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Obama Announces Strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan

President Barack Obama declared Friday that the United States must 'disrupt, defeat and dismantle' the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Video by AP

Congressional reaction to the announcement was largely positive. "We've said for some time that we must refocus our resources on threats like al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement saying: "I support the strategy the president unveiled today because it reflects the advice of our commanders on the ground."

Obama said of the additional resources his policy will require: "I do not ask for this support lightly. These are challenging times, and resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future."

Neither Obama, nor the senior officials who fanned out yesterday to brief reporters on the plan, provided cost details.

"This strategy is not intended to be a campaign plan or a straitjacket," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who headed an intense 60-day White House policy review that led to Obama's announcement. It was designed to be flexible, he said, and criteria outlined by Obama and others -- levels of violence and casualties in Afghanistan, Pakistani attacks against insurgents and accounting for U.S. aid -- would be used to determine whether course corrections were needed.

Afghanistan, Obama said, "will see no end to violence if insurgents move freely back and forth across the border" with Pakistan. But details on how the movement would be stopped, and how al-Qaeda and other groups would be rousted from their havens in Pakistan, were similarly scarce.

That is "the most daunting" problem, said Richard L. Holbrooke, the administration's special envoy to the region, because Pakistan is "a sovereign country and there is a red line . . . unambiguous and stated publicly by the Pakistani government over and over again: no foreign troops on our soil."

"The short answer," Riedel said, "is that the combination of aggressive military operations on the Afghan side, and working energetically with the Pakistani government to shut down these safe havens, creates the synergy which we hope will then lead to their destruction."

Holbrooke and Riedel sought to sell the strategy to a small group of influential South Asia scholars and analysts, among them James Dobbins of the Rand Corp. and Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a White House meeting yesterday. The attendees reacted favorably to the Afghanistan recommendations, but several were deeply skeptical that the United States would be able to achieve its policy goals in Pakistan, according to one person who attended the meeting.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) similarly praised the Afghan elements of the policy and welcomed "the new focus on Pakistan." But he said in a statement that he is "skeptical that the Pakistanis will secure their border" and warned against tying Afghanistan's future "too tightly to Pakistan's governmental decisions."

Asked about the campaign against Afghan corruption, Holbrooke said, "We're not going to lay out how we're going to deal with it. To some extent, we don't know yet."

Staff writers Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Ann Scott Tyson and Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

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