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Why Afghanistan is Obama's Toughest Foreign Challenge

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tekisui Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jan-24-09 09:35 AM
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Why Afghanistan is Obama's Toughest Foreign Challenge
Source: McClatchy

WASHINGTON Ten days before President Barack Obama's inauguration, the Afghan government added a new wrinkle to the toughest foreign policy challenge confronting the new president by demanding a share of control over the 30,000-strong, NATO-led security force in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government's Jan. 10 plan, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, would give the Afghan government authority to approve an increase in International Security Assistance Force troops, which include about 19,500 Americans. It also would limit home searches or detention of Afghans to Afghan forces and require coordination of "all phases of" NATO ground and air operations "at the highest possible level."

The deteriorating relationship between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his foreign allies, however, is only one of myriad obstacles that Obama and his just-named special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, are confronting in Afghanistan, Obama on Thursday called "the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism."

The Taliban are stronger than they've been at any time since the U.S. ousted the puritanical Islamist group in 2001. Relying on sanctuaries in neighboring areas of Pakistan held by allied Islamic militants, they dominate huge swaths of the south and east of the Texas-sized country of sweeping deserts and towering peaks.

The insurgents are no match in set-piece battles with some 32,000 U.S. troops and 30,000 soldiers from NATO and non-NATO countries. The insurgents, however, easily replace the casualties they suffer, and they've increased their use of suicide bombs, snipers, assassinations and other guerrilla tactics while creeping closer to Kabul, the capital.

Although the Taliban, al Qaida and other Islamic terrorist groups remain active along the remote border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Bush administration failed to develop a coherent strategy to coordinate security operations in Afghanistan with international efforts to improve governance and provide schools, roads and other infrastructure.

U.S. commanders, however, say they don't have enough troops to execute such a strategy, and Obama has embraced a call for another 30,000 U.S. troops.

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