WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has begun its review of whether the administration's Afghan war strategy is working well enough to start withdrawing U.S. forces in July, an official said Tuesday.
The review is being conducted so the White House can measure whether Obama's 2009 order to commit 30,000 more troops has resulted in progress in the decade-old conflict.
It will be presented to the president in mid- to late-December, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
Obama said his troop escalation was needed to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency and to bolster the Afghan government. The review is supposed to determine whether the war strategy is on track and whether it is progressing as rapidly as possible.
Numerous senior military commanders and administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said they are encouraged by signs of gradual progress in the battle against Taliban militants. But they also have said a lot more needs to be done before Afghanistan can stand on its own.
Gates has said if progress continues, the review is likely to conclude that the strategy may need only small tweaks.
The administration's internal review started about two weeks ago, the senior official told reporters. The aim is to collect information about all aspects of the war campaign, including progress in eliminating senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.
After the reviewers — whom the official did not name — present their findings to Obama, the result will be made public by early January, the official added.
The official said the review will not examine alternatives to the strategy or recommend fixes. Instead it will compile a list of policy issues or problems to be addressed by the White House.
Obama promised to begin bringing U.S. forces home in July 2011 if security conditions allow that. Senior military officers and defense analysts long have predicted that the initial withdrawal will involve a relatively small number of troops.
But Republican gains in last week's midterm Congressional elections will mean a partisan fight this spring over whether Obama's plan is arbitrary or driven by politics. Many in Obama's own party want a faster withdrawal.
The review's findings will be scrutinized most closely for what they say about the durability of the military and nation-building gains in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strongest.
It also will be scrutinized for its evaluation of the counterterrorism campaign to hunt and kill terrorist and militant leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.
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