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Ron Edmonds  /  AP
President Barack Obama announces a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday in Washington, D.C.
updated 3/27/2009 3:24:25 PM ET 2009-03-27T19:24:25
ANALYSIS

The success of President Barack Obama's new war strategy depends heavily on factors beyond his control: Afghan competence, Pakistani cooperation and a greater willingness by Europeans and other allies to adopt the American view that al-Qaida is at the core of the conflict.

Each of those has been missing or, at best, has fallen short despite years of U.S. pushing and prodding.

That is why, after more than seven years of inconclusive combat, hundreds of American deaths, billions in financial aid and incomplete efforts to build self-sustaining Afghan security forces, Obama saw a need Friday to retool strategy, clarify U.S. war aims and seek more help from NATO and other partners.

There are important factors that Obama does control, and these are central to prospects for prevailing. The extra troops he is ordering to Afghanistan in combat and advisory roles can make a difference, as can additional U.S. civilian specialists to help Afghanistan build governing competence.

'Invest in their future'
But even those U.S. approaches have risks and limitations, as Obama made clear in explaining why he must overcome skepticism in Congress about spending billions of dollars more on State Department and foreign assistance programs.

"Make no mistake, our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future," he said.

As he deepened the U.S. commitment — declaring the war crucial to protecting Americans against a repeat of the 9/11 attacks — Obama set the country on a path that is likely to require far more help from the rest of the world than it took for President George W. Bush to turn around the war in Iraq.

The new strategy starts in Afghanistan.

Obama said a vital ingredient in his formula for success will be reconciliation among at least some adversaries within the country. However, leaders of the radical Taliban movement want to regain control of the nation they ruled from the mid-1990s until the U.S. invasion in the weeks following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. And efforts by the Afghan government to reconcile with some elements have thus far failed.

Video: Obama to terrorists: 'We will defeat you' Obama said he has "no illusions that this will be easy," and he acknowledged there is an "uncompromising core" of the Taliban that is beyond reconciliation and must be defeated militarily.

The Afghan government itself is part of the problem. Rife with corruption and unable to extend its authority beyond the capital, Kabul, the government has failed to instill confidence in its ability to provide basic services in much of the country. That has given the Taliban room to increase its influence.

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Targeting terrorists in Pakistan
Obama tied the prospects for success in Afghanistan to rooting out al-Qaida terrorists in neighboring Pakistan, which has become a haven for the group. He described al-Qaida as "a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within." But to the Pakistanis, a more worrying threat has been its powerful neighbor and nuclear rival, India, with whom the Pakistanis have fought three wars over the past 60 years.

In Afghanistan, the Bush administration pleaded for years with NATO allies to provide more troops for combat and for training Afghan forces. The increases it got were modest, leaving an unmet need that U.S. commanders have cited in explaining why the Taliban has remained resilient and Afghan forces have developed slowly.

Video: Obama’s Afghan strategy In his remarks Friday, Obama appealed to NATO to accept "a shared responsibility to act." And he said he would take that message to Europe next week for meetings with NATO and European Union leaders.

A fundamental disconnect between Washington and its European allies has been the nature of the extremist threat and the role of military force in addressing it.

The Europeans have been reluctant to accept the U.S. view — held in common by Obama and Bush — that al-Qaida is a threat to the existence of democratic societies. And the Europeans see political, economic and humanitarian aid as more important than military intervention in achieving stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That is why Afghanistan has increasingly become an American war — and why Obama sees a need to change that. "This is not simply an American problem; far from it," he said. "It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order."

And it is why people like Sen. Richard Lugar, a leading voice on foreign affairs, worry about the growing U.S. role.

"We are unlikely to succeed if military and political efforts in that country trend toward greater U.S. domination," he said Friday.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Afghan analysis

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