US Army soldiers await departure for their deployment to Afghanistan in Fort Carson, Colorado (File)
US Army soldiers await departure for their deployment to Afghanistan in Fort Carson, Colorado (File)

In a major speech outlining his Afghan strategy in early December, President Barack Obama said he would send an additional 30,000 troops to that country.  He also said he will begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops in July 2011, beginning the handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces.

Former Secretary of State [1992] Lawrence Eagleburger agrees with the deployment of U.S. forces.

"The 30,000 troops is a good idea.  But to announce when you are going to start pulling them out is not a very good idea," said Eagleburger.  "It tells the opposition we are not really intent on winning.  And if we cannot win this thing by a date certain, we are going to leave, even though at the same time we say we could change that if we had to - I think the basic point is it's a sign of weakness and therefore it is not a smart idea," he said.

Former CIA Director [1973] and Secretary of Defense [1973-75] James Schlesinger also questions the July 2011 date to begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"I hope that that is simply a gesture to the anti-war element in the Democratic Party.  It may make them happy, but it probably makes the Taliban happy at the same time and causes great consternation in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, amongst our allies," he said.

One of the key elements of President Obama's Afghan strategy is for President Hamid Karzai to fight corruption within his government.

Former National Security Adviser [1974-77; 1989-93; retired Air Force] General Brent Scowcroft says it is very difficult to force President Karzai to fight corruption.

"We cannot force.  But it seems to me that he has some pretty clear choices to make," said Scowcroft.  "If he is to survive and sustain himself, he needs our strategy to succeed.  It can only succeed if he performs better than before. So it seems to me he has incentives perhaps he didn't realize before," he said.

Lawrence Eagleburger is even more blunt.

"The point is that there is no way in the end that we can force him to be less than what he is and what he is is a corrupt politician," he said.

All three former senior officials say Pakistan's role in the Afghan equation is essential.

Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger:

"It is simply crucial.  As long as the insurgents can move back and forth across the border, it is very hard to snuff out the Taliban in Afghanistan," he said.  "Persuading the Pakistani government, which it continues to be somewhat shaky, to clean up the situation in the border and the tribal areas and in Baluchistan - it's not going to be easy, but it is essential," he added.

All three former officials believe it will be difficult to get the Europeans to contribute more troops to the Afghan effort, despite the fact that they pledged 7,000 more soldiers.

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger:

"Their support for us is tenuous at best.  I do not think there is any way to get them to do more," he said.  "The British will do everything they can.  It is going to be a very tough game to try to get the Europeans to contribute anything. It's an almost hopeless task right now.  We will get a little bit of support from the Europeans and from the European Union, but it would not be much and it certainly would not be sufficient to be a telling blow against the terrorists,"  said Eagleburger.

Many experts, including General Scowcroft, believe that the Europeans can contribute more to non-combat operations - that is, working with local authorities to improve the every day life of Afghans.  Many analysts say that part may be as important, if not more, than the combat operations against the Taliban.