By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009
President Obama's new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy will require significantly higher levels of U.S. funding for both countries, with U.S. military expenses in Afghanistan alone, currently about $2 billion a month, increasing by about 60 percent this year.
"The president has decided he is going to resource this war properly," said a senior administration official of the plan Obama is set to announce this morning. Along with the 17,000 additional combat troops authorized last month, he said, Obama will send 4,000 more this fall to serve as trainers and advisers to an Afghan army expected to double in size over the next two years.
In outlining his plan after a two-month review that began the week of his inauguration, Obama will describe it as a sharp break with what officials called a directionless and under-resourced conflict inherited from the Bush administration. Far from al-Qaeda being vanquished and the threat to the United States diminished, the official said, "seven and a half years after 9/11, al-Qaeda's core leadership has moved from Kandahar, in Afghanistan, to a location unknown in Pakistan . . . where we know they're plotting new attacks" against this country and its allies.
Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said the official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy. The president will describe his plan in a White House speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and nongovernmental aid groups.
The officials declined to put dollar figures on aspects of the strategy other than the cost of U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan. Initial funding requests for hundreds of additional U.S. civilian officials to be sent there, as well as increased economic and development assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, will come in a 2009 supplemental appropriation that the administration has not yet outlined.
The officials said the administration, working with Congress, will develop new "benchmarks and metrics to measure our performance and that of our allies," including the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Lawmakers and the administration itself have questioned the ability and will of the Afghan government to fight corruption and the narcotics trade, and have criticized the Pakistani military's performance against al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups. U.S. intelligence officials believe that elements of Pakistan's intelligence service continue to actively collaborate with the Taliban.
"We are looking for performance and changes in behavior on the Pakistani side," an official said, adding that Obama had "made very clear there are no blank checks."
Obama will deliver the strategy to NATO allies fighting with U.S. forces in Afghanistan at an April 3-4 alliance summit. But officials made clear that the administration -- with the United States bearing most of the cost of the conflict -- expects to take the lead in both the civilian and military aspects.
The administration plans to expand regional diplomatic outreach to Russia, China, India and the Persian Gulf states, the officials said. Initial overtures to Iran, one said, will begin at an international meeting next week in The Hague attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. At the conference, the administration will seek indications that Iran "wants to be a productive player" in Afghanistan, he said.
Iran yesterday accepted an invitation to the gathering, although U.S. officials said the Iranian foreign minister is not likely to attend. The administration has not yet determined whether Clinton, or a lower-level U.S. official, would attend any talks with Iran. Special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke will also be at the conference.
Obama briefed House and Senate leaders on the strategy at the White House yesterday afternoon, while Holbrooke and other officials met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The president also telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, President Asif Ali Zardari.
"The situation in Afghanistan is increasingly difficult, and time is of the essence," Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Obama's nominee as ambassador to Afghanistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing yesterday. "There will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice."
While additional U.S. combat troops will enhance the ability of the multinational coalition force to hold ground in southern Afghanistan's Taliban strongholds, increased training and equipping of Afghan security forces is the ultimate exit strategy for the United States and NATO, administration officials said.
Afghanistan's defense minister has said he plans to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 by 2011, but coalition forces until now have been unable to provide trainers and mentors, equipment and transport for the existing force.
The extra 4,000 U.S. troops, expected to deploy in early fall, are to fill that gap. In a sign of the new importance the administration is placing on the mission, a brigade of the Army's vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is being broken up into 10-to-14-member advisory teams, a Pentagon official said. Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams.
"The change couldn't be more dramatic," said retired Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense think tank. "The 82nd Airborne Division is the nation's shock force."
"We want to move as aggressively and as quickly as possible to build up the Afghan national army," one administration official said. "It's much cheaper in the long run to train Afghans to fight" than to send U.S. forces "halfway around the world."
The total of 21,000 new troops, added to a combat brigade authorized by the Bush administration and deployed in January, will exceed the 30,000 that Gen. David D. McKiernan, the U.S. and NATO commander, had requested for this year in Afghanistan and will bring the total U.S. force to more than 60,000. Non-U.S. NATO troops there currently total about 32,000.
The new strategy will also include efforts to draw low-level Taliban fighters -- but not the insurgent leadership -- into reconciliation talks with the Afghan government. "We're not in the business of negotiating with Mullah Omar, and Mullah Omar doesn't want to negotiate with us," an official said. "But we think there are fractures" in the Taliban forces, he said. The goal is to "break the momentum of the Taliban in the next fighting season" that begins this spring and begin to exploit the fractures.
The administration's director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, estimated yesterday that as many as two-thirds of the Taliban groups are motivated by local concerns and might be defeated or pacified through addressing problems such as inadequate water supplies or access to education.
Staff writers Greg Jaffe and Joby Warrick contributed to this report.