and "a public servant in the truest sense of those words."  The president's spokesman said Holbrooke was irreplaceable, and there has been no discussion about who might succeed him.  But Gibbs said Holbrooke's team would continue his work.