- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009

President Obama on Friday will order 4,000 more military advisers to Afghan forces and will look to forge an international diplomatic coalition determined to dismantle al Qaeda in Pakistan and root out the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Arguing that he was left a situation with increasing violence, resurgent terrorism and no real strategy for victory, Mr. Obama, in a speech Friday morning, will make the case for the increase in U.S. trainers as a way to get more performance for less money. The advisers are in addition to 17,000 combat troops Mr. Obama plans to send.

“It’s a lot less expensive to fully fund an Afghan soldier on the battlefield than it is to send someone from North Carolina, from the 82nd Airborne Division, on the battlefield,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday evening on the condition of anonymity as he previewed the president’s remarks.

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The new strategy is the result of a 60-day review Mr. Obama ordered at the beginning of his administration, and the president will say it marks a turning point of nearly eight years of war because it will view Afghanistan and Pakistan as one challenge, both for diplomacy and U.S. aid.

The strategy will include tripling U.S. nonmilitary aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years, will require the deployment of hundreds of civilians to help with diplomacy and aid, and will seek to persuade U.S. allies to back the new strategy, with money and manpower.

The Washington Times reported key elements of the plan last week, including increased financial aid and helicopters to help Pakistan ferry its troops to remote areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to fight the Taliban and its tribal allies.

Administration officials said a key goal is to convince people in Pakistan that the war is not only a U.S. fight, but also their own battle. They said that sense has been lost and that many in the United States consider the fight to be “Bush’s war.”

Members of Congress were briefed Thursday, and key lawmakers said the plan is an important step.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Associated Press that the training group is needed because there aren’t enough U.S. military advisers in the region. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told the wire service that it seemed like a viable strategy as long as the manpower is there.

“I know we need more than the 17,000,” he said.

A participant in the Afghanistan-Pakistan review told The Times last week that it makes economic and political sense to build a bigger Afghan army because it costs about $12,000 a year to support one Afghan soldier compared with $250,000 a year for an American.

Administration officials said Thursday night that the administration will lay out benchmarks such as incidents of violence and number of suicide bombings, and would regularly measure to determine whether the strategy was working.

The additional troops will be fully in place by fall. Officials said they hope to have their first evaluation of how the boost in numbers is working by the fall or winter.

The goal, the senior administration official said, will be “to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al Qaeda’s safe havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan its infrastructure, its support network and to deprive it from being able to develop such sanctuaries in Afghanistan.”

The president said he wants Afghanistan’s army to reach 134,000 troops and the police force to reach 82,000.

The strategy is being announced after months of meetings and consultations with Presidents Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, including personally by Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. White House officials said they think they have convinced the two foreign leaders about the strategy.

A U.S. envoy will host bilateral meetings with Afghanistan and Pakistan every six to eight weeks. Trilateral meetings such as the one Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held with the two nations will be scheduled every quarter.

Mr. Obama will not give blank checks to the two nations, officials said.

“We’re certainly looking for performance and change in behavior on the Pakistani side,” an official said.

The officials who briefed reporters said they will not negotiate with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former head of the Taliban government, but do see the potential to talk with some Taliban factions that could be encouraged to split off. Mr. Obama’s aides described a grim picture of the situation, arguing the Taliban has made a “very significant comeback” in the past two years and al Qaeda remains a threat, seeking to attack the United States and its allies.

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