The United States will change the way its forces are arrayed in Afghanistan as part of an overhaul of U.S. strategy in the flagging war, a senior defense official said Friday.
President Barack Obama is expected to unveil a revamped plan for fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan next week. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the review is not complete, said it would call for new garrisons in far-flung Afghan communities.
That would help the U.S. hold ground against a resurgent Taliban-led insurgency, the official said. Under today's hub-and-spoke system, U.S. forces leave protected bases to conduct anti-insurgent operations. When they leave, insurgents come back.
The forthcoming plan also places an onus on Pakistan to confront the threat of insurgents who use its territory as a sanctuary from attack by U.S. and allied forces, officials familiar with the program have said.
The emerging plan contemplates a large build-up of Afghan armed forces and security services, to as many as 400,000, other defense officials said. That would be more than twice the number Afghanistan now has.
U.S. military leaders have said an able Afghan military is the key to allowing U.S. and allied forces to leave.
Obama's plan looks at goals over three to five years, with the goal of containing the insurgency, heading off the possibility that it could topple Afghanistan's fragile central government and providing enough security for Afghan citizens that they reject the insurgents of their own accord.
Members of Obama's Principals' Committee, which is made up of the national security adviser, the secretaries of state and defense, leaders of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the country's intelligence chiefs, met at the White House through the week to complete their recommendations.
The plan also recommends a steep increase in civilian experts.
Several hundred civilians from various U.S. government agencies — from agronomists to economists and legal experts — will be deployed to Afghanistan to reinforce the nonmilitary component in Kabul and the existing provincial reconstruction teams in the countryside, officials said this week.
One part of the plan will involve naming former senior American diplomats to key posts in Afghanistan. One key official will be Francis Riccardione, a former envoy to Egypt, who will serve as deputy to the recently nominated new U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the official said.
Another appointment will see Peter Galbraith, a former American diplomat who has served in various hotspots, take the No. 2 U.N. job in Afghanistan, the administration official said.
The move to add hundreds of civilian aides under Eikenberry and his top staffers is similar to President George W. Bush's "surge" in Iraq but will be on a smaller scale, the officials said.