President Obama will tomorrow lay out an "unprecedented effort focused on fighting al Qaeda and its allies," administration officials said Thursday evening, describing new regional strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan with a clearly stated goal, four thousand new troops, more civilian aid, aggressive diplomacy, timetables, and ways to ensure accountability.
The speech will be "the culmination of a very heavily consulted and highly coordinated policy review" with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, regional allies, NATO members, the European Union, military leaders, and bipartisan leaders on Capitol Hill, an administration official said.
The President will make the announcement -- cautioning that the fight will not be easy, and will get tougher before it gets easier -- standing in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and others.
Seven and a half years after the 9/11 attacks, an official said, the Al Qaeda threat remains strong. Its central leadership has moved from Kandahar, Afghanistan to unknown parts of Pakistan. The terrorist leaders are plotting against the U.S., working with their allies.
"They're planning to do the worst they can," the official said.
The new U.S mission is clear, another administration official said. "To disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and their allies, destroy their safe havens, and prevent them from rebuilding."
A secondary mission is to reverse the momentum Taliban fighters have achieved in the past few years, officials said. By every measure, officials said, the Taliban has been experiencing a resurgence, attacking US and NATO forces with greater strength.
The 4,000 new US troops will be tasked with training the Afghanistan National Army.
By mid-2011, the Obama administration expects a fully trained Afghan Army of 135,000 and a fully trained Afghanistan Police Force -- to be trained by the French and other NATO and European Union member countries -- of 80,000. There are approximately 70,000 Afghan Army troops, and fewer than 40,000 Afghan police, officials said.
President Obama spoke today to Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, officials said, describing the president as being "gratified by their reception to the new strategy." The two leaders were pleased by the "refocused effort that is fully resourced with a clear goal and accountability," officials said.
The Obama administration will push continued and aggressive diplomacy with Zardari and Karzai, sending Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke to be "in the face of the parties constantly," an administration official said. Every six-to-eight weeks, Holbrooke will engaged in bilateral meetings with leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and every three months he will engage in trilateral meetings
The new policy in Afghanistan will also include hundreds more civilian workers to assist in developing agriculture, governance, anti-corruption efforts, and disrupting the narcotics trade.
"This is a strategy, not a strait jacket," an official said, meaning the administration will adapt accordingly. In the Fall, the administration will evaluate the impact that has been made by the additional 30,000-plus US troops that will have been sent to Afghanistan since election day -- the 10,000 or so troops President Bush sent after Election Day but before the Inauguration, the 17,000 troops the President requested a few weeks ago, and the newly-ordered 4,000.
Asked about reported tensions between the US and Karzai, an administration official said that Karzai has been criticizing the US effort in his country for being "under-resourced" and for insufficiently dealing with the Pakistani component to challenges in the areas. The new policy addresses both issues, the official said.
The Obama administration officials said that intelligence sources report that some Taliban fighters could be convinced to break away -- ones fighting the US right now for the money or because of tribal feuds. "We think if we break (the Taliban's) momentum we can have a significant impact" in eroding their fighting forces, the official said, after which would begin an "assimilation process" to bring them back into Afghan society.
But the notion of bringing Taliban into the fold should not be overstated, officials cautioned. "We are not negotiating with Mullah Omar. And Mullah Omar is not interested in negotiating with us. He is interested in running all foreigners out of his country and returning his nation to the Medieval hell it was in the 90s."
Mr. Obama, officials said, will tomorrow also announced support increasing military assistance to Pakistan focused on aiding that country's ability to combat insurgents and terrorists -- by increasing air mobility along the Western border, for instance. But that support will only come with strong conditions on and oversight of the Pakistani military.
To guard against the waste, fraud, and abuse that has marred so much of the US effort in Iraq, the Obama administration is also requesting in its budget a "dramatic increase in funding" for inspectors general in the State Department and UNSAID, officials said.
The president will also outline new diplomatic efforts in Pakistan, including support for legislation that will triple U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan, increasing it to $1.5 billion a year, with a five-year commitment at that funding level. The bill was offered by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Dick Lugar, R-Ind., chair and ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively.
The president will also support a different bipartisan bill that would create reconstruction opportunity zones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.