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US wrestles with Afghan strategy -

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US wrestles with Afghan strategy

John Shovelan reported this story on Monday, September 28, 2009 12:30:00

ELEANOR HALL: The Obama administration's National Security Council will begin a series of meetings
this week to decide whether to change its strategy in Afghanistan.

The administration has been agonizing in public over whether or not to send more troops and
Republican Senator John McCain is now warning that America's allies are becoming nervous about just
how committed the US is to Afghanistan.

From Washington John Shovelan reports.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Tomorrow Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith will sit down with the US
Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Mr Gates is in the midst of a divisive administration policy debate about the size of the US
commitment to Afghanistan and the strategy it should pursue.

ROBERT GATES: Do we need additional forces? How many additional forces and to do what?

JOHN SHOVELAN: President Obama's civilian and military advisers, along with key members of Congress
in his own party, are divided. On one side there is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff
Admiral Mike Mullen, Centcom commander General David Petraeus and the US commander in Afghanistan
General Stanley McChrystal. They are all in favour of an extra 40,000 troops and a broad
counterinsurgency strategy like that followed in Iraq after the troop surge of December 2006.

On the other side there is General Colin Powell, the former secretary of state. He has told
President Obama he is sceptical about deploying more troops without a more clearly defined mission.
So too are Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser General James Jones, among those
sceptical of a major troop increase.

While the administration debates how and how much, Senator John McCain says its allies in
Afghanistan are left just waiting - watching to see if the US policy changes and what impact, if it
does, will it have on their own troop commitments.

JOHN MCCAIN: Our allies in the regions, while we are waiting our friends in the region are getting
very nervous as well as our European allies.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Senator John McCain says the administration must stick to the counterinsurgency
strategy its employing and agree to the military's request for more troops.

JOHN MCCAIN: So we gave people an environment where they could start living some semblance of
normal daily lives. That is a counterinsurgency strategy.

JOHN SHOVELAN: The Vice President Joe Biden is believed to have advocated a more limited
counterterrorism strategy in which US forces would be involved in eliminating Al Qaeda and Taliban
fighters.

JOHN MCCAIN: What the opponents are talking about is a counterterrorism strategy. You can't just
sit off on the sidelines and kill people.

JOHN SHOVELAN: But Gates is doubtful of this strategy.

ROBERT GATES: People that I've talked to in the Pentagon who are the experts on counterterrorism
essentially say that counterterrorism is only possible if you have the kind of intelligence that
allows you to target the terrorists and the only way you get that intelligence is by being on the
ground, getting information from people like the Afghans or in the case of Iraq, the Iraqis and so
you can't do this from a distance or remotely in the view of virtually all of the experts.

JOHN SHOVELAN: There is a lot at stake in this Washington debate for countries like Australia with
substantial troop commitments in Afghanistan. It's expected the President will make his decision in
the next few weeks.

John Shovelan, Washington.