(For other news from the Reuters Washington Summit, click here)
* Envoy says Obama did not set "final exit date"
* Test of Afghan government stability - Holbrooke
* Civilian efforts need to move faster
(Adds comments from analysts)
By David Alexander
NEW YORK, Sept 21 Afghanistan is stabilizing
more slowly than expected, the chief U.S. envoy for the region
said on Tuesday, but that is unlikely to keep President Barack
Obama from beginning to withdraw combat troops next year.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to
Afghanistan and Pakistan, said "the only conceivable thing to
me is that the president will do what he said he would do" and
begin withdrawals in a "careful, responsible manner."
"The president was talking about combat troops and a
conditions-based drawdown policy," Holbrooke told the Reuters
Washington Summit from New York.
"He did not set a final exit date and he made clear ...
that there would be continued economic and development
assistance and continued support for the training, equipping
and financial support of the army and the police."
Holbrooke, a troubleshooter who began his career in Vietnam
and later helped hammer out the Bosnia peace accords, was in
New York for the U.N. General Assembly after visiting the scene
of disastrous Pakistan flooding and just days after elections
With Taliban militants trying to disrupt the election,
Saturday's vote in Afghanistan and the eventual declaration of
the winners is a test of the Karzai government's stability
after last year's fraud-riddled presidential election.
It is also being closely watched before Obama's war
strategy review in December, which is likely to determine the
pace and scale of U.S. troop withdrawals.
Some 3.6 million Afghans voted despite violence that killed
at least 17 people. Nearly 3,000 formal complaints of fraud,
intimidation and other issues had been lodged by Tuesday.
Foreign observers said the violence was not as heavy as
last year but it was too early to say whether the election was
"In this no-party system and first-past-the-post system it
will take a while to figure out what the shifting alliances are
in the national assembly," Holbrooke said.
"So I would draw no conclusions about the outcome in the
Western sense that one party won or there will have to be a
coalition of three parties. You can't apply any of that to
Like other U.S. officials, Holbrooke portrayed the carrying
out of an election in wartime as a success in and of itself.
"Afghan people don't get enough credit for voting under
these circumstances," he said.
With preliminary results not expected until at least Oct.
8, U.S. foreign policy analysts agreed it would take time to
understand the vote and its implications for Afghan politics.
Bruce Riedel, an expert on South Asia at the Brookings
Institution thinktank, said two factors were troubling: the
drop in voter turnout from about 6 million in the last election
to about 3.6 million this time and the inability of many
Afghans to vote.
"While violence seems to have been less in this election
than in August 2009, some of that is because 20 percent of
polling stations were closed and that's also not a good sign,"
Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the
election had little impact on factors that would determine the
outcome of the war and were often beyond the control of the
"What is far more important to every Afghan, indeed to any
effort to win this war, is to find ways to improve the quality
of Afghan governance, to improve the services it provides, the
level of security it provides," Cordesman said.
Holbrooke acknowledged that some of the civilian elements
of the U.S. strategy to stabilize Afghanistan were not moving
as quickly as expected, including efforts to reconcile with
moderate Taliban fighters and re-integrate them into society.
International donors have contributed some $300 million to
a fund to encourage the process and the United States supports
President Hamid Karzai's program, he said.
"It is not moving as fast as it should," Holbrooke said.
"One of the iron laws of Afghanistan, it seems to me, is
that things move more slowly than people say they will," he
said. "The issue isn't 'Are you behind schedule?' ... The issue
is 'Are you moving forward?'"
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Andrew Quinn in New
York and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and