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Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants
Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants
By Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker | NYTimes
The emerging outlines of President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan include proposals to shift more American efforts toward problems in neighboring Pakistan and to seek some kind of political reconciliation with the vast majority of insurgents in the region, according to administration officials.
The plan reflects in part a conclusion within the administration that most of the insurgent foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are “reconcilable” and can be pried away from the hard-core organizations of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. At least 70 percent of the insurgents, and possibly more, can be encouraged to lay down their arms with the proper incentives, administration officials have said.
A strategic review nearing completion is being carried out by a team of high-ranking administration officials whose recommendations will be subject to Mr. Obama’s approval. After seven years of a United States-led war effort in Afghanistan, officials involved in the review say that the military to date has succeeded primarily in driving the most hard-core Taliban and other extremist militants out of Afghanistan and into western Pakistan, including the mountainous tribal areas and the city of Quetta.
To put more pressure on those Pakistani sanctuaries, United States and Pakistani officials said they expected the plan to recommend at least a continuation of what amounts to a covert war carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, using drone aircraft for missile strikes on insurgent hide-outs.
The plan will also call for an increase in military and financial aid to Pakistan, though there was still a debate on just how much additional aid should be provided, the officials said.
One senior Obama official said the military aid to Pakistan would be aimed at trying to get its army to focus more on counterinsurgency and less on its long-running feud with India.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., speaking to NATO allies this week in Brussels, called 5 percent of the Taliban “incorrigible — not susceptible to anything other than being defeated.” A senior European diplomat involved in Afghanistan said officials believed that number to be 100 to 1,000 Qaeda and Taliban members. Mr. Biden said he believed that “another 25 percent or so” were uncertain about their commitment to the insurgency, while about 70 percent were involved because it meant “getting paid.”
But how exactly the Afghan government and the United States will pry away those insurgents remained unclear. Whatever is decided must be presented by the Afghan government, Mr. Biden said. “I do think it is worth engaging and determining whether or not there are those who are willing to participate in a secure and stable Afghan state,” he said.
Mr. Biden’s comments echoed those made by Mr. Obama during an interview last week with The New York Times, in which he said reconciliation in Afghanistan could be comparable to the successful American effort to reconcile with Sunni militias in Iraq.
Senior military officials have submitted three separate reviews to the White House: those from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region; and Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, of the National Security Council. That work has contributed to the final package being assembled by Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst who is chairman of the administration’s strategic review. Others involved in the review include Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Michele A. Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy.
Administration officials said Mr. Obama would probably announce the findings late next week or the week after, in advance of an international conference on Afghanistan that is scheduled for the end of the month in The Hague. Drafts of the final strategy are expected to be reviewed by a cabinet-level panel of Mr. Obama’s national security team next week. A senior Pentagon official said the review would set out specific goals over the next three to five years.
While officials said no decision had been reached on the level of nonmilitary financial assistance to be offered to Pakistan, senior Congressional aides pointed out that before leaving the Senate for the White House, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden sponsored legislation to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan over the next five years, to $1.5 billion a year.
Mr. Holbrooke and General Petraeus briefed senators on Capitol Hill on Thursday about the review. Congressional aides said a similar bill providing for increased aid to Pakistan would soon be reintroduced by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and the ranking Republican, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.
Beyond the Pakistan aid proposal, there is agreement that the Afghan National Army, which has proved to be an effective force for internal security and has earned popular respect, should be expanded — but no decision has been made on its ultimate size, according to senior Pentagon officials.
Several European officials said that the overarching theme behind the Afghanistan review was that NATO was looking for a way out of Afghanistan, and that everything done now was toward that end. “The goal now is simply to get to a point to prevent Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming a place from which you can launch attacks on the West,” a senior European official said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has sounded a similar theme, although not quite so starkly. “The mission is to prevent the Taliban from retaking power against a democratically elected government in Afghanistan and thus turning Afghanistan, potentially again, into a haven for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups,” Mr. Gates said on National Public Radio this week, setting ambitions for the military that are far more limited than the stated goals under the Bush administration.
“We need to have goals, at least in the near- to midterm, that are achievable,” he said.
It is not clear whether the Obama administration intends to extend the secret authorizations signed last summer by President George W. Bush that allow American commandos to carry out limited raids inside Pakistan. In carrying out missile strikes, the C.I.A. has steadily developed its own network of sources in the tribal areas, and combined with improved information-sharing with Pakistan’s main intelligence agency in recent months, as well as some technical advances like installing more mobile towers to intercept cellphone calls, the agency has been getting much better intelligence on its drone targets than it did just a few months ago, officials said.