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Concern Grows Over U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan

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Concern Grows Over U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan


Concern Grows Over U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In this country, the American general in overall command of two wars collapsed on Capitol Hill yesterday. General David Petraeus is the head of the U.S. Central Command. He recovered quickly, saying he believed he was dehydrated. Petraeus was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the war in Afghanistan. That hearing was called amid growing questions over whether the new strategy there is working.

Here's NPR's foreign affairs correspondent Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM: When President Obama announced a new counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan in early December, both critics and supporters described the plan as ambitious, optimistic.

The strategy involves injecting 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and other insurgents, and bringing in an army of civilians to build the country's infrastructure and civil society.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, headed up the administration's first review of Afghanistan. Riedel says the Obama administration knew what it was up against when it unveiled the new strategy.

Mr. BRUCE RIEDEL (Brookings Institution): It's always been clear to those who looked at this closely, that this was going to be a tough, tough fight, and it's turning out to be a very tough and difficult operation.

NORTHAM: Still, President Obama said he wanted to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011.

Steve Coll, an Afghan specialist at the New America Foundation, says a counterinsurgency campaign usually takes about a dozen years to succeed - if it succeeds. Coll says the Obama administration opened itself to future criticism with that deadline.

Mr. STEVE COLL (New America Foundation): The Obama administration's strategy presumed that visible progress would be made in a matter of months. I always thought that that was a tight timeline.

NORTHAM: Daniel Markey with the Council on Foreign Relations says expectations were raised with the huge deployment of military and civilian personnel. But he says that led many people to anticipate that the U.S. was going to quickly turn things around, at least on the military front.

But that was not the result of the U.S. offensive into the southern district of Marjah in February.

Mr. DANIEL MARKEY (Council on Foreign Relations): Marjah, I think in particular, was an example of the U.S. military suggesting that it would be a model, suggesting it was a test case, a pilot. And while they said it was going to be difficult, I think even they have been surprised by how poorly the post-initial military operations have gone.

NORTHAM: Markey says now the U.S. generals are adjusting their plans, which is not uncommon in counterinsurgency. A major offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar was supposed to be under way by now. Instead, U.S. military officials say it's being pushed back while it builds up local public and political support for the operation.

That includes bringing President Hamid Karzai to Kandahar to talk with the tribal elders. But Markey says Karzai has been erratic and sometimes counterproductive to U.S. efforts to implement its strategy.

Mr. MARKEY: I would say the administration has gone back and forth on its political strategy, beginning with a lot of sharp criticism of Karzai in the early days after the administration came into office and now shifting to a lighter touch. And none of these things have borne quick and easy fruit on the political front.

NORTHAM: But Steve Coll with the New America Foundation says there are some positive signs. He says the Afghan National Army holds promise if they can get enough trainers in Afghanistan. But Coll says the Afghan police are far less encouraging.

It's all part of the mixed picture coming out of Afghanistan in the six months since the strategy was unveiled.

Mr. COLL: It's early. Everybody involved, including the skeptics about the new strategy, recognizes that it's going to be at least December before you can begin to judge the prospects in 2011 and 2012.

NORTHAM: In the meantime, President Obama will be getting regular reviews from his commanders in the field.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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