Obama shifts target on al-Qaida, not Taliban

08:34, October 09, 2009      

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U.S. President Barack Obama has planned to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's political future and will determine how many more U.S. troops to send to the war based only on keeping al-Qaida at bay, the Associated Press quoted a senior administration official as saying on Thursday.
The readjusted focus by Obama's team on fighting al-Qaida above all other goals, while downgrading the emphasis on the Taliban, comes in the midst of an intensely debated administration review of the Afghan war.

Obama aides stressed that the president's decision on specific troop levels and the other elements of a revamped approach is two weeks away. However, it is increasingly unlikely that Obama would favor a large military increase being advocated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Top U.S. commander in the field, General Stanley McChrystal has requested at least 20,000 more combat troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

Now, the U.S. is prepared to fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan's central government — something it is now far from being capable of — and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to al-Qaida, an Obama administration official told the Associated Press.

The official is involved in the discussions and was authorized to speak about them but not to be identified by name because the review is still under way.

Bowing to the reality that the Taliban is too ingrained in Afghanistan's culture to be entirely defeated, the administration is prepared to accept some Taliban role in parts of Afghanistan, the official said. That could mean paving the way for Taliban members willing to renounce violence to participate in a central government — the kind of peace talks advocated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to little receptiveness from the Taliban. It might even mean ceding some regions of the country to the Taliban.

Obama has conferred nearly every day this week on the war, and continued that Thursday afternoon with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, the eighth anniversary of the war launched by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Obama and more than a dozen officials in his war council met for three hours to focus on Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan. Another of those larger discussions — the fourth of five currently scheduled — is set for Friday, on Afghanistan. That meeting also could feature the group's first discussion of specific troop options.

In the first two of the sessions, which are taking place in the secure Situation Room in the White House basement, Obama kept returning to one question for his advisers: Who is our adversary, the official said.

A focus on al-Qaida is the driving force behind an approach being advocated by Biden as an alternative to the McChrystal recommendation for a fuller counterinsurgency effort inside Afghanistan.

Biden has argued for keeping the American force there around the 68,000 already authorized, including the 21,000 extra troops Obama ordered earlier this year, but significantly increasing the use of unmanned Predator drones and special forces for the kind of surgical anti-terrorist strikes that have been successful in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere.

Clinton has not revealed how she is leaning in the sessions, according to aides. While she is broadly supportive of building up troop levels — although not necessarily in the bigger numbers favored by McChrystal — she also believes economic and other civilian efforts must be prominent parts of the plan too, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to detail her views.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, long wary of a large troop presence in Afghanistan, appears to have grown more comfortable with the prospect of a moderate, middle-path increase.

Many lawmakers from Obama's own Democratic Party do not want to see additional U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan. According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, public support for the war has dropped to 40 percent from 44 percent in July.

Agencies – People’s Daily online
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