Obama’s war council focusing on Al Qaeda in Pakistan

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : As US President Barack Obama met his top national security officials to discuss Afghanistan-Pakistan policy, media reports suggested that the emerging war strategy was focusing on the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

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A senior administration official described Wednesday’s three-hour White House meeting, which coincided with the eighth anniversary of the Afghan war, as “a comprehensive update on the situation” in Pakistan, including an “intelligence and counterterrorism assessment, as well as an assessment of the political and diplomatic situation”.

With Taliban attacks on US and NATO forces planned and launched from within its borders, an Al Qaeda sanctuary in its tribal areas, and a nuclear arsenal whose security is of international concern, Pakistan is the most strategically important country in the region, the Washington Post said.

The New York Times said Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasising the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan does not pose a direct threat to the US.

The White House said Obama had not decided whether to approve a proposed troop buildup in Afghanistan.

But the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested, the influential US daily said.

It remains unclear whether everyone in Obama’s war cabinet fully accepts this view. Vice President Joseph R. Biden has argued for months against increasing troops in Afghanistan because Pakistan was the greater priority.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates have both warned that the Taliban remain linked to Al Qaeda and would give their fighters havens again if the Taliban regained control of all or large parts of Afghanistan, making it a mistake to think of them as separate problems.

Moreover, Obama’s commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has argued that success demands a substantial expansion of the American presence, up to 40,000 more troops.

Any decision that provides less will expose the president to criticism, especially from Republicans, that his policy is a prescription for failure, the Times said.