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Analysts Urge President Obama to Rethink Afghan Strategy

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Defending his Afghanistan strategy this week, President Obama said the Afghan war is harder than the war in Iraq, and that key aspects of his troop surge strategy will take time to succeed. But he told a magazine interviewer, the strategy has not failed yet either.

Meanwhile, a group of Afghanistan experts in Washington say Mr. Obama should re-think his strategy, scale back the U.S. military effort, and push for a meaningful political reconciliation.

U.S. military officials say their offensive Afghanistan's Arghendab River Valley has gone exactly as planned. "This is the place we wanted to get into for some time now," said Capt. Nick Stout, a company commander.

So far, there  have been no U.S. or Afghan deaths, at least 20 insurgents have been killed, and U.S. troops now control areas they have never been in before. The only frustration - the Taliban melted away rather than fight.

So now, the the hardest work begins for the troops: winning over a distrustful people who are largely sympathetic to the Taliban.

Meanwhile, President Obama is defending his Afghanistan strategy. He told "Rolling Stone" magazine this week that the strategy has not failed, but that the Afghan war is harder than the war in Iraq, and that key aspects of his troop surge plan will take time to succeed.  

A group of experts on Afghanistan, though, say the President needs to rethink his strategy and scale back the military footprint in the country.

The so-called "Afghanistan Study Group" released a report in Washington which says the large U.S. presence has a negative impact, because it is seen as an occupation force that has motivated the Taliban.

"Our presence also encourages closer cooperation among a disparate array of extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We brought the enemies together," said Paul Pillar, a senior analyst with the CIA for 28 years.

The group contends there is a disconnect between the reason the U.S. went to Afghanistan nine years ago and what it is trying to achieve now.

The analysts say the original mission was to permanently destroy al-Qaida hideouts, and they say most of those have now been destroyed.  

They also say al-Qaida is so decentralized right now, it might not want to return. "Even if given the opportunity to return to Afghanistan, it is not at all apparent that (al-Qaida) will see a net advantage in doing so, in comparison to its current presence in Pakistan and its activities elsewhere," said Pillar.

The members of the group do differ on some details. Author and analyst Charles Kupchan, says the U.S. needs to ensure that al-Qaida cannot return. "I think that the claim that al-Qaida would not have a chance to return if the Taliban comes back is perhaps overstated.  I think that there are conditions that we need to have in place to make," he said.

But the group says the U.S. only needs air and naval power to achieve that goal, not a large number of ground troops. It also says any military effort in Afghanistan should be tied to achieving reconciliation among the varous political groups, including the Taliban.

On Tuesday, in fact, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed a committee to negotiate peace talks with the Taliban calling for the Taliban to renounce violence and respect the country's constitution.

But the Taliban has dismissed reconciliation talks, saying international forces must first leave Afghanistan.

Matthew Hoh of the New America Foundation says accepting the constitution should not be a condition for talks. And he says the U.S. should support bringing all kinds of Taliban into the mix. Hoh says the U.S. cannot fight its way to its objectives, but can negotiate its way to bring stability and development. "Until you reach some degree of political accord where you bring in those political groups that are now supporting the Taliban because they feel excluded from the government, you will not have stability necessary to achieve anything," he said.

The Afghanistan Study Group says the U.S. is spending almost $100 billion a year in Afghanistan, simply becaU.S.e momentum has pushed it into expanding its role there.

The analysts say that - considering the poor status of the U.S. economy - the Obama administration must make sure the benefits of spending that much money outweigh the cost.

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