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Afghan Plan Detailed As Iraq Surge "Lite"

There is one overall goal in President Obama's new Afghan plan that he'll announce at the White House tomorrow. It's defeating al Qaeda, in Afghanistan and Pakistan - -but not just by killing them. In Afghanistan itself, it's a mixture of what's called kinetic and counterinsurgency: more Special Forces missions to take out the enemy, and more traditional forces patrolling to keep Afghans safe. That's combined with a civilian and State Department surge, to keep Afghans employed, fed and educated -- all those everyday services their government is currently failing to provide -- driving them into the arms of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The plan includes putting more American boots on the ground -- up to 10,000, which would bring total U.S. forces on the ground to around 65,000 troops. The initial mini-surge will be 4,000 strong, mostly trainers to help grow the Afghan security forces.

The plan also calls for boosting the Afghan army to 132,000 (it's 90,000 now) by 2011 and the police force to 82,000 (it's 80,000 now), two U.S. officials confirm. Down the road, the aim is to reach a combined strength of 400,000 Afghan forces, though there's no definite timeline for that.

(AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
A U.S. soldier stands guard in front of an armored personal carrier as his colleagues walk to investigate three suspected Taliban militants in the city of Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 15, 2009.

The Obama administration believes the piece that's been missing in a winning strategy for Afghanistan is outreach, both across the border to Pakistan, and to countries in the region. So the president will announce that he backs a major Congressional funding plan, called the Kerry-Lugar bill, that if approved, could triple non-military aid to Pakistan over 10 years, according to U.S. officials. But the aid is contingent upon results. If the White House doesn't see improvements in security in Pakistan's federally administrated tribal areas, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have taken shelter, the aid will stop.

Another "missing piece" the White House hopes to address is outreach to other countries in the region, to include them in the fight against al Qaeda with the help of others in the region. He'll announce a contact group of regional countries -- which according to one report, could include Iran. He'll also announce that his secretaries of State and Defense will make frequent visits, to check on progress.

There's a bit of debate as to whether this plan is more counter-terrorism, or counter-insurgency-based. Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings says he's "perplexed" by some of the spin he's seen thus far, because it sounds like former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's strategy. "If you try to do counter-terrorism as your priority, you won't succeed - that's what Rumsfeld had been practicing," he adds "Rumsfeld wanted to get out quick and dirty and cheap without doing any nation-building. You cannot defeat the terrorists without protecting the population. There's no short cut."

"The rhetoric is 180 degrees turnabout from the actual policy. The White House spin-meisters today make it sound like Obama is trumpeting counter-terrorism, not nation-building," he says.

But the plan is actually an Iraq-surge-lite, he says. "It's based on population security and training Afghans. And that's why I like it."

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