- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2010

Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, the American people and their elected representatives still do not have a clear sense of U.S. goals in the region, a senior House Republican says in a letter to President Obama.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, calls for the creation of an “Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group,” saying there is an urgent need to bring “fresh eyes” to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

“We are nine years into our nation’s longest running war and the American people and their elected representatives do not have a clear sense of what we are aiming to achieve, why it is necessary, and how far we are from attaining that goal,” Mr. Wolf wrote in his letter to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Wolf said that in recent conversations he has had with former senior diplomats, public policy experts, and retired and active military officers, he has received a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan.

“Many believe our Afghanistan policy is adrift,and all agreed that there is an urgent need for what I call an Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group,” he wrote.

He said the panel could “reinvigorate national confidence in how we can be successful and move us toward a shared mission in Afghanistan.”

Urging Mr. Obama to promptly create such a panel, Mr. Wolf wrote: “It is always in our national interest to openly assess the challenges before us and to chart a clear course to success.”

Mr. Wolf wrote legislation in 2005 that created the Iraq Study Group, which is acknowledged as having played a key role in refocusing the George W. Bush administration on the mission in Iraq. It ultimately led to the implementation of fresh strategies, including the surge of U.S. troops that helped turn the tide of the war.

Two members of the Obama administration - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta - served on the Iraq panel.

Mr. Wolf said U.S. efforts must be re-examined in the context of Pakistan’s significance to the war in Afghanistan and the presence of the Taliban along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

He voted in support of the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 14, 2001, and said he stood by that decision and has confidence in Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ leadership.

Gen. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, on Wednesday issued a new “tactical directive” for troops in Afghanistan that seeks to minimize civilian casualties.

“We must continue - indeed, redouble - our efforts to reduce the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum,” the directive states in part. “Every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause. If we use excessive force or operate contrary to our counterinsurgency principles, tactical victories may prove to be strategic setbacks.”