Afghan review will cite progress as war enters critical phase 

TheObama administration is expected to unveil a major review of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy Thursday that will highlight gains on the battlefield against the Taliban, success of Special Forces operations and CIA drone strikes and progress in training Afghan security forces, while recommending some refinements in strategy. But troops fighting in Afghanistan, along with analysts, and two recent classified reports, paint a much more dire picture of the war nine years after the United States began combat operations there.

"Our Afghan partners are not even close to being ready to take over this mess, most will just run and leave their posts," said a U.S. military official in Afghanistan, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We need to hold strong against the enemy and we can't do that if Pakistan continues to allow the insurgency a safe haven and we draw down without a real plan."

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who headed the Obama administration's Afghanistan-Pakistan review last year, told The Washington Examiner that he doesn't expect the administration review to be groundbreaking.

"No surprises are likely, especially given what Obama and [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates have separately said in Kabul that we are making progress," he said. "The biggest hole in progress remains Pakistan."

Two new National Intelligence Estimates offer a much different picture of Afghanistan and Pakistan than what is expected to be released by the administration Thursday. Those assessments, first detailed in the New York Times, say that there is a limited chance of success in the region unless Pakistan takes the initiative to cut off safe havens in the tribal lands bordering Afghanistan. "Members of Pakistan's spy agency and military are continuing to work against us," said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition that he not be named. "Pakistan needs to be held accountable for its inaction."

Lisa Curtis, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said that while the review is going to show gains, any progress must be reinforced by a strong civilian government that can earn the trust of the people. "While the U.S. and coalition forces have shown they are capable of clearing Taliban from their strongholds, they have yet to prove that Afghan civilian leaders can hold these areas once military operations subside," she said, citing the Marjah area as an example.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the review "will show that our transition can and should begin . . . in July 2011," a reference to the administration's oft-repeated commitment to begin drawing down American troops then.

President Obama announced the drawdown last December. Some officials feared that such an announcement would embolden the Taliban, which has built momentum over past year. There are roughly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which include the 30,000 troop increase approved by the president.

Many in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have said announcing a drawdown date has emboldened the Taliban and forced Afghan President Hamid Karzai to bargain with the insurgents from a position of weakness.

"Many Afghans fear Karzai will strike a grand bargain with the Taliban to save his own skin," Curtis said. "Such a grand bargain, many Afghans fear, would end up re-Talibanizing Afghanistan, rather than encourage the nascent democracy."

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at scarter@washingtonexaminer.com.

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