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Obama Calls For 'Exit Strategy' As Part Of New Afghan Policy

U.S. President Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" that "there has got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."
U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that a U.S. "exit strategy" should be part of a new comprehensive policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan that he is expected to unveil soon.

Obama said his call for sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan should be part of a comprehensive strategy that has military, economic, and diplomatic components.

"What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," Obama told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" in a wide-ranging interview broadcast March 22. "So what we are looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there has got to be an exit strategy. There has got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."

Obama is expected as soon as this week to announce his administration's strategy for fighting militants in Afghanistan, and a senior administration envoy has reportedly already begun outlining the plans to NATO allies.

Civilian and military advisers have recommended that U.S. efforts in the region should focus on one overriding priority. Obama told "60 Minutes" that a series of changes are needed to achieve that focus, but that "making sure that Al-Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interest and our our No. 1 priority."

"In service of that priority, there may be a whole host of things that we need to do. We may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan. We may need to improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan. We may need to bring a more regional diplomatic approach to bear. We may need to coordinate more effectively with our allies," Obama said. "But we can't lose sight of what our central mission is -- the same mission that we had when we went in after [September 11, 2001]."

Envoy's Role

Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, has been working for months to help draft the new strategy.

Holbrooke on March 21 revealed that the draft plan calls for a significant increase in the size of the Afghan National Police. Holbrooke explained that the Bush administration's projections on the growth of the Afghan National Police during the next three to four years had been a mere 4,000 new officers -- raising the total number of Afghan police to about 82,000.

"Everyone we talked to, without exception -- Afghans, insurgency experts, the government, American military -- everyone agreed that was not sufficient. So we are looking, in conjunction with our allies and friends in the Afghan government, at a very significant increase for the police," Holbrooke said, according to Reuters. "But here's the problem: The police aren't very good right now. We know they are the weak link in the security chain. So we have to figure out a way to increase the size and make them better at the same time."

The draft strategy reportedly calls for U.S. military aid to Pakistan to be made dependent on measurable cooperation against extremists in Pakistan's border areas near Afghanistan -- including Baluchistan Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Another recommendation in the draft plan is increased intelligence-sharing between Pakistan, the U.S. military, and Afghanistan -- including boosted surveillance and more so-called coordinating centers like one that opened recently at the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Talks Within NATO

Holbrooke met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels on March 23 before briefing ambassadors from the 26 countries in the alliance about the new U.S. strategy.

Reuters quoted NATO spokesman James Appathurai as saying the meeting appeared intended to "give the broad lines of the U.S. strategy review as it now stands."

"I don't know that they've arrived at any final conclusions on which President Obama has signed off on, but their thinking is now very close to the conclusion of the process," Appathurai added.

Jamie Shea, director of policy planning in the private office of the NATO secretary-general, told RFE/RL ahead of the March 23 briefing that NATO has "got to bring Pakistan as closely as we can into a regional approach in order to be successful in Afghanistan."

"We realize fully well that we cannot solve the situation in Afghanistan without the active cooperation of Pakistan," Shea said. "We want to step up our cooperation, and the good news is that Pakistan wants also to engage more with NATO -- for instance, improving the lines of communication, setting up a NATO liaison office in Islamabad, stepping up the cooperation on the border [where] we are in the process of setting up six border cooperation centers, sharing intelligence."

Other aspects of the Obama administration's draft strategy reportedly include proposals for increasing U.S. nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan -- in particular, aid for creating jobs to lure militant mercenaries from the battlefield.

with additional wire reporting