Obama To Unveil Revamped Afghan War Plan

Concerned about the faltering war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama plans to dispatch thousands more military and civilian trainers on top of the 17,000 fresh combat troops he's already ordered, people familiar with the forthcoming plan said Thursday.

Mr. Obama also will call for increasing aid to neighboring Pakistan as long as its leaders confront militants in the border region. The president plans to lay out his revamped strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday.

Several sources told The Associated Press the strategy includes 20 recommendations for countering a persistent insurgency that spans the two countries' border, including sending 4,000 military trainers to try to increase the size of the Afghan army.

"It is an integrated military-civilian strategy," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Monterrey, Mexico. "We are convinced that the most critical underpinning of any success we hope to achieve, along with the people and government of Afghanistan, will be looking at where civilian trainers, aid workers, technical assistance of all kinds can be best utilized."

Clinton declined to go into details to avoid pre-empting Mr. Obama's announcement.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports the hope is that the additional troops will play a rapidly increasing role in the war against al Qaeda, which the president identified on 60 Minutes last Sunday as the central mission.

"Making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That's our number one priority," Mr. Obama said.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also would not discuss specifics of the plan, but said Mr. Obama is beginning to discuss its findings with members of Congress and others. Mr. Obama's top military advisers briefed key lawmakers Thursday.

In broad terms, Mr. Obama will define U.S. objectives as eliminating the threat from al Qaeda to undermine or topple U.S.-backed elected governments or to launch attacks on the United States, its interests and allies, the sources said.

They described the recommendations on condition of anonymity because the final wording was not complete. The new plan identified al Qaeda as the target in a larger network of insurgents who threaten U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, often from sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.

In his 60 Minutes interview the president said "there's got to be an exit strategy" in Afghanistan. But, Reid reports, congressional sources say they do not expect the president to announce any timelines for withdrawal.

The written outline of Mr. Obama's plan describes a "strategy for success," as opposed to an exit strategy, but the goal is the same: Stability on both sides of the border that would allow a reduction and eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan. To do that, Obama proposes a greatly expanded commitment to improving and enlarging the Afghan army and Pakistan's frontier forces.

The additional 4,000 troops devoted to training and advising the Afghan armed forces would head to Afghanistan this spring and summer. They come on top of about 17,000 combat and support troops Obama wants in place by the end of the summer.

The increasing U.S. dominance in Afghanistan is both by default and by design, according to the Washington Post. The United States has far more troops, equipment and money - and more willingness to use them - than the rest of NATO.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the training group is needed because there aren't enough U.S. military advisers there now.

"We've got to increase the size," of the Afghan army more quickly than contemplated, said Levin, D-Mich. "The trainers are the key to that."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it seemed like a viable strategy as long as the manpower is there.

"I know we need more than the 17,000," he said.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama said the Afghan war should have been the U.S. priority all along, and that the Bush administration wrongly diverted U.S. attention and resources to the war in Iraq. As president, Mr. Obama has been under pressure to say how he plans to address the sharp increase in violence in Afghanistan while prodding anti-terrorism ally Pakistan to deal with the militant threat on its soil.

"I'm comfortable that key policy makers on all levels are not minimizing the difficulties and are not missing anything," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. "What I'm less confident about is that there is a solution to this problem."

He added that Congress cannot shrink from a long-term commitment, including providing money.

A pillar of the strategy for Afghanistan will be greater engagement with local and provincial leaders, as opposed to a focus on the central government, according to officials familiar with the document.

Officials said there will be a directed campaign to focus attention on tribal and provincial leaders across the expansive country. With the bulk of the population living outside urban centers in small, far-flung villages, U.S. officials believe it will be more productive to build support, foster development and break down extremist ties district by district.

The plan will not abandon the central government in Kabul, said officials, but it will also not rely on bolstering efforts to govern from the capital.

Levin said the strategy will identify benchmarks to measure success in Afghanistan. "Uncertainty is not the kind of commitment they need to succeed."

The forthcoming White House review also says the U.S. will add hundreds of civilian advisers to those already in Afghanistan. The so-called civilian surge would concentrate on improving life for ordinary Afghans, and would include experts in agriculture in a country where subsistence farming is the norm. The civilians are also meant to help extend government services and the administration of justice.

The plan notes that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan still wants some 10,000 or 11,000 additional U.S. forces next year, but does not say whether Mr. Obama intends to fulfill that request now, sources said. That decision would come by the end of this year.

The plan also broaches dramatically increasing the size of Afghanistan's security forces. It calls for a study to determine the size of the police and military force capable of securing the country. Several defense officials said that could entail doubling the Afghan security force to almost 400,000. However, the strategy review does not recommend any specific figure.

In fact, the Obama strategy document deliberately avoids specific numbers and timelines, a senior defense official said. He said the intent is to set goals and a new direction, with specifics of implementation to be worked out in coming months.

The plan strongly backs legislation by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that would triple humanitarian aid to $1.5 billion to Pakistan for five years. The bill had been proposed last year by now Vice President Joe Biden.

Kerry, who took over for Biden as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he also supports placing conditions on military aid to Pakistan. Biden's original bill threatened to cut military funding for Islamabad unless the government did more to fight Taliban forces.

Kerry said he planned to introduce next week an updated version of the measure that would slightly increase the $1.5 billion.
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