Afghanistan Strategy Review on Track for December

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2010 — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma should receive a report on a review of his Afghanistan pol­i­cy next month, a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said today.

Speak­ing to reporters on back­ground, the offi­cial, who is involved in the review, said the review will help to deter­mine how well the strat­e­gy is work­ing and aid in plan­ning the start of tran­si­tion­ing to Afghan con­trol of secu­ri­ty.

“By now, pat­terns devel­op, which is quite help­ful,” he said.

The annu­al review is the first since Oba­ma announced the pol­i­cy change in a Decem­ber speech at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my at West Point, N.Y., the offi­cial said, but he added that Oba­ma has mon­i­tored the sit­u­a­tion from the begin­ning.

“The pres­i­dent made clear he would care­ful­ly watch for progress over time, and he’s done that in the course of the last year,” he said.

Oba­ma receives week­ly writ­ten input from Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and their sub­or­di­nates in the field, the offi­cial said.

Oba­ma also takes part in a month­ly video con­fer­ence with his nation­al secu­ri­ty team and lead­ers in field, and he receives a com­pre­hen­sive set of met­rics quar­ter­ly to mea­sure progress in Afghanistan, Pak­istan, and in the coun­tert­er­ror­ism effort at large, the offi­cial added.

The pur­pose of the annu­al review, he explained, is to assess trends not obvi­ous at the more fre­quent inter­vals. The review will account for adjust­ments and revi­sions that have tak­en place dur­ing the year, such as the ini­tia­tive to bet­ter hire and train Afghan local police, efforts to rein­te­grate insur­gents into civil­ian soci­ety, Pak­istan mil­i­tary ini­tia­tives, and dev­as­tat­ing floods that Pak­istan has been deal­ing with since sum­mer, he said.

The report also will include results of NATO’s Nov. 19–20 sum­mit in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal, where offi­cials are expect­ed to dis­cuss tran­si­tion­ing Afghan forces to take the lead on their country’s secu­ri­ty, and putting a tran­si­tion in place to imple­ment over sev­er­al years, he said. Also, the offi­cial said, he expects a theme to come out of Lis­bon that “the Afghans will not have to stand alone.”

“I think NATO will look to estab­lish and define their endur­ing com­mit­ments and part­ner­ships,” he said.

The review is designed to pro­vide an assess­ment, but not rec­om­men­da­tions, the offi­cial said. “This is a diag­nos­tic look at the strat­e­gy. It is not pre­scrip­tive,” he said. “We are not in the busi­ness of for­mu­lat­ing pol­i­cy alter­na­tives or dif­fer­ent cours­es of action.”

Oba­ma wants to know if the strat­e­gy is on the right path, and whether it’s deliv­er­ing the desired effects at the right pace.

Still, he said, pol­i­cy impli­ca­tions prob­a­bly will result in the form of ques­tions the review will raise, which will be tak­en up in the new year by the nation­al secu­ri­ty team.

The review will include input from inter­na­tion­al part­ners, as well as lead­ers on the ground, espe­cial­ly Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the offi­cial said. “Gen­er­al Petraeus’ input is fun­da­men­tal to what we’re gath­er­ing here,” he said. “It’s a bot­tom-up dri­ven process. In that way, Gen­er­al Petraeus and his region­al com­man­ders are absolute­ly at the con­trols with their Afghanistan coun­ter­parts on what’s doable and on what time­line.”

Like the more fre­quent reviews, the annu­al review will not be made pub­lic due to the nation­al secu­ri­ty infor­ma­tion involved, but the admin­is­tra­tion will have announce­ments for Con­gress and the pub­lic prob­a­bly in late Decem­ber or ear­ly Jan­u­ary, he said.

The offi­cial would not be spe­cif­ic about what met­rics are being used to assess progress in the region, oth­er than to say it will include “com­pre­hen­sive” items for mea­sure­ment. An exam­ple, he said, would be in assess­ing secu­ri­ty by look­ing at trends in vio­lence by dis­tricts and which dis­tricts are con­trolled by the Tal­iban.

A reporter asked how the Afghanistan strat­e­gy can suc­ceed with insur­gent safe havens in Pak­istan. “This is the fun­da­men­tal under­ly­ing ques­tion that we’ve exam­ined care­ful­ly in the quar­ter­ly reviews,” the offi­cial replied. “There still are safe havens in Pak­istan. Get­ting at those safe havens is fun­da­men­tal to our approach. You’ve hit on a key item of review.”

Also, he said, “We’re see­ing some indi­ca­tors that the Tal­iban may be under pres­sure in ways it wasn’t under pres­sure before. So the ques­tion is, which dimen­sions of the cam­paign is apply­ing that pres­sure and how can we sus­tain it? This gets to the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about the mil­i­tary cam­paign and the polit­i­cal process con­nect­ed to it.”

The offi­cial said Oba­ma is stand­ing by his plans to begin to start draw­ing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July. The review will help to deter­mine the pace of the draw­down, he said, although it “won’t be the defin­ing look,” because six more months will pass before then.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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