Obama unveils new Afghanistan policy

US President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review calls for increased aid to both countries and a need for more civilian and international support, the American Forces Press Service says.
“Security demands a new sense of shared responsibility,” Obama said in an address from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building here. “Together, we must enhance intelligence sharing and military cooperation along the [Afghan-Pakistan] border, while addressing issues of common concern like trade, energy and economic development.”

Obama says the future of Afghanistan is “inextricably” linked to the future of Pakistan, as al-Qaeda and other extremists have moved freely across the two countries` shared border since 9/11, planning attacks and training. He calls the border region “the most dangerous place in the world” for the American people, but adds that the issue is “an international security challenge of the highest order.”
“The safety of people around the world is at stake,” the president says, noting that terrorist attacks in London, Bali, Islamabad and Algeria over the past two decades were all tied to al-Qaeda elements and safe havens in Pakistan.
“It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al-Qaeda,” he continues. “[Pakistan`s] ability to destroy these safe havens is tied to its own strength and security.”

The weakness of Pakistan’s central government and waning economy is indirectly responsible for al-Qaeda’s ability to harbour and operate safe havens along the border region. The review calls for Congress to authorise US$1.5 billion in support for the Pakistan people annually over a five-year course to build schools, roads and hospitals to strengthen the country`s democracy, Obama adds.

Also, the review calls for Congress to pass a bill that creates “opportunity zones” in the border regions “to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence. A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone.
“I do not ask for this support lightly,” he continues. “These are challenging times, and resources are stretched, but the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future.”

On Afghanistan`s side of the border, Obama said the United States and partner nations must prevent the country from becoming the safe haven it was prior to 9/11. The gains of the resurgent Taliban over the past year must be reversed. Allied forces must “promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government,” he said.

Ground commanders in Afghanistan have expressed the need for additional resources for more than three years, and with the drawdown of forces in Iraq, those resources are now available. The additional 17 000 US soldiers and Marines he authorised for Afghanistan last month will impact greatly, Obama says.

Those resources, according to the new strategy, will support an emphasized shift in the Afghanistan mission to focus efforts on increasing the size and capacity of the Afghan army and police with training, he said. Although, more US resources and troops are available for the Afghan mission now, Obama stressed the importance of the Afghan security forces eventually taking the lead in their own country.
“That is how we will prepare the Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home,” he says.

The president adds after the first wave of US reinforcements hit the ground in the next two months, the effort to train Afghan police and army units will be fully resourced for the first time since combat operations began there in 2001.

He says every American unit will be partnered with an Afghan army or police unit, and that additional support has been requested for NATO trainers.

Obama says he hopes those efforts will grow the Afghan army from 82 000 to 134 000 as well as increase the size of the police to 82 000 by 2011. These increases may very well be needed, he adds, as the United States and NATO work on plans to turn over security responsibilities to the Afghans.

The increase in troops and military resources must be accompanied by civilian efforts, too, including State Department personnel and the US Agency for International Development as well as their NATO and international counterparts. Afghanistan`s government is democratically elected but plagued by corruption, while the economy remains undercut by narcotics trade, he said.

Obama called for agricultural specialists, educators, engineers and lawyers to come forward to help the Afghan government serve its people and develop its economy. His fiscal 2010 budget request includes “indispensible” investments in the State Department and foreign assistance programs. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will lead this effort.
“Make no mistake. Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don`t invest in their future,” he says. “[Civilian experts] contribute directly to security. They make the American people safer, and they save us an enormous amount of money in the long run.”

Obama says the new strategy and policy will set clear goals to measure progress to maintain accountability. His administration will “consistently” assess training and fighting efforts, he continues, adding that he will pay close attention to the changes in Afghanistan`s economy.
“We will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals,” he said.

The road to success and an end to the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be long and difficult. But a lasting partnership with the two countries “serves the promise of a new day for their people,” he further says.
“None of the steps I have outlined will be easy, and none should be taken by America alone,” he adds. “We have a shared responsibility to act. What`s at stake now is not just our own security — it is the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf or our common security.”

The American Forces Press Service separately reports US Central Command commander General David Petraeus and US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke telling CNN they would “meet soon” to work on details for the way forward.
“Dave Petraeus and I are now going to sit down and plot the most serious integration of civilian and military activities … we have had in our time,” he said. “We`re going to integrate the policy like it`s never been done before.”

On the civilian side of the equation, Holbrooke says, deliberations during the review focused on Afghanistan`s agricultural sector and creating jobs.

Militarily, about 30 000 more US troops will deploy to Afghanistan, doubling the number of Americans on the ground in the country. “They`ll all be on the ground by the end of the [northern] summer and the early fall,” Petraeus said.

In an interview on CBS, Obama added his administration is prepared to help Pakistan grow its economy so it can provide basic services to its people. If Pakistan`s government doesn`t have credibility or is weakened, it will be much more difficult for its people to deal with the extremism within their borders, Obama noted.
“We have to recognize that part of our task I`m working with Pakistan is not just military,” he said. “It`s also our capacity to build their capacity through civilian interventions, through development, through aid assistance.
“That`s part of what you`re seeing — both in Afghanistan and Pakistan — I think is fully resourcing a comprehensive strategy that doesn`t just rely on bullets or bombs, but also relies on agricultural specialists, on doctors, on engineers, to help create an environment in which people recognize that they have much more at stake in partnering with us and the international community than giving into to some of these extremist ideologies,” he said.

In return for the assistance, however, the administration expects much greater accountability, Obama said.

The president also said reports that Pakistani intelligence may be communicating with the Taliban and al-Qaeda aren`t new, and just one of the contingencies the United States will face in defeating the terror group.

All contingencies can be overcome by combining military, civilian, diplomatic and development approaches, Obama said, if the United States does a better job of coordinating with its allies.