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Kerry says Afghanistan strategy is off course

Senator John F. Kerry said the White House lacks a solid plan for Afghanistan. Senator John F. Kerry said the White House lacks a solid plan for Afghanistan.
Associated Press / July 15, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry expressed doubts yesterday about the course of the war in Afghanistan, further complicating the Obama administration’s effort to maintain support for the nearly 9-year-old conflict.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it is not clear that the administration has a solid strategy for prevailing.

His counterpart on the committee, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, decried “a lack of clarity’’ about war goals.

Their complaints were aired at a hearing in which the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, acknowledged that the way ahead remains in doubt.

“There are significant elements of movement forward in many areas, but I do not yet see a definitive turning point in either direction,’’ Holbrooke said.

On the hopeful side, he said, the pace at which NATO-trained Afghan police and army troops quit or desert has declined, yet it is too early to know whether that trend can be sustained.

Holbrooke said he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Afghanistan next week for an international conference at which President Hamid Karzai is expected to make commitments on strengthening the rule of law, fighting corruption, and building an economy.

The administration has said it will review its Afghan strategy, which was announced last winter, at the end of this year. But slow progress against the Taliban, plus the disruptive effects of the firing of the outspoken American commander there last month, has stirred a growing unease among many in Congress, including leading members of Obama’s own party.

Kerry opened the hearing with strong words of warning for the administration. He said the blood and treasure invested in Afghanistan since 2001 will be “irrelevant’’ in the absence of a serious strategy for building an Afghanistan that can provide for its own security.

“The problem is that the key element of this strategy is the one over which we have the least control, and that is the willingness and ability of Afghans to assume ownership of the efforts,’’ the Massachusetts Democrat said.

“Ultimately, we need a better understanding of exactly what the definition of success is in Afghanistan, and what an acceptable state looks like there, and how achievable it is,’’ he added.

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