Obama set to release Afghan strategy review

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 26, 2009 9:41pm IST

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in an ''Open for Questions'' town hall on the economy in the East Room at the White House in Washington March 26, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in an ''Open for Questions'' town hall on the economy in the East Room at the White House in Washington March 26, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will brief lawmakers on Thursday on his administration's review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, where NATO-led troops are struggling to make headway against a Taliban insurgency.

The highly anticipated review, which Obama ordered within days of taking office on Jan. 20, is expected to be made public on Friday but White House officials have been tight-lipped on the timetable for release.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor that Obama would brief Republican and Democratic senators on the Afghan review at 1 p.m. (1700 GMT)

"There's a report that I think that's been completed," Reid said. There was no mention of a meeting with lawmakers on Obama's official daily schedule.

With violence in Afghanistan at a record high, Obama has said the United States and its NATO allies are not winning the war there. U.S.-led forces invaded in 2001 to topple the Taliban for harboring the al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, said success in both Afghanistan and Pakistan was vital to the United States' national security interests.

"We don't have an unlimited amount of time here ... Time is not necessarily with us unless we develop a more, and are able to implement a more effective strategy," Eikenberry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a confirmation hearing.

He said he thought NATO would send additional forces to Afghanistan to support presidential elections due in August, but over time what may be more important was for NATO countries to provide more mentors, trainers and financial support.

"NO TIME TO WASTE"

Committee Chairman John Kerry said Eikenberry faced a formidable task, with security deteriorating at an "alarming" rate, U.S. casualties increasing, and public confidence in the Afghan government waning.

Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan have escalated in the past year with suicide and roadside bombings growing. A would-be suicide bomber in Afghanistan accidentally blew himself up on Thursday, killing six other militants as he bid them farewell to head to his target, Afghan officials said.

Obama has said his predecessor, George W. Bush, became distracted by the Iraq war and allowed security to deteriorate in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Officials say the new strategy could see a scaling back of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan forces, economic development and a more regional approach that includes stabilizing Pakistan, where the Taliban have safe havens.

A U.N. conference on the future of Afghanistan is due to be held in The Hague next Tuesday. Delegates from some 80 countries, including Iran, are due to attend.

Obama has said his No. 1 priority is to ensure Afghanistan is not used as a launchpad for attacks on the United States.

He is due to present his review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan to NATO allies at a NATO summit in France and Germany on April 3-4.

Obama met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the White House on Wednesday and said afterward there needed to be better coordination between the some 40 NATO allies and other nations with troops in Afghanistan in order to develop a coherent counter-insurgency strategy.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)

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