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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

There is word today that one of al-Qaida's top commanders in Afghanistan has been killed. The death of Abu Laith al-Libi was announced on an Islamist Web site today. One U.S. intelligence official said the death would be good news, though he wouldn't confirm it. He said al-Libi was involved in activities along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The news came on a day when U.S. lawmakers and State Department officials debated some of the gloomy assessments about the war in Afghanistan. Reports by academics describe the country as a failed state and a haven for terrorism.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has that story.

MICHELE KELEMEN: At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former NATO Commander James Jones said one of his main concerns is that the international community is losing momentum when it comes to helping Afghanistan deal with crucial issues from narcotics to police and judicial reform.

General JAMES JONES (Retired, USMC; Former NATO Commander): I worry about a loss of momentum. I worry about the fact that the safe havens for the insurgents are more numerous now than they were one or two or three years ago.

KELEMEN: Jones was an author of two reports out this week, one for the Atlantic Council and one for the bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group, which also included retired diplomat Thomas Pickering.

Mr. THOMAS PICKERING (Member, Afghanistan Study Group; Retired Diplomat): The U.S. and the international community have tried to win the struggle with, in our view, too few military, insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent strategy. We now have to deal with the reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaida both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a runaway opium economy and severe poverty faced by most Afghans.

KELEMEN: Both men lamented the fact that British politician Paddy Ashdown had to give up in the idea of being a U.N. envoy after Afghan President Hamid Karzai opposed him. They said the international community needs a strong person like Ashdown to help coordinate strategy.

As for U.S. strategy, Democrats and Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee said they didn't see one despite the attempts by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher to explain how the U.S. is trying to help Afghanistan's government gain control of the country.

Mr. RICHARD BOUCHER (Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, United States Department of State): The overall strategy is to win on the battlefield and win a war, really, by providing governance at the local level, and that's being done more and more every day. I think there are places where you can see it definitely working.

KELEMEN: But Indiana Republican Richard Lugar says the sense he gets is that Afghanistan's government isn't functioning out in the provinces. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said Afghanistan is on the wrong trajectory in other areas as well, with more bombings blamed on the Taliban and a booming narcotics industry.

Boucher urged Senator Kerry to take a longer view.

Mr. BOUCHER: Any snapshot is going to show a terribly underdeveloped country with a weak government, a raging insurgency, and an enormous poppy crop. But you can take that picture most anytime.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): No, it's bigger than it was when we started.

Mr. BOUCHER: I know that.

Sen. KERRY: And the conditions are worse than they were when we started, going the opposite direction.

Mr. BOUCHER: I don't think that's generally true.

Sen. KERRY: Excuse me?

Mr. BOUCHER: I don't think that's generally true.

KELEMEN: Senators on both sides of the aisle remain skeptical of the administration's optimistic spin, and they push for better police training and a more coherent strategy overall. The Afghanistan Study Group offered another bit of advice, saying the Bush administration needs to stop linking Afghanistan and Iraq, so that Congress can consider the budget separately and make sure Afghanistan is getting the resources and the attention it has been lacking.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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