U.S. Unveils Afghanistan Review

President Barack Obama unveiled Friday a strategic review of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The review focuses on building civil society, talking to some militants, troop increases and continued drone attacks in Pakistan.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama today unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. During an address at the White House, the president sought to explain America's purpose in the region.

President BARACK OBAMA: We have a clear and focused goal - to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: To that end, Mr. Obama announced that he will increase the number of U.S. troops and civilians, as well as funding for operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM: In announcing a new strategy, President Obama set an ominous tone, saying the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan was perilous and that last year was the deadliest for American forces since the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan in late 2001. Mr. Obama laid out a comprehensive plan that calls for defeating al-Qaida and the Taliban, bringing security to the Afghan people and help building civil society there.

The president committed an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to train and advise Afghanistan's security forces with the aim of doubling the number of the country's army and its police force within three years. Paula Newberg with Georgetown University says that's very ambitious.

Dr. PAULA NEWBERG (Georgetown University): It may be too good to be true. It's not eminently clear that you can suddenly put in this kind of personnel and money and magically create the army and police force that you want.

NORTHAM: John Nagl, a retired army officer and president of the Center for a New American Security, said it does take time to build troop loyalty to the government, but Nagl believes the president's plan will work.

Mr. JOHN NAGL (President, Center for a New American Security): For the first time ever in our entire commitment to Afghanistan, we are putting our money where our mouth is with reference to the training of the Afghan National Army. Foreign forces can help, but it's local forces that are your exit strategy in any counter insurgency campaign.

NORTHAM: The new strategy calls for hundreds of civilians and diplomats to be dispatched to Afghanistan to start tackling some of the inherent problems there, including corruption, narcotics, economic development, problems made even more challenging by the deteriorating security situation. Kai Eide, the U.N. chief in Afghanistan, says although the U.S. is spearheading a huge new approach, it shouldn't forget it is still the Afghans' country.

Ambassador KAI EIDE (U.N. Chief, Afghanistan): And there we also had to make sure that it is not the U.S. implementing its way, other European countries their way, it must be based on the joint Afghan plan because they know best what the requirements on the ground are.

NORTHAM: During his address, Mr. Obama reminded NATO and European allies that any major terrorist attack in Asia, Europe or Africa would have ties to al-Qaida, and he'll likely push that message home when he meets with NATO leaders in a week's time. But there is a growing collective fatigue among members of NATO and the European Union leery of committing more civilian or military personnel, says Georgetown's Paula Newberg.

Dr. NEWBERG: The Europeans have done an enormous amount, and NATO has done a great deal without concentrated U.S. effort in the last several years. So if they are fatigued, it's from having tried to do what the Americans are now finally acknowledging that they want to do.

NORTHAM: A large component of the new strategy focuses on Pakistan, a new bipartisan bill would authorize $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan every year for the next five years to boost its economy, build democratic institutions and help it to battle Islamist militants in the regions along the border with Afghanistan. Mr. Obama made it clear that this time the Pakistani government will be held accountable.

Pres. OBAMA: We will not and cannot provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al-Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken one way or another, when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.

NORTHAM: The administration wants better relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as other regional players, Iran and China included, that have a stake in seeing stability. Juan Zerate, a former counterterrorism advisor in the Bush administration, says the challenge is each neighbor in the region has its own agenda.

Mr. JUAN ZERATE (Former Counterterrorism Advisor): There may be a presumption of common interest in all of this and at the surface that may be the case, but under the surface there are conflicting national interests across the board, and I think that's always going to be a problem.

NORTHAM: But the president made it clear today that this is a process in the works and that his administration will be flexible if it sees one part of the strategy isn't working.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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Obama Warns On Afghanistan, Pakistan Situation

Obama's Prepared Remarks

President Obama warned Friday that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is "increasingly perilous."

He acknowledged that after seven years of fighting, "the war rages on" and that "2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American troops." He said intelligence reports indicate that terrorists are actively plotting to harm Americans from their safe havens in Pakistan.

In his speech, the president outlined his strategy to revive the war that his commanders in Afghanistan say they're not winning. The key pillars include more troops and training for Afghanistan and more treasure for Pakistan.

He called on Congress to pass a measure co-sponsored by Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar that would triple the amount of U.S. aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion per year, provided Pakistan shows that it is willing to go after militants on its own territory.

The president noted that he has already ordered 17,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan, but he said he also wants to provide more resources for training Afghan security forces and will send 4,000 more troops to serve as advisers and trainers. He said the object is to build Afghanistan's army to a force of 134,000 and its police to 82,000 members by 2011.

The president said that his plan calls for more than military action, including "a dramatic increase in our civilian effort." He noted that Afghanistan's government has been undermined by corruption and has failed to deliver basic services to its people. He promised not to ignore that corruption but to "seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior."

He promised to set benchmarks for the use of international aid, so it is used to meet the needs of the Afghan people.

Obama said the civilian effort will include agricultural specialists, educators, engineers and lawyers to help develop an economy "that isn't dominated by illicit drugs." He noted that Afghanistan's trade in opium poppies has encouraged government corruption and that the proceeds from opium trafficking are funding the insurgency.

Noting that waste and corruption have also tainted U.S. aid efforts, the president said he will increase funding for government watchdog agencies, including the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

The president said the strategy in Afghanistan will be flexible and that it will be carried out with constant reviews to make sure it was meeting U.S. goals. And he called for more civilian support from U.S. partners and allies as well.

Obama stressed that dealing with the issues in the region is "not simply an American problem." He called it an "international security challenge of the highest order" and said the U.S. will call on its NATO allies to increase their commitment.

The president said Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will appeal to the United Nations and international aid groups at next week's meeting in The Hague.

And the president pledged to work with international institutions, joining with the U.N. to form a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings NATO allies together with Central Asian countries, the Persian Gulf states, Iran, Russia, India and China.

He closed by stressing that the war in Afghanistan was not a war of choice but a response to the Sept. 11 attacks, which were planned by al-Qaida leaders given refuge by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He promised to use "all elements of our national power to defeat al-Qaida and to defend America."

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