KABUL (Reuters) - The conclusions of a U.S. strategy review on Afghanistan, particularly its recognition that the war against the Taliban is a regional problem, were welcomed by the Afghan government on Friday.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S. and Afghan forces drove out the Taliban in 2001 and NATO-led troops are locked in a stalemate with insurgents in south and east Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Afghanistan’s regional neighbors such as Iran, India, China and Russia would be brought into efforts to defeat the insurgency and said Pakistan’s border areas were providing a safe haven for the Taliban and al Qaeda.
“We particularly welcome the recognition of the regional aspect of the problem in Afghanistan and specifically recognition that the al Qaeda threat is mainly emanating from Pakistan,” Afghan presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said.
Obama also said the U.S. military in Afghanistan would shift its emphasis to training and expanding the Afghan army so that it could take the lead in securing the country and allow U.S. troops to leave.
“We also welcome the increased focus on supporting the Afghan National Security Forces to almost double in size and also the issue of focus on development for both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Hamidzada added.
Some analysts in Kabul looked favorably on the strategy review’s emphasis on regional engagement and said the acknowledgement Pakistan’s border areas were the main source of the Taliban- and al Qaeda-led insurgency, was long overdue.
“The best thing in this strategy is that it includes the whole region,” Nassrullah Stanakzai, analyst and lecturer in political science at Kabul University said.
“After seven years the United States has recognized that Afghanistan is not the base of terrorism ... The al Qaeda training camps are being led from Pakistan,” Stanakzai added.
Some politicians criticized the additional troops earmarked in the strategy and said military efforts were trumping the importance of providing enough humanitarian aid to relieve poverty in Afghanistan.
“Do not focus on troops, because as long as their number increases, humanitarian aid and assistance will be ignored and undermined,” Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament said.
About 4,000 additional U.S. troops, on top of the 17,000 already expected to be deployed ahead of the August presidential election, also form part of the strategy and they will be given the task of training the Afghan army and police.
U.S. military and the Afghan government have been planning to expand the Afghan army to 134,000 troops from 80,000 currently active by December 2011, while efforts to strengthen the Afghan police have been stifled by a shortfall of 2,300 U.S. or NATO-led troops to train them.
On the streets of Kabul, the prospect of more U.S. troops, on top of the 17,000 earmarked to secure the summer elections and the 38,000 already deployed in Afghanistan, did not receive a warm welcome.
“Non-Muslims do not ever have sympathy for Muslims. (With) the number of troops that America already has in Afghanistan, for the past seven years, what they have done?” said Kabul resident Dost Mohammad.
President Hamid Karzai has often criticized Pakistan for not doing enough to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda cells on its own side of the border, causing tension between the two countries.
Additional reporting by Yusuf Azimy and Samar Zwak; Editing by Andrew Dobbie