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GAO report casts new doubt on Afghanistan policy

By NANCY A. YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers

An independent government report on Wednesday raises new questions about the likelihood of success for President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy, which nearly doubles the number of U.S. troops there before a planned drawdown begins in July 2011.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, found the Taliban remain a resilient fighting force, despite the boost in U.S. troops, and suggested many factors remain in place that will allow the Taliban to survive U.S. efforts to eradicate them.

The report noted that Taliban-initiated attacks in Afghanistan rose 75 percent between 2008 and 2009 and that civilian casualties rose 72 percent between last September and March, compared with the comparable period a year earlier.

The report, released just days before Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Washington amid strained relations with the Obama administration, buttressed last week's downbeat Pentagon assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. That report found that overall levels of violence rose 87 percent between February 2009 and March 2010.

The GAO report said the rising levels of violence in Afghanistan had made it harder for U.S. and international aid agencies to build development projects there - a key aspect of the U.S. policy to undercut Taliban influence in the country. United Nations development teams have only limited ability to visit much of the country, the GAO reported.

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