Officials: US prepares civilian ‘surge’ in Afghan

Officials said counterinsurgency, reconstruction and development in Afghanistan would be top priorities.

WASHINGTON (AP) âÄî Top aides to President Barack Obama are recommending that the United States combine a boost in military deployments with a steep increase in civilian experts to combat a growing insurgency in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday. Several hundred civilians from various U.S. government agencies âÄî from agronomists to economists and legal experts âÄî will be deployed to Afghanistan to reinforce the nonmilitary component in Kabul and the existing provincial reconstruction teams in the countryside, officials said. A soon-to-be-concluded review of Afghanistan policy that Obama is expected to act on and announce next week builds on steps first endorsed by the Bush administration last year, the officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the review has not yet been completed. Members of Obama’s Principals’ Committee, which is made up of the national security adviser, the secretaries of state and defense and the country’s intelligence chiefs, met at the White House on Tuesday to complete their recommendations. Officials said counterinsurgency, reconstruction and development in Afghanistan would be top priorities. The principals still have some work to do, according to one administration official familiar with the meeting. “They are still trying to figure some pieces out,” the official said. “(The review is) basically done but there are still elements that need to be addressed.” One part of the plan will involve naming former senior American diplomats to key posts in Afghanistan. One key official will be Francis Riccardione, a former envoy to Egypt, who will serve as deputy to the recently-nominated new U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the official said. Another appointment will see Peter Galbraith, a former American diplomat who has served in various hotspots, take the No. 2 U.N. job in Afghanistan, the administration official said. The move to add hundreds of civilian aides under Eikenberry and his top staffers is similar to President George W. Bush’s “surge” in Iraq but will be on a smaller scale, the officials said. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday before meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that the administration was working on “an integrated strategy” to train the Afghan military and police as well as to support “governance, rule of law, judicial systems (and) economic opportunities.” Similarly, defense officials said Wednesday they expect Obama to stress the importance of the Afghanistan review’s nonmilitary components. Defense Secretary Robert Gates would not discuss details of the plan, but said “people are coming together pretty well in terms of the strategy.” Obama has committed an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to break a stalemate against the Taliban and other insurgents. The president’s top military advisers say the U.S. is not winning the fight there. Many of the broad policy themes in the Afghanistan policy review already are well known, including the emphasis on nonmilitary contributions and the adaptation of successful counterinsurgency tactics used in the Iraq war. Gates suggested that Obama’s announcement will go significantly beyond that outline. “It’s a difficult problem, and trying to come up with new approaches and new initiatives that enhance our prospects for success is hard work, frankly,” Gates said during a news conference. He added that he has had doubts about what to do next. “I’ve been very concerned about an open-ended commitment of increasing numbers of troops for a variety of reasons, including the size of our footprint in Afghanistan, and my worry that the Afghans come to see us as not their partners and allies, but as part of their problem,” he said. British Defense Minister John Hutton, also in Washington to participate in the Afghanistan discussions, told reporters that better security across Afghanistan is a minimum goal, on top of which both military and civilian advancements would build. “The campaign in Afghanistan is not going to be won by military means alone, and that is absolutely true, but it can’t be won without it,” Hutton said.