March 23, 2009 / 11:10 AM / 11 years ago

U.S. outlines new Afghan strategy to NATO allies

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States met NATO allies on Monday to outline its strategy review for Afghanistan after President Barack Obama said it would contain an exit strategy and greater emphasis on economic development.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before briefing the 26 alliance ambassadors.

“It is to give the broad lines of the U.S. strategy review as it now stands,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

“I don’t know that they’ve arrived at any final conclusions on which President Obama has signed off on, but their thinking is now very close to the conclusion of the process.”

Appathurai said he was not aware of a plan, reported in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, for Washington and its allies to create an Afghan chief executive or prime minister to bypass President Hamid Karzai, who is widely seen as ineffective by the West.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 minutes” on Sunday, Obama said the new U.S. police would contain an exit strategy and include greater emphasis on economic development.

“What we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems,” he said.

“So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there’s got to be an exit strategy ... There’s got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.”

Obama has admitted the United States and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan, where insurgent violence at its worst level since the U.S.-led intervention there began in late 2001.

He has ordered deployment of 17,000 more troops on top of nearly 70,000 foreign troops already there.

OPIUM FIELDS

Holbrooke told a Brussels conference at the weekend the administration was looking at a very significant increase in the size of the Afghan police force.

He also said Washington wanted increased focus on alternative livelihoods to opium farming helping fuel the insurgency and he would seek very significantly expanded funding for agriculture sector job creation.

Among the U.S. ideas are increased focus on counter-terrorism and the training of Afghan forces, a focused counter-insurgency push in the violent south and east and pursuit of a wider campaign to protect civilians.

Hundreds of civilian officials from across the U.S. government would be sent to Afghanistan as part of the new strategy in a sort of “civilian surge.”

Holbrook said an initial plan to help boost police numbers from 78,000 to 82,000 was now considered inadequate but called figures cited by the New York Times of a combined goal of about 400,000 Afghan troops and police officers “speculative.”

The Afghan government and its international backers have already announced plans to increase the size of the Afghan army substantially to 134,000 soldiers, from 70,000 in mid-2008.

France last week proposed sending European Union gendarmes to train paramilitary police in Afghanistan as part of efforts to step up training of Afghan security forces.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Ralph Boulton

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