Obama to unveil Afghan strategy review

December 16, 2010 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Dec 16 – President Barack Obama is expected to declare on Thursday that his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on track, despite record combat deaths and public US tensions with the two countries.

Obama will unveil an unclassified version of a sweeping two-month review of US military and civilian operations likely to claim important progress against the Taliban and admit severe challenges remain in the nine-year war.

But no changes to US strategy are expected, despite complaints from critics that US policy in war-torn Afghanistan is too ambitious, challenged by countrywide corruption and that political fragility may make US gains unsustainable.

"I doubt there will be, in all honesty, a lot of surprise at what the review lays out," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
"There has been some important progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"We have seen, through counterterrorism, success at degrading senior Al-Qaeda leaders. And we’ve seen greater cooperation over the course of the past 18 months with the Pakistani government.

"You will also see in the review an enumeration of the continued challenges that we have in that region," Gibbs told reporters on Tuesday.

Administration officials on Wednesday played down two intelligence reports cited by two newspapers, which apparently paint a less optimistic picture of the war than that seen in the administration report.

US intelligence agencies believe the US-led war effort could be doomed unless Pakistan cracks down on militant sanctuaries inside its border, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported.

The intelligence reports point to a longstanding problem cited by military officers, that Afghan Taliban and other militants move across the Pakistani border with impunity, allowing them to stage attacks against coalition troops.

The reports, or National Intelligence Estimates, reflect a consensus view of all 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Defence Intelligence Agency.

Defence officials say the intelligence accounts are "behind the curve," lacking insights from troops on the frontline in a fluid situation.
"We have agreed to disagree," one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

Officials say Obama’s report will highlight improved cooperation in the fight against extremism with the Pakistani government – but added it would also state the need for Islamabad to do more.

The White House has signalled that the review will show sufficient progress for Obama to sign off on his promised start to a conditions-based drawdown of US surge troops – 30,000 of whom were ordered to Afghanistan a year ago.

But despite the promised start to the drawdown, the key date for US Afghan policy is now 2014, which NATO partners agreed at a summit last month to set as the target to cede full control to Afghan security forces.

Limited progress in Afghanistan has come at a high cost: more foreign troops – nearly 700 – died in 2010 than in any year of the nine-year conflict, and Washington has waged public spats with Kabul and Islamabad.


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