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Obama's plan for Afghanistan, as seen from abroad

COMMENTARY | March 28, 2009

There is some skepticism but overall a sense that he is taking appropriate steps to engage the international community.

By Lauren Drablier

This week President Obama introduced his new strategy for Afghanistan. The plan calls for a more regional approach in which he hopes Pakistan will be a key player along with an intensified military presence focusing on training Afghan troops. Obama emphasized his willingness to rethink the strategy if needed as time passes. 

The early reaction around the world is favorable, with some skepticism. Overall there is a tendency to feel that Obama has taken the appropriate steps to engage the international community.

In Canada.com two writers point out that Canada supports Obama’s strategy in Canada, allies endorse new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan:

After several years of relative U.S. neglect of the war in Afghanistan, Obama said his administration's plan would see dramatic increases in personnel and funding for the war.

The 4,000 new U.S. troops will be embedded as trainers with soldiers in the Afghan army. Their addition brings to 21,000 the number of new U.S. forces Obama has ordered deployed to Afghanistan ahead of upcoming presidential and provincial elections in August.

“None of the steps that I have outlined will be easy, and none should be taken by America alone. The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al-Qaida operates unchecked,” Obama said.

America's military goal is to “accelerate” efforts to build an Afghan army of 134,000 and increase the size of the national police force to 82,000 by 2011.

Canada welcomed Obama's "clarion call" to allies to do more in the troubled region. The White House strategy offers a "compelling, comprehensive and realistic assessment" of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Cannon said there are “many elements” in Obama's plan that jibe with Canada's strategy of the past year. They include calls for an integrated military-civilian strategy, his emphasis on training Afghan army and police faster, and the president's decision to send more combat troops to ‘secure and hold areas, thereby facilitating development and reconstruction efforts.

Adam Brookes of BBC News, reporting from Fort Bragg, NC, questions the likelihood of success and also emphasizes the need for Pakistan’s commitment in US seeks new Afghanistan direction:

And much depends on the deployment of these "enablers", US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said: pilots, medics, engineers, mechanics, linguists, administrators, intelligence officers - all of these, and more, must be found and deployed if the military effort in Afghanistan is to be reinvigorated.

And that is President Obama's aim.

\What, after seven years of operations, is the United States trying to achieve, and why?

As the "Global War on Terror" fades from our lexicon, Mr Obama may set out a unifying idea to replace it.

Many in Washington feel that strategy has, for seven years, been catastrophically absent, and each agency of government has blithely continued on its course without any reference to others.

Karin von Hippel at foreign policy think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) writes: "There has been no clarity as to how much US assistance has been directed at each country, what the overall strategy for each country is, nor what it is for the region as a whole."

One security source said that this will be the moment when Mr Obama "takes ownership" of the war.

Formulating the Pakistan element of the strategy has been the hardest part, I am told.

The US has few levers of power it can manipulate to change the security landscape in Pakistan, say security sources in Washington.

Without the wholehearted commitment of the Pakistani government and military, and a shared view of the problem, implementing a strategy to eliminate radicalism in Pakistan will be very difficult.

“Our best options are limited,” says one. “How do we persuade the Pakistanis to own the fight?”


Ewen MacAskill in the UK’s Guardian welcomes a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan in Barack Obama sets out new strategy for Afghanistan war:

The president's speech at the White House, at the end of a two-month policy review, marks a shift from the Bush administration's concentration on Iraq to the deteriorating situation in Central Asia, which is set to become “Obama's War.”

To those Americans who wondered why the US was still there, he said that al-Qaida was in Pakistan plotting to attack the US and that if Afghanistan collapsed, al-Qaida would return as a threat there.

Obama said the US needed a “stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy,” but added that it would not “blindly stay the course” if the new strategy did not succeed.

The last element of the policy is to try to engage Afghanistan's regional neighbours, including Russia and Iran, in helping to pacify Afghanistan”

Indonesia’s Jakarta Post highlights support for the new strategy from Afghan president Hamid Karzai in Afghan leader: US strategy better than expected:

Afghanistan's president said Saturday that the new U.S. strategy for the worsening conflict in his country is “better than we were expecting” and provides the right solutions for the problems afflicting the region.

President Hamid Karzai praised U.S. plans to strengthen Afghanistan's army and police and provide greater civilian aid to help rebuild the country. He also welcomed President Barack Obama's focus on countering militant sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, which has been a point of tension between Afghan and Pakistani officials.

Matthew Franklin, chief political correspondent of The Australian, discusses Australia’s role and support for the strategy in Afghanistan in Rudd backs Obama's Afghanistan plan:

But the Prime Minister has also stressed the need to ensure that the US and its allies prevent Afghanistan from being allowed to revert to the status of a haven for terrorists.

Speaking in New York overnight, Mr Rudd also revealed he gave Mr Obama no undertakings to increase Australian troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the existing 1100.

Mr Rudd said the new strategy was “absolutely right.”

“It represents a new integrated approach to our military - our men and women in uniform - and then complementing the work of trainers for the Afghan national army and Afghan national police as well as the support necessary to be delivered through the civilian aid effort in Afghanistan as well.”

Mr Rudd said the US and its allies needed a "credible long-term strategy" capable of achieving its mission - denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan.

“When terrorists attacked our own in Bali in 2002 the bulk of those terrorists were trained in Afghanistan. The strategy announced by the President has Australia’s support.”

Germany’s Deutsche Welle examines overall European support for the new plan in EU Praises Obama on Afghanistan, Pledges Civilian Surge, but highlights the fact that the majority of Germans do not support the war:

The EU will embrace US President Barack Obama's "European-style" strategy for Afghanistan and will contribute to a "civilian surge" by providing more money and more police trainers, the bloc's foreign ministers said.

“(Obama's) new strategy comes very close to the European ideas about the mission in Afghanistan,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during informal EU talks in the Czech Republic on Friday, March 27.

It echoed a long-standing European view that the Taliban insurgency cannot be defeated by military means alone. Instead, the US is now planning a wider approach to the problem, involving Pakistan and other regional players, and helping Afghanistan take care of its own security.

“I believe that the president's announcement today will strike a very strong chord with Europeans,” said British Foreign Minister David Miliband, whose country is the second-largest contributor after the US to NATO's operations in Afghanistan.

… German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Obama's moves to develop a joined-up strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but "without forgetting that not all Pakistan's problems are also Afghan problems. These remain two different countries."


An article in News Track India highlights the fact that Obama will not get involved in the Kashmir issue, even though he has called for more regional cooperation in Obama's South Asia strategy keeps out Kashmir:

Considering the present terror activities in Pak-Afghan border, while recognizing Pakistan as the root of the security problem in the South Asia region, the Obama administration has made it clear that it would not get involved in the Kashmir issue.

Keeping its new strategy in the region intact, the United States has however expressed its willingness to bring both India and Pakistan into dialogue.

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