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Obama's strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

The President's plan for the increasingly troubled region is ambitious, although his goals are more limited than Bush's.

By Staff writer / March 27, 2009

Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, President Obama announced a new comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Friday.

Ron Edmonds/AP

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Washington

President Obama unveiled a new Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy Friday that includes new troops -- beyond the 17,000 additional US soldiers the president has already ordered ­ new civilian development personnel, and new aid.

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But the plan also for the first time sets benchmarks – or, as the president preferred to call them, "metrics" – for US involvement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, suggesting the military engagement is not open-ended and that both the Afghan and Pakistani governments must deliver on particular objectives. Those include reining in corruption for the Afghans and closing down Al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens for the Pakistanis.

The new "comprehensive" strategy underscores how both Afghanistan, where 38,000 US troops are already on the ground, and Pakistan, a nuclear power threatened by a growing Islamic militancy, are crucial to the battle with Islamic extremism. The futures of the two countries are "inextricably linked," Mr. Obama said.

In explaining the new strategy before an audience of military and diplomatic officials and flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Mr. Obama invoked the memory of the 9/11 attacks more forcefully than ever before in his young presidency.

He revisited the history of Al Qaeda planning the attacks from camps in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and he insisted that Al Qaeda is now "actively planning attacks on the United States" from "safe havens in Pakistan." As a result, Obama says, "For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world."

More limited goals than Bush

Perhaps mindful that the strong reference to 9/11 might remind listeners of the former administration's justification for and handling of two wars, Obama also pointedly declared that the US was "not blindly staying the course" in Afghanistan. The new strategy is designed to "restore basic security in Afghanistan," he said, without reference to the lofty goals of democratization and freedom set by former president Bush.

The new strategy calls for 4,000 additional troops to focus on training Afghanistan's army and police. Such training is already under way by US and NATO forces, but the addition of several thousand new trainers reflects reports from the field that the training undertaken so far is yielding results. The plan also calls for several hundred additional civilian government and development experts, while it endorses a proposal before Congress for $1.5 billion in development aid to Pakistan over each of the next five years.

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