U.S. to Delay Afghan War Strategy Decisions

Oct. 20: President Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room.

Oct. 20: President Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room.  (Pete Souza, The White House)

WASHINGTON—A much-anticipated White House review of progress in the Afghan war will put off key decisions about the pace of pulling troops out of the country and whether changes in strategy there will be needed, U.S. officials say.

The review will say there has been important progress in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, but make clear sustained gains are in doubt because of concerns about Pakistan's refusal to attack militant havens and the ability of the Afghan military to function independently.

The findings, which will be released Thursday, set the stage for a troop withdrawal beginning in July. But questions remain about the number of troops that will be withdrawn, and from what parts of the country. While many in the military would like to keep a robust number of troops in Afghanistan, some in the White House want a faster pullout.

President Barack Obama mandated the strategy review when he announced a surge of 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan in December 2009, in what was a defining moment of the president's foreign policy.

In recent weeks, some officials have tried to play down the significance of the review, saying it wasn't meant to be an opportunity to rewrite strategy.

The report will stop short of proposing policy changes. Officials said the full effect of the troop surge has only recently started to be felt and that it would be premature to judge how the campaign will progress.

Senior officials described nervousness within the administration about how quickly Afghanistan will be ready to take charge.

The drafting process drew out lingering divisions within the administration that emerged during Obama's lengthy 2009 Afghanistan review.

In a meeting on Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supporters of the troop surge, argued that the current strategy has shown progress, according to an official familiar with the deliberations. But Vice President Joe Biden, who has long pushed for a counterterrorism-focused strategy requiring fewer forces, sounded more skeptical notes.

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