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US Lawmakers Stress Need for Afghanistan Strategy, Government Reforms

U.S. lawmakers just back from Afghanistan say the United States and its NATO allies must have a clearer strategy to stabilize the country and fight resurgent Taliban forces and al-Qaida. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in the delegation spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill, saying Afghanistan's government also needs anti-corruption reforms.

The lawmakers agree that while U.S. troops are doing the best they can in Afghanistan, a solution lies not with military force, but with Afghan government reforms and regional cooperation.

Pelosi says the 17,000 U.S. troop increase ordered by President Obama is aimed at eliminating a resurgent Taliban and ensuring Afghanistan does not again become a launching point for terrorist attacks.

But she says progress also will depend on reducing corruption in the Afghan government.

"We need a [military] force tailored in size to achieve a specific, clearly defined objective, improved governance," said Nancy Pelosi. "Any strategy must address systemic corruption within the Afghan government and crack down on drug trafficking."

The regional challenge, Pelosi adds, involves not only Pakistan, but also India, China, Iran, Russia and other nations interested in seeing stability return to Afghanistan as the United States seeks to improve the joint effort with NATO.

The U.S. congressional delegation also visited NATO ally Italy. House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson describes the message he and other lawmakers had for NATO officials.

"We were very clear with our allies how we not only seek their help, and we're pleased with the response certainly that we heard from Italy, but also that America cannot go it alone and [how the United States is] skeptical sometimes of those who would see us twist in the wind alone, we made it very clear that we are looking forward to their commitment," said John Larson.

House Democrat Rosa DeLauro says the United States and its allies are at a pivotal moment in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and fight terrorism.

"Any successful strategy must include an effective partnership going forward with our NATO allies," said Rosa DeLauro. "We cannot go back to failed policy which got us here."

Democratic Representative Ed Markey says decisions coming out of the Obama administration review of Afghanistan must be aimed at creating a comprehensive strategy.

"It's clear that there has not been a strategy," said Ed Markey. "We are 7.5 years late in putting together a comprehensive strategy."

At Monday's news conference on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Pelosi was asked about concerns that, as Newsweek magazine recently put it, "Afghanistan could become President Obama's Vietnam."

Pelosi said the impression she has received from the Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, is that the U.S. troop increase is not the beginning of an escalation in Afghanistan, adding that she believes President Obama's decisions will be effective.

"What President Obama is going to do in Afghanistan is not going to be irrelevant," she said. "It's going to be decisive, and it's going to get the job done."

At the White House on Monday, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that the Obama administration still has some time to go in its 60 day review of Afghanistan policy, which he noted includes an examination of military force structure.

In a step to encourage bipartisan cooperation when Congress assesses expected Obama administration decisions, Speaker Pelosi announced a series of closed-door briefings for Democrats and Republicans.

These classified meetings would be held in the House [of Representatives] chamber and involve Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other top administration officials.