[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/18/obama.afghanistan.canada/art.obamatroops.gi.jpg caption="President Obama says al Qaeda threatens American from the Afghan-Pakistani border."]
CNN State Department Producer
When trying to explain what President Obama hopes to achieve by sending an 17,000 additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan (with more to come), senior State Department officials describe a scenario not unlike the "surge" in Iraq, explaining that part of the reason for this first initial boosting of troops (beyond the obvious reason of going after the Taliban al Qaeda and training additional Afghan forces) is to provide "political space" to the government. Officials say they hope that an improvement in the security of on the ground will provide the time and conditions needed for the Afghan government to settle its political differences and get its fledgling political system together. Fostering political reconciliation among Iraq's political and ethnic factions was one of the rationales used by President Bush in 2007 to send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq.
The development of institutions (aka "nation building") in Afghanistan has been extremely slow, in part due to the fact that the insurgency has spread. But the slow pace is also due to the fact that this country never really had a functioning government. Officials say a large part of the increased civilian resources expected as part of a new strategy for Afghanistan will be aimed at teaching Afghans to create institutions capable of providing services and social support functions which until now have been provided by traditional society (family, tribe, etc). It is proving much more difficult in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, where a government (albeit a dysfunctional one after decades of Saddam Hussein's rule) had already existed.
The current strategic review led by Bruce Riedel and Richard Holbrooke, the new US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will seek to define US objectives in Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, the idea of a flourishing democracy anytime soon seems unlikely. A definition of success, officials say, is likely going to be taking Afghanistan to a place where the government has less corruption, is able to crack down on the rampant drug trade and can provide services to the Afghan people in an improved security atmosphere. In addition to additional resources for more development and reconstruction projects, officials say to expect several more US advisers in the various Afghan ministries and better coordination between the military and US civilian workers .
After meeting with Ambassador Holbrooke during his visit to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said he was pleased Afghans themselves would have input in the US review, as to what the goals for their country should be. Officials say the Afghans will know when they are "ready," just as the Iraqis have gradually gained both the confidence and the military strength to truly lead.
But as we have heard from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, President Obama himself, and what officials are echoing privately, is that the Obama administration is going to have a much lower threshold for success for Afghanistan than the Bush administration had in Iraq.
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