By David Morgan
CORNWALLIS, Canada, Nov 20 (Reuters) - American officials are reviewing the first draft of a new strategy document on Afghanistan, intended to address that country’s deteriorating security, a U.S. defense official said on Thursday.
The draft, the result of a broad review of U.S. strategy on Afghanistan that began in September, was presented to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last Friday, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Officials involved in deliberations within the White House National Security Council are now seeking input from Gates and other members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet.
"They’ve asked for comments from the principals about what they’ve seen. And so the secretary is offering some of his suggestions and critiques now," Morrell told reporters as Gates flew to a two-day NATO meeting on Afghanistan in Canada.
Alarmed by rising insurgent violence in Afghanistan, the Bush administration began reviewing all aspects of its policies in Afghanistan two months ago.
A main goal is to provide an up-to-date strategy for the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20.
The U.S. military is also reviewing strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as is Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, now in charge of U.S. forces across the Middle East and into Central and South Asia.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S.-led forces toppled its Taliban rulers for harboring al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups are particularly strong in the south and east of Afghanistan and enjoy safe havens across the border in Pakistan.
Washington has announced plans to send about 4,000 extra troops to eastern Afghanistan in January to bolster the NATO-led force fighting alongside Afghan troops.
Gates was in Canada to discuss the security challenges in southern Afghanistan with defense ministers from seven other countries that have made significant contributions to a NATO force of about 18,000 troops deployed in the south.
The United States is looking at the possible deployment of another three combat brigades — equaling well over 10,000 soldiers — beginning as early as next spring.
The top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David McKiernan, said this week those forces are needed in the south. The United States has about 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, including some 14,500 in the 50,000-strong NATO-led force. (Editing by Chris Wilson)