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Official: White House will review Afghan war strategy but won't offer Plan B

By Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 9:09 PM

A White House review of President Obama's Afghanistan strategy next month will judge "how this current approach is working" but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

The review, one year after the strategy was announced last December, will provide policymakers with an assessment of whether it is "delivering the sorts of effects that we want based on the resources committed" and is "performing at the right pace," the official said.

Assessment data began to flow in from civilian and military forces in Afghanistan two weeks ago, said the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. Input from U.S. allies will also be gathered at a NATO summit in Lisbon that Obama is set to attend at the end of next week.

The report will provide "a catalog of open policy issues that need to be addressed" in the spring, the official said, leading to the July deadline Obama has set to begin a phased withdrawal of about 100,000 U.S. troops. A declassified version of the conclusions will be made public in late December or early January, he said.

Among other elements, the assessment will look at progress in forming local defense forces in Afghanistan, the size and capacity of the Afghan army and police, and progress in reconciliation talks between the government and the Taliban.

"There are not active talks ongoing," the official said. "However, the fact that there are talks about talks, and potential outreaches to senior Taliban, is an important dimension of the review."

The review will also assess progress by President Hamid Karzai's government in stemming official corruption. In Kabul this week, Afghan officials said a decision to drop corruption charges against a Karzai aide has outraged Afghan investigators who worked on the case and could undermine the pursuit of other corruption investigations.

One police commander, upset that the attorney general is not pursuing the case against Mohammad Zia Salehi, asked Interior Minister Besmillah Khan Mohammadi on Tuesday to drop six cases against Afghan policemen suspected of involvement in drug trafficking, suggesting that justice could not be served in the current political climate. Mohammadi, however, told the commander to proceed, the officials said.

"When I heard about Salehi, it really disappointed me, 100 percent," said one Afghan police official involved in the case.

Salehi, an official in Afghanistan's National Security Council who played a role in negotiations with the Taliban, was arrested in July on allegations of soliciting a bribe in return for helping to quash a separate corruption investigation. He was also accused of using a presidential slush fund, partly involving money from Iran, to pay off Karzai's supporters with cash and luxury vehicles.

The evidence was collected by a special Afghan police unit trained and advised by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and the arrest was carried out by another U.S.-backed Afghan unit known as the Major Crimes Task Force.

But on the same day that Salehi was arrested, Karzai personally intervened to free him from jail. The palace's swift response led to a review of other corruption investigations and had a chilling effect on anti-corruption work, according to officials involved.

Salehi's case became a symbol of the delicate balance that the United States must strike in fighting graft and bribery at the highest levels of Afghan politics. Since then, U.S. anti-corruption efforts have been carried out less publicly to avoid provoking Karzai.

After weeks with little mention of Salehi, the attorney general's office decided this week to drop all charges against him, said Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazari. The New York Times reported the decision Monday.

Nazari said the only evidence against Salehi involved wire-tapped conversations in which he allegedly solicited the bribe. Under Afghan law, Nazari said, taped phone conversations in financial cases are not admissible in court. He said the case could be reopened if new evidence is discovered.

Partlow reported from Kabul. Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed from Kabul.

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