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The Afghan War: Erie County Taxes Fund a Ghost Trade

March 30, 2009

Obama Sets New Afghan Strategy 

Published: March 26, 2009 in The New York Times & Disseminated by The Erie Wire 

  

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In Mahodragi, Afghanistan, members of the United States Army spoke with members of the Afghan National Police this month. The United States wants to bolster the police.

Published: March 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban there and inPakistan, officials said Thursday.

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In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.

“The era of the blank check is over,” Mr. Obama told Congressional leaders at the White House, according to an account of the meeting provided on the condition of anonymity because it was a private session.

The new strategy, which Mr. Obama will formally announce Friday, will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to Afghanistan shortly after taking office, administration and Congressional officials said. But for now, Mr. Obama has decided not to send additional combat forces, they said, although military commanders at one point had requested a total of 30,000 more American troops.

Although the administration is still developing the specific benchmarks for Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said they would be the most explicit demands ever presented to the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. In effect, Mr. Obama would be insisting that two fractured countries plagued by ancient tribal rivalries and modern geopolitical hostility find ways to work together and transform their societies.

American officials have repeatedly said that Afghanistan has to make more progress in fighting corruption, curbing the drug trade and sharing power with the regions, while they have insisted that Pakistan do more to cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban. Mr. Obama telephoned President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and PresidentAsif Ali Zardari of Pakistan on Thursday to share the main elements of the strategic review.

Setting benchmarks for Pakistan could be particularly difficult. For years, the United States has simply paid bills submitted by the Pakistani government for counterterrorism operations, even during truces when its military was not involved in counterterrorism. Pakistan has resisted linking its aid to specific performance criteria and officials acknowledged that developing those criteria could be problematic.

The key elements of Mr. Obama’s plan, with its more robust combat force, its emphasis on training, and its far-reaching goals, foreshadow an ambitious but risky and costly attempt to unify and stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Obama is unveiling his approach at a time when the conflict is worsening, the lives of the people are not visibly improving, and the intervention by American-led foreign powers is increasingly resented.

The goals that Mr. Obama has settled on may be elusive and, according to some critics, even naïve. Among other things, officials said he planned to recast the Afghan war as a regional issue involving not only Pakistan but also India, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian states.

His plan envisions persuading Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its longstanding enemy, India, so it can concentrate more on battling insurgents in its lawless tribal regions. That goal may be especially hard to achieve given more than a half century of enmity — including a nuclear arms race — between Pakistan and India.

All told, the 21,000 additional American troops that Mr. Obama will have authorized almost precisely matches the original number of additional troops that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq two years ago, bringing the overall American deployment in Afghanistan to about 60,000. But Mr. Obama avoids calling it a “surge” and resisted sending the full reinforcements initially sought by commanders.

Instead, Mr. Obama chose to re-evaluate troop levels at a series of specific moments over the next year, officials said. Approaching the issue in increments may be easier to explain to members of Mr. Obama’s own party who fear he is getting the country as entangled in Afghanistan as Mr. Bush did in Iraq.

The officials said Mr. Obama planned to frame the American commitment as a counterterrorism mission aimed at denying havens for Al Qaeda, with three main goals — training Afghan security forces, supporting the weak central government in Kabul and securing the population. While the new strategy will call for expanding Afghan security forces more rapidly, it will not explicitly endorse the request from American commanders to increase the national police and army to 400,000.

At the same time, Mr. Obama warned Congressional leaders that he would need more than the $50 billion in his budget plan for military operations and development efforts. Asked by lawmakers about the prospect of reconciliation with moderate members of the Taliban, officials said Mr. Obama replied that he wanted to sift out hard-core radicals from those who were fighting simply to earn money.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, emerged from a briefing with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to declare that in his judgment the administration’s review “was right on track.” He said the new strategy would send a significant number of additional trainers to work with the Afghan National Army and police, part of an overall strategy to “transfer responsibilities to the Afghans, both militarily and in terms of economic development.”

Mr. Levin, who was part of a bipartisan group that pressed Mr. Bush to set benchmarks for Iraq two years ago, embraced the idea of doing the same again for Afghanistan. “There is a determination to set some benchmarks for Afghanistan, and that will be incredibly important,” Mr. Levin said. “We haven’t had them in Afghanistan.”

Republicans emerging from briefings at the White House and on Capitol Hill withheld comment. Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said in a statement that he “had a constructive meeting at the White House” and that he would “reserve public comment until the president makes his formal announcement.”

Dennis C. Blair, the administration’s director of national intelligence, said the United States still lacked intelligence about the power structures inside the country and other basic information necessary for a counterinsurgency campaign. “We know a heck of a lot more about Iraq on a granular level than we know about Afghanistan,” he said.

Speaking with reporters, Mr. Blair estimated that up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan could be peeled away from the Taliban’s leadership, most of whom are hiding in sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.

David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.

Obama Plans More Funding For Afghan War

4,000 Additional Troops to Deploy

SLIDESHOW
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U.S. soldiers and Afghan police men inspect near the wrecker of a car used by a suicide bomber in Chaparhar district of eastern Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, March 21, 2009. A suicide bomber in a car blew himself up at a police checkpoint in Chaparhar district of eastern Nangarhar province where officers were searching cars, killing six people, including five civilians and one policeman, said police spokesman Gafor Khan. The blast also wounded four civilians and a policeman, he said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
U.S. soldiers and Afghan police men inspect near the wrecker of a car used by a suicide bomber in Chaparhar district of eastern Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, March 21, 2009. A suicide bomber in a car blew himself up at a police checkpoint in Chaparhar district of eastern Nangarhar province where officers were searching cars, killing six people, including five civilians and one policeman, said police spokesman Gafor Khan. The blast also wounded four civilians and a policeman, he said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) (Rahmat Gul – AP)

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Friday, March 27, 2009; Page A01 

President Obama’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy will require significantly higher levels of U.S. funding for both countries, with U.S. military expenses in Afghanistan alone, currently about $2 billion a month, increasing by about 60 percent this year.

“The president has decided he is going to resource this war properly,” said a senior administration official of the plan Obama is set to announce this morning. Along with the 17,000 additional combat troops authorized last month, he said, Obama will send 4,000 more this fall to serve as trainers and advisers to an Afghan army expected to double in size over the next two years.

In outlining his plan after a two-month review that began the week of his inauguration, Obama will describe it as a sharp break with what officials called a directionless and under-resourced conflict inherited from the Bush administration. Far from al-Qaeda being vanquished and the threat to the United States diminished, the official said, “seven and a half years after 9/11, al-Qaeda’s core leadership has moved from Kandahar, in Afghanistan, to a location unknown in Pakistan . . . where we know they’re plotting new attacks” against this country and its allies.

Obama plans to announce a “simple, clear, concise goal — to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan,” said the official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy. The president will describe his plan in a White House speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and nongovernmental aid groups.

The officials declined to put dollar figures on aspects of the strategy other than the cost of U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan. Initial funding requests for hundreds of additional U.S. civilian officials to be sent there, as well as increased economic and development assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, will come in a 2009 supplemental appropriation that the administration has not yet outlined.

The officials said the administration, working with Congress, will develop new “benchmarks and metrics to measure our performance and that of our allies,” including the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Lawmakers and the administration itself have questioned the ability and will of the Afghan government to fight corruption and the narcotics trade, and have criticized the Pakistani military’s performance against al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups. U.S. intelligence officials believe that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence service continue to actively collaborate with the Taliban.

“We are looking for performance and changes in behavior on the Pakistani side,” an official said, adding that Obama had “made very clear there are no blank checks.”

Obama will deliver the strategy to NATO allies fighting with U.S. forces in Afghanistan at an April 3-4 alliance summit. But officials made clear that the administration — with the United States bearing most of the cost of the conflict — expects to take the lead in both the civilian and military aspects.

The administration plans to expand regional diplomatic outreach to Russia, China, India and the Persian Gulf states, the officials said. Initial overtures to Iran, one said, will begin at an international meeting next week in The Hague attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. At the conference, the administration will seek indications that Iran “wants to be a productive player” in Afghanistan, he said.

Iran yesterday accepted an invitation to the gathering, although U.S. officials said the Iranian foreign minister is not likely to attend. The administration has not yet determined whether Clinton, or a lower-level U.S. official, would attend any talks with Iran. Special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke will also be at the conference.

Obama briefed House and Senate leaders on the strategy at the White House yesterday afternoon, while Holbrooke and other officials met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The president also telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The situation in Afghanistan is increasingly difficult, and time is of the essence,” Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Obama’s nominee as ambassador to Afghanistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing yesterday. “There will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice.”

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