Friday, March 27, 2009

Obama Unveils New Afghanistan Strategy

Friday, March 27, 2009
22:19 Mecca time, 19:19 GMT

Obama unveils new Afghan strategy

Obama ordered a review of Afghan and Taliban policy after taking office

Barack Obama has unveiled his administration's new strategy in Afghanistan, including the deployment of an additional 4,000 US troops to train Afghan forces, following a review of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The new strategy includes proposals to counter a persistent Taliban and al-Qaeda campaign that spans the two countries' shared border, and additional development aid for both nations.

Obama, who ordered the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan shortly after taking office in January, said a new strategy was essential because intelligence indicated al-Qaeda was "actively planning attacks" on the US from Pakistan.

"This is not simply an American problem, it's an international security problem of the highest order," he said on Friday.

"If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists.''

But Obama also hinted that the US may be willing to talk to some members of the Taliban, saying there would be "no peace without reconciliation among former enemies".

"In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target al-Qaeda," he said.

"We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan, while understanding that it is a very different country."

However the Taliban told told Al Jazeera in a statement on Friday: "Obama is repeating the mistakes of [former Russian president Mikhail] Gorbachev.

"If more troops are going to win the war [in Afghanistan], the Russians would already have done so."


Obama proposed an additional $1.5n in funding for infrastructure development in Pakistan - to be voted on in the US congress - in addition to setting a goal of building an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 by 2011.

There would also be a "substantial increase" in the number of civilians deployed on the ground in Afghanistan for development Obama said, and the US government would also seek "a new compact" with the Afghan government to halt corruption.

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds in Washington says the new strategy combines military action with civilian development, a more comprehensive approach than simply putting "more boots on the ground".

On Friday the leaders of both Afghanistan and Pakistan praised the strategy shift, with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, saying in a statement the move "will bring Afghanistan and the international community closer to success".

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, also praised efforts to increase civilian aid to his country, state news reported.

However Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder in Islamabad says the speech will not go down well amongst others in Pakistan, where there is considerable anger over drone attacks in the nation's troubled North-West Frontier province.

"Any attempts by the US to try to enlarge the 'theatre of war' into Pakistan is not likely to recived well by the people and the government," he said.

US officials have said success in Afghanistan is impossible without tackling Taliban enclaves in Pakistan, whose government is beset by political turmoil.

Obama made the issue of Afghanistan a cornerstone of his foreign policy, appointing Richard Holbrooke, a diplomatic veteran, as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in addition to ordering the strategic review.

The US currently has about 38,000 troops in Afghanistan, in addition to the 17,000 US forces Obama ordered to be deployed in February and around 42,000 Nato troops.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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