Correction to This Article
This article about the Obama administration's Afghanistan war review incorrectly implied that, according to coalition figures, overall Afghan civilian casualties had decreased by 66 percent in the first 11 months of 2010 compared with 2009. That figure applied only to civilian casualties caused by air support to coalition ground operations.

War review cites strides, is less confident on Afghan governance

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

President Obama met for nearly two hours with top national security aides Tuesday to give final approval to a year-end review of his war strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan before a summary of the assessment is publicly released Thursday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the results will "not surprise" anyone following the issue; he said that the review "will show that our transition can and should begin . . . in July 2011," when Obama has pledged to begin a conditions-based drawdown of what are now 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of both U.S. and NATO combat forces is to be completed by the end of 2014.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity about the largely classified document, described it as "diagnostic" rather than "prescriptive," outlining areas in which goals are being met as well as those where "things aren't working so well." The assessment is designed to set the agenda for decision-making in the spring, the official said.

Last December, Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 additional troops. Officials said that the review process, begun in October, concludes that some progress has been made toward the president's primary goal, which he said last December was "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future."

But the assessment, an official said, concludes that Pakistan still has not "fundamentally changed its strategic calculus" regarding insurgent sanctuaries on its territory. Pakistan has long resisted U.S. urging to launch all-out attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda redoubts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Relatively high marks are awarded to U.S. military offensives underway in southern Afghanistan, officials said, as well as to recruitment and training of Afghan security forces, and development of a local Afghan police force at the village level.

Among the statistics supplied for the review by the headquarters of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, 13 Afghan local police sites are now operational, with more than 2,100 recruits. U.S. Special Operations forces conducted 1,787 missions in the three months up to Dec. 2, resulting in the death or capture of 386 insurgent leaders.

The headquarters assessed that 70 percent of insurgent attacks nationwide were "ineffective," saying that "they cause no casualties, damage no equipment, and they do not adversely impact the mission." Civilian casualties, a frequent source of tension between the coalition and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, had dropped by 66 percent during the first 11 months of 2010 compared with 2009.

In the key southern part of the country, the report notes that Afghan forces outnumber coalition troops six to four. But U.S. troops remain in the lead in most significant offensive operations.

The report is said to be significantly less positive in its assessment of Karzai's government. Development of efficient and non-corrupt governance in Afghanistan is considered a work in progress, with significant questions remaining as to whether viable structures and competent officials can be put in place to build confidence among the Afghan people before a new Taliban offensive expected in the spring.

The assessment is likely to generate little immediate response from Congress. But as the administration begins to calculate how many troops it can withdraw and what improvements it needs on the civilian side of the policy, disenchantment with the war and its cost are expected to grow.

"If you were to go to the American public, to Congress, and say, 'We're all in until 2014; are you willing to put up the money and the troops?,' a lot of people would find that to be a longer commitment than comfortable, myself included," said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who is on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees. "The bend points in the timeline" between 2011 and 2014, he said, "are going to be critical. What is the slope going to look like?"

Smith, who headed a congressional delegation to Afghanistan just before Thanksgiving, said he saw progress on the ground there, but "there are still two overarching problems - the competence of the Afghan government, and the fact that Pakistan is still a safe haven for a lot of the terrorist groups disrupting Afghanistan."

Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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