(NSI News Source Info) March 24, 2009: President Barack Obama has been given a new Afghan war strategy that calls for linking aid to Pakistan to its willingness to fight extremists and narrowing the U.S. mission to preventing attacks on American soil from there or Afghanistan, said people familiar with the plan. The strategy will entail increasing Afghan security forces and strengthening crop substitution to deny opium revenue to the Taliban, Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said March 21. The goals of Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, “were less defined, like pluralism, prosperity or freedom,” said Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad, who was briefed on the general outlines of the plan. “Now they’re making the goals more concrete and the strategy more tactical: how long does it take, and what does it take, with more realistic expectations of all the different actors to deliver,” Jawad said. Obama seeks to change the course of the Afghan conflict, help Afghanistan and Pakistan become self-sufficient in stanching extremism, and provide some hope that the U.S. military commitment there will eventually end. Top Priority “Making sure that al-Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies” is the “number one priority” in Afghanistan, Obama told the CBS News program “60 Minutes” in an interview broadcast yesterday. Last month Obama ordered an additional 17,000 U.S. troops be sent to Afghanistan this year to stem attacks by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, which last year were the most numerous since the 2001 American-led campaign that toppled the Taliban from power. The draft Afghan plan, which draws on months of analysis by military and civilian officials, was described by an administration official involved in the review and other officials who were consulted. They asked not to be named because Obama hasn’t yet approved the strategy. In a speech to a German Marshall Fund conference in Brussels, Holbrooke said the new strategy will include a “major effort” to boost the size and quality of the Afghan police force, which he called “riddled with corruption” and a weak link in security. Army Expansion U.S. military analysts and officers have advised increasing the size of the Afghan National Army to as many as 250,000 troops from less than 90,000, and the police to as many as 140,000 from fewer than 80,000, said Ken Katzman, senior Afghan specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington. The goal of the increases is to shift the burden for the country’s security away from the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization over time. Holbrooke said Obama hasn’t decided on a target number for the size of the police. Previewing the new strategy, Holbrooke said the U.S. favors greater investment in agriculture to wean Afghanistan away from the opium poppy production that finances the Taliban insurgency. Opium is the raw ingredient in heroin. Holbrooke also stressed the need to eliminate havens for extremists in the border region. “You can’t succeed in Afghanistan if you don’t solve the problem of western Pakistan,” he said. ‘Civilian Surge’ According to the Afghan ambassador and U.S. officials involved in or briefed on the review, other recommendations include coordinating a unified civil-military strategy for NATO allies and providing resources for a “civilian surge” of diplomats and aid workers. Obama told “60 Minutes” that the U.S. “may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan” as part of its new approach. A less-educated population and a more limited infrastructure than in Iraq will make the job tougher in Afghanistan, the president said. The draft also raises the idea of negotiating with elements of the Taliban who are not ideologically committed to the struggle against the U.S., NATO and the elected government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden said 70 percent of Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan are merely mercenaries who could be persuaded to lay down their arms. Karzai’s Role The U.S. and its allies are preparing to impose a “chief minister” on Karzai, because of frustration over the extent of corruption and incompetence in his administration, the Guardian reported, citing unidentified diplomats. A reduced role for Karzai is envisaged in a review of Afghanistan and Pakistan that was ordered by Obama and will be unveiled at a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31, the newspaper said. The draft plan suggests raising U.S. non-military assistance to Pakistan, especially for job creation aimed at those drawn to militant action for money, while conditioning military help on measurable cooperation against extremists in the border province of Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the Taliban has regrouped. Another recommendation is to increase intelligence-sharing among Pakistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan and boost surveillance, using U.S. technology, of the porous border at more “coordination centers” such as one opened at the crossing at Torkham, Pakistan, the administration official and diplomats said. ‘Just as Threatened’ “Pakistan is just as threatened by extremists as we are, and it’s in their interest” for the U.S. to continue targeted attacks on insurgents by unmanned drone aircraft, said Wendy Chamberlin, who was U.S. ambassador to Pakistan at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Legislation introduced last year by Biden when he was a senator from Delaware called for tripling non-military aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over five years, while tying military aid to cracking down on extremists. It was co-sponsored by Obama, then a senator from Illinois, and Hillary Clinton, then a senator fro New York who is now secretary of state. Another proposal is to funnel more aid for job creation through projects run by local agencies rather than foreign development groups to give them a local face and ownership. Decisions haven’t been made about how many U.S. military and civilian personnel to deploy or how much money to devote to development and reconstruction, an official involved in the report said. At a time of mounting budget deficits, Obama may face congressional resistance to increased funding. The cost of inaction in Afghanistan would be “potentially horrific,” retired Lieutenant General David Barno, the U.S. commander there from 2003 to 2005, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. The consequences would include “an insecure Pakistan, a return to deep sanctuary for al-Qaeda” and “a lack of confidence in American staying power and military prowess,” Barno said.
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