Thursday, March 19, 2009

US to deploy hundreds of civilian officials to Afghanistan

Updated at: 0500 PST, Thursday, March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama's aides are weighing a range of options to shift policy in Afghanistan, including a full-scale counter-insurgency push to protect civilians nationwide, officials said on Wednesday.Among the ideas are scaling back the U.S. mission to focus on counter-terrorism and the training of Afghan forces; making a focused counter-insurgency push in the violent south and east; and pursuing a wider campaign to protect civilians across the country, said a U.S. official who asked not to be named.Hundreds of civilian officials from across the U.S. government would be deployed to Afghanistan as part of the new strategy in a sort of "civilian surge," said another official, including veteran U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, who would be a deputy to the top United Nations official on the ground.The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a White House review of policy toward Afghanistan expected to be released in the next week or so.One official said each option would require different levels of U.S. troops, suggesting they presented a sort of sliding scale with the most resources needed for a national program of population security and counter-insurgency.Such an effort would be costly at a time when the U.S. government is already borrowing heavily to try to contain the global financial crisis and revive world growth.While declining to discuss the policy review in detail, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was reluctant to get drawn into an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan."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 told reporters.

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