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Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy Raises Questions

In his speech at the U.S. Military Academy, President Obama was specific in setting a benchmark for a more effective civilian strategy in Afghanistan.

Analysts also say economic leverage should be used to help end corruption in the Afghan government

President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while at the same time announcing that the withdrawal of American soldiers will begin in mid-2011 raises questions, analysts say, about the U.S. commitment to the region. Analysts also say the U.S. and other countries must use economic leverage in an effort to convince Afghan leaders to root out widespread corruption in the country.

At the end of a nearly three-month review, President Obama's decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and set a firm date to begin withdrawal launches a policy that appears to identify a beginning of the end of the war.

"Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," Mr. Obama said.

In his speech, the president mapped out an exit strategy so U.S. and NATO forces can, in 18 months, begin to handover security to Afghan forces.

However, a short timetable could feed long standing concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the U.S. will abandon the region as it did in 1989 when the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan.

"The announcement of a timeline unfortunately really reinforces a damaging narrative within the region about our lack of staying power," Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute said.

Administration officials say the timeline for beginning the withdrawal is flexible, and conditions on the ground will be considered before a significant pullout.

Some analysts say it is a signal to the Afghan government that the U.S. will not be in the country for decades to come.

"He was talking about capping the effort, beginning withdrawal, putting pressure on the Afghans and Pakistanis to take over the mission, but there is no time schedule, no benchmarks, no artificial set of deadlines which are kept separate from the realities of combat," Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

Others say it will take several years for the U.S. troop surge to make a difference because it will take that long to train, outfit, and mentor a significant number of Afghan security forces.

"If Obama winds up a two term president, he has recently said he would like to not leave this problem to his successor," Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings Institution said. "It is going to be a close call to get all the way out (of Afghanistan) within seven more years."

In his speech at the U.S. Military Academy, President Obama was specific in setting a benchmark for a more effective civilian strategy in Afghanistan.

"This effort must be based on performance," Mr. Obama said. "The days of providing a blank check are over."

President Obama's strategy depends on cooperation from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Analysts say conditioning financial aid on the Afghan government's performance is the best way to convince Mr. Karzai to fight corruption and provide good governance.

"The real leverage that the international community has on Afghanistan stems from the fact that it provides almost the entire budget for the state and we have not used that leverage intelligently in the past," Kagan said.

Partnership with Pakistan is the third major element of President Obama's strategy. Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are said to be hiding in Pakistan.

"We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," Mr. Obama.

Pakistani officials have reacted cautiously to the troop surge and exit strategy.

Additional U.S. soldiers will begin deploying to Afghanistan before the end of this month. Administration officials say all should be in place by the middle of next year.