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Searching for an Afghan Strategy

President Barack Obama is expected to send more troops, trainers, and resources to Afghanistan, a mission long overshadowed by the larger, more robust U.S. deployment in Iraq. Yet beyond relatively vague plans to draw down forces in one war and increase them by thirty thousand in another--bringing to roughly sixty thousand the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan--some analysts say Obama's overarching strategy remains something of a mystery. "They are picking up after a period in which the Bush administration was very ambitious in rhetoric and not at all ambitious in resource," CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey tells CFR.org. "And now, the question is, how do they intend to square that?"

Reports (RUSI), briefing papers (Carnegie), and analysts' assessments (USIP) have poured in from think tanks on both sides of the Atlantic, and no less than three government strategy reviews (LAT) have been undertaken in recent months--one by the Bush National Security Council, one by the Pentagon, and one by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the region that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. The reviews come amid a resurgent al-Qaeda and Taliban in the region, an uptick in violence, and concerns about corruption and the Afghan government's capabilities as a NATO partner (WashPost). Many analysts now believe Washington's original goal of creating a stable, free, and democratic Afghanistan is untenable, and President Obama's first priority will be to define "what the mission is," as one senior U.S. military commander told the Washington Post.

Obama himself has offered few hints as to how he might do that, but signals have emerged from those who will advise him in Washington. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a carryover from the Bush administration, has...

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