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Pentagon report calls for narrower focus in Afghanistan

Says US should work to root out militants

By Robert Burns and Pauline Jelinek
Associated Press / February 4, 2009
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WASHINGTON - A classified Pentagon report urges President Obama to shift US military strategy in Afghanistan, deemphasizing democracy-building and concentrating more on targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has seen the report prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it has not yet been presented to the White House, officials said yesterday.

The recommendations are one element of a broad policy reassessment underway along with recommendations to be considered by the White House from the commander of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, and other military leaders.

A senior defense official said yesterday that it will probably take several weeks before the Obama administration rolls out its long-term strategy for Afghanistan.

The Joint Chiefs' plan reflects growing worries that the US military was taking on more than it could handle in Afghanistan by pursuing the Bush administration's broad goal of nurturing a thriving democratic government.

Instead, the plan calls for a more narrowly focused effort to root out militant strongholds along the Pakistani border and inside the neighboring country, according to officials who confirmed the essence of the report. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan publicly.

During a press conference yesterday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs noted the ongoing "comprehensive reviews" of Afghan policy, but did not say when they would be made public.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not comment yesterday on the details of the Joint Chiefs' report, but acknowledged that the US relationship with Pakistan is a critical component for success in Afghanistan.

"When you talk about Afghanistan, you can't help but also recognize the fact that the border region with Pakistan is obviously a contributing factor to the stability and security of Afghanistan, and the work that Pakistan is doing to try to reduce and eliminate those safe havens, and the ability for people to move across that border that are engaged in hostile intentions," Whitman said.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that Afghan authorities announced yesterday that they had broken up a suicide bombing cell responsible for a string of attacks in the capital, including a massive explosion last month that killed an American serviceman and wounded five other US soldiers.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's main intelligence service said that the 17 men arrested in Kabul were believed to be affiliated with a Pakistan-based militant group known as the Haqqani network and that the cell's ringleader was a Pakistani national.

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