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.
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But the heavy emphasis on economic development and governance, while eschewing the imposition of Switzerland-level foreign standards, also reflects an understanding that the US and its allies cannot succeed if they are seen by locals to be simply serving their own interests. Foreign armies installed in Afghanistan with expressly domestic security objectives -- the Soviet Army invasion of the 1990's for example – have come to be seen as occupiers and have not fared well.Skip to next paragraph
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In unveiling his plan, Obama made no mention of the growing use of unmanned Predator drones to attack and kill terrorists located in Pakistan's autonomous tribal regions. The missile attacks have stirred already strong anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis – a challenge that would surely be exacerbated if the US decides to follow through on the idea of extending the drone strikes to areas of western Pakistan under the Pakistani government's control.
The new focused strategy is viewed as a step forward by many analysts, though some are seconding the president's warning that the road ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains perilous.
Pointing to data showing an expansion last year of Afghan territory where the Taliban holds a permanent presence to 72 percent, and significant increases in the number of suicide and roadside bombing attacks, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says almost all indicators point to a "rising threat."
In a new report, Mr. Cordesman commends recent efforts to lay out to the American public the challenge the US faces, but says more "transparency" and honesty about the complexity of the conflict is necessary.
Critics urge more limited role
Others fault Obama's new plan, saying more troops and more money are not the answer. Saying that "most of the greatest successes scored against Al Qaeda since 9/11 have not relied on large numbers of US troops," Malou Innocent of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says small-team special operations and short-term "capacity building" are a better answer. Extensive development projects, she adds, require security coverage "at a level we cannot provide."
The president's strategy also includes a nod towards Tehran. To emphasize his conviction that the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan require a regional approach, Obama announced creation of a "contact group" of countries from Central Asia, the Gulf, China, India, and notably including Iran.
Administration officials say no official invitations to join such a group have been extended, but inclusion of Iran reflects both memory of the helpful role Iran played early in the war with Afghanistan's Taliban, and recognition that Tehran is more likely to do mischief if left outside.