Under the Influence: Going it Alone in Afghanistan

After seven years in Afghanistan, it's back to basics. On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled the results of his comprehensive and long-awaited policy review of the U.S. war strategy in South and Central Asia. Reining in what has become a discombobulated mission, he asked outright, "What is our purpose in Afghanistan?" He then went on to answer his own question: Our purpose is the pursuit of al-Qaida and its leadership, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. There is little surprise in that decision.

Likewise, the new way forward offered few unexpected headlines. The strategy will focus on an approach to Pakistan as much as Afghanistan. There will be more U.S. troops -- another 4,000 in addition to the 17,000 already on their way, bringing the total number of boots on the ground to 60,000. The president announced the mobilization of a new wave of civilian expertise to support reconstruction efforts: agricultural specialists, lawyers and engineers. In fact, there is evidence that much of this strategy has been known for quite a while, having emerged out of a newfound consensus in policy circles over the last year.

Administration officials are quick to admit that the new strategy has to build on the lessons learned from failures in Iraq. But in stepping back to look at what's going on, it's clear that this is another case of state-building under fire. Describing al-Qaida as a "cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within," Obama confirmed continued U.S. military assistance to the government of Asif Ali Zardari. (It's troubling to note that the announcement coincided with reports that Pakistani intelligence services are, at times, actually working hand in hand with Taliban factions.) Ultimately though, the solution in Pakistan depends on diplomacy and development more than military victories: The Obama administration pledged support to confidence-building talks between Pakistan and India; the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will set the country on sound economic footing; and another $1.5 billion in U.S. aid will build schools, roads and hospitals.

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