WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A wide-ranging Bush administration review of the war in Afghanistan could recommend changes to U.S. strategy in less than a month, officials said on Wednesday.
The review, which began in earnest this week, encompasses a range of government actors including the Defense, State, Treasury and Agriculture departments and intelligence agencies under the auspices of the National Security Council and White House war czar Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, officials said.
While departments and agencies had been conducting their own reviews on Afghanistan, officials said the NSC stepped in this week to coordinate efforts into a single strategic review for President George W. Bush.
“An NSC-coordinated process is now under way,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
“We’ll take a look at whatever adjustments need to be made to put Afghanistan on a proper footing,” he added. “The ultimate goal is to give the president the broadest, deepest picture possible.”
Johndroe said he expected the NSC review to be completed within a few weeks. That could bring changes to U.S. strategy around mid-October, just before the November 4 presidential election.
Afghanistan, where violence has soared over the past two years, has become a growing concern to U.S. officials because of safe havens inside neighboring Pakistan that have helped militants stage an increasingly deadly insurgency in the eastern tier of the country.
In recent months, Afghanistan has become a deadlier place for U.S. troops than Iraq, and U.S. officials have warned that time is running out to muster the massive development effort necessary to stabilize the country.
It was unclear how large a scale of change in strategy the Bush administration was likely to undertake with only four months to go before a new president moves into the White House.
A high-level White House review of Iraq strategy in 2006 resulted in major changes, including a boost in troop numbers in 2007 known as the “surge” that contributed to a dramatic decline in violence there.
The United States has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 13,000 under a 47,000-member NATO force. Bush said recently about 8,000 more American troops would go to Afghanistan by early next year. The NATO commander for Afghanistan has said he could need as many as 15,000 U.S. troops on top of that.
Johndroe and other officials spoke of possible “adjustments” to existing strategy. But some, including Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have expressed the need for more new comprehensive approach that would encompass Pakistan and its militant safe havens as well as Afghanistan.
“This is a Lute-driven product,” said a senior defense official, referring to the general appointed in 2007 to advise Bush on policy involving Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I wouldn’t necessarily assume there’s going to be a complete new strategy. That’s what’s being considered,” said a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”
The broad range of input could prove important because top administration officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates have emphasized the need for better coordination in bringing vital development, education and investment aid to Afghanistan.
Editing by Kristin Roberts and Peter Cooney